Children with reading difficulties may have undiagnosed hearing problems

A report published by the Nuffield Foundation, which compared a group of children with dyslexia to children with a history of repeated ear infections (otitis media with effusion, OME) to see if there were any similarities in their phonological and literacy difficulties, has found that their difficulties may be due in part to undiagnosed hearing problems.

Julia Carroll and Helen Breadmore compared a group of 36 children with dyslexia to 29 children with OME, and also to control groups of typically developing children of the same age and groups of younger children at the same reading level. This made a total sample size of 195 children, ages 8 to 10, from 20 schools in the UK. All of the children completed a series of tests to establish their reading and writing skills and also their phonological skills (ability to manipulate speech sounds) and morphological skills (knowledge of grammatical word structure). Eighteen months later, the children’s reading, spelling and phonological awareness was re-tested, and a hearing screening conducted.

The results showed that the children with dyslexia had different patterns of literacy difficulties than children with OME, although there were some overlaps. The children with dyslexia showed difficulties with both phonological and morphological skills, whereas children with OME had difficulties only on phonological tasks. Both dyslexic children and children with OME had lower levels of reading than the age-matched control children.

The results from the hearing screening eighteen months later found that 9 of the 36 children with dyslexia had mild or moderate hearing impairments, of which their parents and teachers were unaware. The researchers suggest, therefore, that children with reading difficulties should be screened for hearing problems so that they are able to receive more structured support that could help them improve their literacy skills.

Source: Morphological processing in children with phonological difficulties (October 2017), Coventry University and University of Warwick Briefing Paper for The Nuffield Foundation

Poor children face more bullying

A new systematic review published by researchers from the University of Warwick, examines whether socioeconomic status (SES) can be used to identify which schools or children are at greatest risk of bullying. They found that low SES was associated with increased odds of being a victim or a bully-victim (children who are victimised by their peers, but who also bully other children).

A total of 28 studies met the authors’ inclusion criteria, and these all reported an association between roles in school bullying (victim, bully, and bully-victim) and measures of SES. The review found that while victims and bully-victims were more likely to come from low SES backgrounds, SES was a poor predictor of bullying others. Bullying did not appear to be socially patterned, but occurred across all SES strata at fairly similar rates.

In practical terms, the authors note that their data provides little new information in terms of preventing bullying, but suggest that bullying prevention interventions should target all children, not just those from poorer households.

Source: Socioeconomic Status and Bullying: A Meta-Analysis (2014), American Journal of Public Health, 104(6).

The gene genie

Researchers at King’s College, the University of Warwick, and the University of New Mexico have published a new paper exploring the role of genes in educational achievement. They wanted to test the hypothesis that genetic differences (heritability) in educational achievement persist throughout compulsory education, as assessed by GCSEs at age 16.

The authors used data on 11,117 twins born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996 recruited into the Twins Early Development Study and considered genetics, shared or common factors, and non-shared or unique environmental components. They found that heritability was substantial (58% of the variation) for overall GCSE performance for compulsory core subjects. In contrast, the overall effects of the shared environment, which includes all family and school influences shared by twins growing up in the same family and attending the same school, accounted for about 36% of the variance of mean GCSE scores.

They suggest that the significance of these findings is that individual differences in educational achievement can be attributed much more to genetics than to school or family environment, and conclude that this supports personalised learning.

Source: Strong Genetic Influence on a UK Nationwide Test of Educational Achievement at the End of Compulsory Education at Age 16 (2013), PLoS ONE.