Literacy and mental disorders

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Abstract

Purpose of review

This review examines recent evidence on the comorbidity between literacy problems and psychiatric disorder in childhood and discusses possible contributory factors.

Recent findings

Recent studies confirm the substantial overlap of literacy problems with a range of emotional/behavioural difficulties in childhood. Literacy problems and inattention may share genetic influences, contributing to associations with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. To an extent, links with conduct problems may be also mediated by attentional difficulties. In addition, findings suggest bidirectional influences whereby disruptive behaviours impede reading progress and reading failure exacerbates risk for behaviour problems. Associations between literacy problems and anxiety disorders are not entirely mediated by inattentiveness. Rather, comorbid anxiety disorders seem likely to arise from the stressors associated with reading failure. Findings in relation to depression are less consistent, but suggest that poor readers may be vulnerable to low mood. Children with autism seem more likely to face problems in reading comprehension than the decoding difficulties more prominent in other disorders.

Summary

Literacy problems are associated with increased risks of both externalizing and internalizing disorders in childhood, with different mechanisms likely to be implicated in each case. When comorbid problems occur, each is likely to require separate treatment.

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