What is it about?

This study looked at the early-life factors that predict children’s reading and speech outcomes between the ages of 7 and 11. We used data from the National Child Development Study—a large study that’s been running in the UK since the 1950s. Previous work has shown that reading and speech difficulties can co-occur, so first we set off to assess how much overlap was in the dataset. Our analysis suggested little co-occurrence—the best model gave us 4 groups: children with average reading and speech, children with excellent reading, children who struggled with reading, and children who struggled with speech. We then modelled the probability of belonging to each of these groups, and found that boys and preterm-born children were at greater risk of reading and speech difficulties. Factors in the social environment—the mother’s education, the home reading environment, and the family’s socioeconomic status—were linked to better reading outcomes but were unrelated to speech.

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Why is it important?

The results showed a larger environmental component in children’s reading outcomes than their speech, suggesting that underprivileged children might benefit especially from interventions to help with reading development. Speech, on the other hand, seemed less malleable and these outcomes are likely shaped by biological pathways. As for the methodology, this study took a novel approach that allowed the characteristics of the sample to shine through and inform the models. We hope this might encourage researchers in the field to combine exploratory and confirmatory methods, in order to separate the effects on reading versus speech and interpret their results appropriately.


“As a learning differences researcher, I’ve long been interested in why speech and reading difficulties often co-occur. We were able to identify common biological influences on the likelihood of having either reading or speech difficulties whereas excellence in reading was associated with an enriched environment.” —Prof. Michelle Luciano “I am curious about the insights we can get by borrowing methods from other research areas and bringing them into existing fields. I am very glad that what started as an overly ambitious undergraduate project has offered a fresh look into children’s experiences with reading and speech.” —Orestis Michaelides

Orestis Michaelides
University of Edinburgh

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Bioenvironmental Predictors of Childhood Reading and Speech Difficulties, Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, May 2023, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), DOI: 10.1044/2023_jslhr-22-00476.
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