Persistence of literacy problems: Spelling in adolescence and at mid-life

MRC Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry Centre, King's College London Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK.
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 6.46). 03/2009; 50(8):893-901. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2009.02079.x
Source: PubMed


Developmental reading problems show strong persistence across the school years; less is known about poor readers' later progress in literacy skills.
Poor (n = 42) and normally developing readers (n = 86) tested in adolescence (ages 14/15 years) in the Isle of Wight epidemiological studies were re-contacted at mid-life (ages 44/45 years). Participants completed a spelling test, and reported on educational qualifications, perceived adult spelling competence, and problems in day-to-day literacy tasks.
Individual differences in spelling were highly persistent across this 30-year follow-up, with correlations between spelling at ages 14 and 44 years of r = .91 (p < .001) for poor readers and r = .89 (p < .001) for normally developing readers. Poor readers' spelling remained markedly impaired at mid-life, with some evidence that they had fallen further behind over the follow-up period. Taking account of adolescent spelling levels, continued exposure to reading and literacy demands in adolescence and early adulthood was independently predictive of adult spelling in both samples; family social background added further to prediction among normally developing readers only.
By adolescence, individual differences in spelling and its related sub-skills are highly stable. Encouraging young people with reading disabilities to maintain their exposure to reading and writing may be advantageous in the longer term.

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