Researchers find link between childhood physical abuse and dyslexia

Physically abused children more likely to report dyslexia diagnosis

Researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill conducted a large population-based study, published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, to determine the relationship between dyslexia and childhood physical abuse.

Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson, professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at U of T and the Sandra Rotman endowed chair in social work, and Dr. Stephen R. Hooper, professor at UNC’s Department of Psychiatry and associate director at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities, hypothesized that those who suffered abuse in the early years of their lives would be more likely to have dyslexia.

The researchers found that 34.8 per cent of respondents who reported childhood physical abuse also reported having dyslexia. They found that adults who had been abused as children were seven times more likely to have dyslexia.

To test their theory, Fuller-Thomson and Hooper assessed data from 13,054 respondents to a 2005 survey of adults from Saskatchewan and Manitoba. According to the study: “The large sample size has allowed for detailed examination of the co-occurrence of two conditions (childhood physical abuse and dyslexia) and provided representative information of this association.”

Dyslexia is a learning disability specific to reading and language processing, and it can cause problems with word recognition, decoding, and spelling.

Although the study does not establish causation or directionality between the presence of dyslexia and childhood physical abuse, it mentions that the presence of dyslexia may increase the risk for children to be physically abused for various reasons including “adult frustrations with chronic learning failure, child frustrations, and increased antagonistic behaviors with caregivers, associated attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and related social-emotional difficulties, poor parent coping mechanisms, or increased neurological vulnerability.” It is also possible that physical abuse could exacerbate the learning problems associated with dyselxia.

The researchers suggest that people with a history of dyslexia should be screened for abuse, and vice-versa.

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