Task-avoidance behaviors puts children at risk for reading disability

iStock_000011758998XSmallGrade 2 children at high risk for a reading disability are more likely to end up with a RD if they have task avoidance behaviors, says a new study in Dyslexia.

Finnish researchers examined the reading outcomes of 198 children based on their early cognitive development. They divided the children into 4 subgroups: Dysfluent trajectory, declining trajectory, unexpected trajectory and typical trajectory. At least half of the children had a family history of dyslexia.

“A protective factor for children with high cognitive risk prior to school age appeared to include a lack of task avoidance,” the researchers report. “High levels of task-focused behavior tened to be associated with the absence of RD at the end of Grade 2 irrespective of the presence of early cognitive risk factors.”

“These findings underline the importance of maintaining children’s engagement in educational and literacy-based activities, and particularly for the children already at risk. These findings also support our previous findings that children with good reading skills have more shared reading with their parents prior to school entry than children with slow decoding and poor reading comprehension.”

Researchers found that for high-risk children,  the time the child spent reading alone and in shared reading with family members made no difference in the development of a reading disability.  But less time spent reading did make a difference for children in the low-risk category.

The 4 subgrounps were described the as follows:

  • Dysfluent—Highly significant difficulties with naming speed and difficulties in morphology, phonological awareness and letter knowledge.
  • Declining—Decreasing developmental trajectory in all skill domains other than memory skills. Children also had difficulties with both reading accuracy and fluency in the early stages of reading acquisition.
  • Unexpected—Strongest skills in receptive and expressive language as well as in morphological skills and memory. Children in this subgroup showed a declining trajectory in letter knowledge and lower reading skill at the beginning of school.
  • Typical—Normal early cognitive development and reading acquisition with progress in all skill areas.

Task-focused behavior was assessed with 5 questions. Children’s families were asked to use a 5-point Likert scale to rate how well these claims fit the child’s behavior.

  • When facing difficuties, does the child have a tendency to find something else to do instead of focusing on the task at hand?
  • Does the child actively try to solve even the most difficult tasks?
  • Does it seem that the child easily gives up the task at hand?
  • Does the child show persistence when working with the tasks?
  • When problems occur with a task, does the child turn his or her attention to other things?

The classification of children for RD at the end of Grade 2 was based on performance in 5 tasks: Oral word and pseudoword reading, oral text reading, oral pseudoword text reading, oral word list reading and spelling words and pseudowords. In addition reading speed and reading/spelling accuracy were calculated.

For children with low early cognitive risk who developed a RD, researchers say that task avoidance and less time spent reading were significant risk factors. The low-risk children who went on to develop a RD had weaker skills in phonological awareness, RAN, memory and IQ than did the children who did not develop a RD.

“Although compromised early cognitive development—especially difficulties in fluent automatized naming—is a risk for later RD, approximately half of the children with an early profile of high cognitive risk did not end up developing RD. In contrast, in 16% of the children in the group designated at low cognitive risk had RD,” the researchers write.

“Predicting Reading Disability: Early Cognitive Risk and Protective Factors,” by Kenneth Mikael Eklund et al., Dyslexia, 2013, Volume 19, pp. 1-10.

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