The Relationship between Reading Disorders and Anxiety in Children

Children with reading disorder (RD) have an increased risk of anxiety disorders, the most common mental health disorder in children.

Key Takeaway: Children with reading disorder (RD) have an increased risk of anxiety disorders, the most common mental health disorder in children. Fortunately, preliminary research suggests that an improvement in anxiety symptoms is associated with an improvement in academic performance over time. These findings highlight the importance of practitioner awareness of the common co-occurrence of RD and anxiety and provide support for: 1) screening for anxiety disorders in children diagnosed with RD and 2) comprehensive intervention that addresses both academic and mental health needs of children with RD. —Ashley Parnell

Reading disorder (RD), a type of specific learning disorder (SLD) that involves impairment in word reading, reading fluency, and/or reading comprehension, is common in the general population, with reported prevalence ranging from 5% to 17%. Children with RD have an increased risk for developing other psychiatric disorders, including anxiety disorder, and show higher anxiety levels than children without learning disabilities. However, “this co-occurrence is often under-recognized and under-treated resulting in less than optimal outcomes in all areas including emotional outcomes.”1

Given these concerns and statistics, the purpose of the current study from Hossain, Bent, and Hendren was to examine the association between anxiety symptoms and overall academic performance in children with RD, in hopes that a better understanding of this relationship would result in improved screening and treatment. 

Participants included 128 children (aged 7-14) from three special education schools that specialized in teaching students with RD. Teachers completed two rating scales every three months for two years, one that measured anxiety symptoms and another that measured academic progress in content areas including reading, writing, and math. 

Comparison of the two measures occurred over the two-year time period and at each time point of survey completion, both revealing a significant association between anxiety and academic performance with increased levels of anxiety symptomatology being associated with poorer academic performance in children with RD. Of specific importance, findings suggest that an improvement in an individual’s anxiety symptoms is associated with an improvement in their academic performance over time. 

Given the prevalence of anxiety and RD in isolation and comorbidly, these findings highlight the importance of screening for anxiety disorders in children that have been diagnosed with RD upon diagnosis and on a regular basis. Once identified, an interdisciplinary, comprehensive, targeted intervention that addresses both academic and mental health needs is recommended.

Summarized Article:

Hossain, B., Bent, S., & Hendren, R. (2021). The association between anxiety and academic performance in children with reading disorder: A longitudinal cohort study. Dyslexia.

Summary by: Ashley M. Parnell — Ashley strives to apply the MARIO Framework to build evidence-based learning environments that support student engagement, empowerment, and passion and is working with a team of educators to grow and share this framework with other educators.

Additional Reference: 

  1. Hendren, R. L., Haft, S. L., Black, J. M., White, N. C., & Hoeft, F. (2018). Recognizing Psychiatric Comorbidity With Reading Disorders. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, 101. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00101

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Join the MARIO Family

We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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