[Deficits in reading acquisition in primary school: cognitive, social and behavioral factors studied in a sample of 1062 children]

C Billard, J Fluss, B Ducot, L Bricout, G Richard, J Ecalle, A Magnan, J Warszawski, J Ziegler
Revue D'épidémiologie et de Santé Publique 2009, 57 (3): 191-203

BACKGROUND: Reading impairment is the major learning disability in children. While research on illiteracy has mainly been conducted from a sociological perspective, research on dyslexia has typically been studied from a cognitive-linguistic perspective. Studies that jointly investigate sociological, behavioral and cognitive factors in predicting reading outcome are rare and limited to English-speaking populations. The goal of the present study was to screen second grade children with reading impairment in French urban elementary schools and to pin down the factors that explain the various facets of reading failure and success.

METHODS: A total of 1062 children from 20 different schools in the city of Paris participated in the study. Different aspects of reading were assessed individually for children with a suspected impairment in reading acquisition. Subsequently, 131 poor readers and 50 typically developing readers were matched for sex, age, and school. For these children, medical, cognitive, behavioral and individual socioeconomic data were obtained. Group differences were examined and multiple regression analyses were conducted to examine how much variance in reading was explained by the various variables.

RESULTS: The prevalence of poor reading skills in grade 2 was highly influenced by neighborhood socioeconomic status (SES) (ranging from 3.3% in high SES to 20.5% in low SES areas). Among the SES variables, employment of the father was a significant predictor of poor reading. Among the cognitive variables, phonological awareness and rapid naming were the most significant factors, much more than verbal or nonverbal intelligence. Among the behavioral variables, attention was an important factor but not externalized symptoms. Multiple regression analyses showed that reading outcome was best predicted by phonological awareness skills and attention deficits.

CONCLUSION: The majority of children with reading disability come from low SES areas. As in the English literature, the most robust predictor for reading impairment is phonological awareness, even when SES is taken into account. In addition, attention deficits seemed to aggravate reading impairments for children with weak phonological awareness skills. Successful early prevention should focus on reinforcing phonological awareness, recoding and attention skills.

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