It has long been known that dyslexic youngesters may exhibit problem behaviour, often associated with aggression and rule-breaking.
But internalised problems such as anxiety, depression and somatic illnesses are at least equally widespread among such children.
This conclusion is drawn in the article Coexisting problem behaviour in severe dyslexia by Anne Elisabeth Dahle, professor Ann-Mari Knivsberg and assistant professor Anne Brit Andreassen.
“Dyslexic children have more difficulties in all categories of problem behaviour,” says Dahle, who is a PhD student at the university’s National Centre for Reading Education and Research.
“Our study indicates that teachers fail to spot anxiety and depression. Their attention is generally concentrated on pupils who are noisy and aggressive.”
The Reading Centre offers a diagnostic service for schoolchildren from the whole of Norway, who are referred by their local educational and psychological service.
These referrals bring researchers into contact with youngsters with severe dyslexia. Other studies exist in this area, but none where all the subjects have such serious reading and writing difficulties.
“Reports from the parents and teachers of these children show that the former are much more likely to mention internalised problems,” explains Dahle.
“More than 12 per cent of referrals are so strongly affected that they’ve talked about committing suicide. That’s a very high percentage.”
The study covers 70 severely dyslexic children aged 10 to 14, who are compared with an equally sized control group without the condition but with the same gender division and IQs.
Boys form the great majority, which is normal for reading and writing difficulties. Males account for some 60-80 per cent of sufferers from dyslexia.
“We’ve reflected a bit on why teachers don’t spot these difficulties,” says Dahle. “Compared with other countries, we generally report fewer behavioural problems in Norway.
“As a nation, we’re not used to paying attention to behaviour in school and award no marks for it. Teachers are more accustomed to assessing educational attainment than behaviour. The low reporting may reflect that.”
None of the earlier studies show such a clear difference between teacher and parent reporting. In other countries, the former are often regarded as more credible than the latter.
The question then is whether reporting by parents can be trusted, but Dahle says that she and her co-authors believe it can be.
“A comparison of such reporting in a number of countries show that Norwegian parents report far less problem behaviour than their counterparts elsewhere. That suggests our findings are not down to over-reporting by parents.”
Teacher under-reporting of the difficulties experienced by dyslexic children may be significant for the monitoring and teaching they receive.
These pupils may well get good follow-up for their reading and writing difficulties, says Dahle. But this could be less effective if they fail to get help for their other problems.
The goal of diagnosis at the Reading Centre is to produce an educational programme for these children. However, simply studying their dyslexia is not enough when it comes to proposing measures.
In a number of cases, the internalised behavioural problems are so great that the youngsters are referred on to the child psychiatry department.
“As a result, we always look at behaviour when pupils come to us, regardless of whether the accompanying paperwork indicates anything amiss in this area,” says Dahle.
“That’s because such difficulties often aren’t picked up by the school or by the educational and psychological service.”
Text: Trond Egil Toft
English translation: Rolf E Gooderham
Want to know more?
Anne Elisabeth Dahle, National Centre for Reading Education and Research, University of Stavanger
Tel: +47 41 83 32 47. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
UNNOTICED PROBLEMS: Dyslexic children may often have other difficulties which can be hard to spot.