Skip to main content

Children with reading difficulties are at elevated risk for mental health problems

Media release

Curtin University researchers have identified and are examining potential research streams which could shed light on why children with reading difficulties are at increased risk of mental health problems.

Growing literature indicates children with reading difficulties are at an elevated risk for both internalising (emotional) and externalising (behavioural) problems suggesting that reading difficulties are a risk factor for the development of later mental health issues.

Reading difficulties have been shown to be associated with depression, anxiety, general socio-emotional problems, behavioural problems, conduct disorder, and both anger and aggression.

Dr Mark Boyes, a mental health expert from Curtin’s School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, led the research supported by speech pathologists, and said while evidence for relationships between reading difficulties and poor mental health is accumulating, little research has examined why this might be the case or how to address the issue moving forward.

“If we are to design interventions to promote mental health in children with reading difficulties, it is essential to identify mechanisms explaining the psychological outcomes for these children,” Dr Boyes said.

The project identified four lines of research needed to address the issue:

  1. Novel research identifying risk and resilience-promoting factors associated with mental health in children with reading difficulties;
  2. Collaboration with clinical service providers to collect detailed information on clients referred for assessment and treatment;
  3. Collaboration on existing trials of mental health promotion interventions; and
  4. Including brief measures of mental health in trials of reading interventions.

The researchers acknowledge that although by no means exhaustive, together these four lines of research will provide a firm foundation for systematically investigating why children with reading difficulties are at an elevated risk for both emotional and behavioural problems.

“This foundation will identify factors that might indicate particular vulnerability, and will underpin the development of interventions promoting mental health in these children,” Dr Boyes said.

Curtin researchers are currently working to identify risk and resilience-promoting factors associated with mental health in children with reading difficulties.

“The team has interviewed children with reading difficulties, their parents, as well as educators to identify issues they view as important and that are associated with children’s mental health. The team is also currently analysing the case histories of children referred for detailed reading assessments,” Dr Boyes said.

“We look forward to reviewing the results of these research lines and will be seeking funding opportunities for the other identified streams of research.”

“The ultimate goal of this collaborative research is to be able to design, test, and, if effective, introduce evidence-based practices that will ideally result in improved mental health in children with reading difficulties,” Ms Nayton said.

The paper, titled Why are reading difficulties associated with mental health problems?, was published in Dyselxia and is available from http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/dys.1531.

The project which identified the four lines of research was conducted in collaboration with Macquarie University and The Dyslexia SPELD Foundation with the support of Healthway.