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Despite Diagnoses, Girls as Likely as Boys To Have Reading Disability, Study Reveals

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Despite a widespread assumption to the contrary, girls are just as likely as boys to have a reading disability, according to a study published last month.

But schools are more likely to diagnose the condition in boys, the researchers said, because their classroom behavior may be more disruptive.

"In general, teachers rate boys as significantly more active, more inattentive, and less dexterous and as having more problems in behavior, language, and academics than their female peers," writes Sally Shaywitz, the primary author of the report. "Yet, despite teacher reports of difficulties in the classroom, the measured overall ability and achievement of boys is comparable with that of girls."

Dr. Shaywitz's study, published in the Aug. 22-29 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, is among a handful of investions this year reaching the same conclusion. A second, unrelated study is now being prepared for publication and a third has been published in part. Experts said the three studies, taken together, present an important challenge to the long-held belief in the field that reading disabilities are more common among boys.

Dr. Shaywitz, who is co-director of the Center for the Study of Learning and Attention Disorders at Yale University, and other researchers followed 445 Connecticut children from kindergarten through 3rd grade.

In 2nd grade, the researchers found, the schools identified four times as many boys as girls as having reading disabilities. In 3rd grade, the number of reading-disabled boys diagnosed by educators was twice as high as it was for their female classmates.

But, when the researchers used some of the same kinds of testing instruments to screen all the students independently, equal numbers of boys and girls in both grades were found to have the disability.

Dr. Shaywitz said some bias in schools' methods for diagnosing reading-disabled students may occur at two junctures: first, when teachers initially refer students for special-education testing, and second, following completion of the objective tests, when teachers, parents, and other professionals meet to determine whether a child needs special education.

"If the child is a girl who doesn't have some of these striking behavioral characteristics, they might be more likely to say, 'Why don't we wait awhile and see what happens,"' Dr. Shaywitz said. "People need to look beyond the behaviors and look at what is happening to the child in terms of academic achievement."--DV

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