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Boys More Likely to Have Reading Problems

Review of studies confirms suspicions of experts

TUESDAY, April 27, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- New research on reading disabilities confirms what researchers have suspected for years: that boys are much more prone to having trouble than girls, and it's not simply because they're more disruptive.

"We found gender differences in reading, with boys commonly having more reading difficulties than girls," said co-researcher Julia Carroll, a lecturer in psychology from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom.

About 15 percent of school-aged children have a learning disability. One of these is a reading disorder, also called dyslexia.

Reading difficulties can also be due to poor vision, hearing problems, emotional problems and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Carroll and her colleagues looked at four studies of reading in children. The studies included 9,799 children 7 to 15 years of age. In each study, about 50 percent of the children were boys.

The team found in each study that boys were significantly more likely to have dyslexia than were girls. Across all the studies, about 20 percent of the boys had reading disabilities compared with about 11 percent of the girls, according to the report in the April 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

This is not a new finding, Carroll said. But there has been an ongoing debate after a couple of other studies found that reading problems were equal for boys and girls, she added.

Carroll believes these findings put that controversy to rest.

Studies have suggested the reason that reading disabilities are more common among boys is that teachers tend to recognize the problem in boys more often, Carroll said.

"Boys are more disruptive or the teachers pay more attention to them," she said. However, "this study found no bias in selecting children," she noted.

Carroll and her colleagues believe reading disabilities are genetic. "Boys are more likely to have a range of developmental difficulties, and this is just one of them," she said.

Although reading difficulties are more common in boys, "I wouldn't want parents to dismiss reading difficulties in girls," she said.

Dr. Richard K. Olson, a professor of psychology from the University of Colorado, said the study "clearly shows a higher percentage of reading-disabled males, and it is consistent with most earlier studies."

Olson speculated that maybe teachers and parents care more about boys' progress in reading, or maybe boys act up more and attract attention, "but it is clear that there are many girls with reading disability."

Dr. Sheldon Horowitz, director of professional services at the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said the percentage of girls or boys that have reading problems is not important.

"The better we are at looking at boys and girls and not making assumptions about their emerging literacy skills, the better we will be at providing them with early treatment, which is really the point," he said.

"Reading is not an intuitive process; it doesn't just happen," Horowitz added.

"Every child is a unique learner. And child development in reading is a moving target, so it is most wise not to make assumptions about what a child will and won't be able to do," he added.

"What makes for good reading is good instruction," Horowitz said. "And it needs to be for boys and girls, and it needs to be as early as possible and as focused as possible."

More information

The National Center for Learning Disabilities can tell you about reading disorders, and the International Dyslexia Association has a page devoted to helping children with dyslexia.

SOURCES: Julia Carroll, Ph.D., lecturer, psychology, University of Warwick, England; Richard K. Olson, Ph.D., professor, psychology, University of Colorado, Boulder; Sheldon Horowitz, Ed.D., director, professional services, National Center for Learning Disabilities, New York City; April 28, 2004, Journal of the American Medical Association
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