Professor Julia Carroll and Dr. Helen Breadmore have recently completed a project funded by the Nuffield Foundation comparing children with dyslexia and children with a history of repeated ear infections (glue ear). The report will be available shortly.
We know that children with dyslexia have difficulties in sound awareness tasks, and that children with a history of repeated ear infections (Otitis Media with Effusion, OME) also often have weaknesses in sound awareness tasks, probably because they have had reduced hearing in the past. The two groups have not previously been directly compared.
We were interested in whether children with OME showed the same pattern of sound awareness and literacy difficulties that dyslexic children showed. We were also interested in whether those children with sound awareness difficulties who escaped literacy difficulties were more likely to use other language skills to help them progress well.
We found that many children with OME show normal literacy skills, but there is a significant subgroup (around a third) that has literacy difficulties. We were surprised to find that children with OME and children with dyslexia show different profiles of impairments: children with dyslexia show difficulties on language tasks which required conscious planning, while children with OME have difficulties only on the sound awareness tasks. Despite these differences, there are overlaps between the groups: around a third of children with OME showed below average reading, and 10% of the dyslexic children had undiagnosed hearing difficulties.
Our findings suggest that many children in school may have an undetected mild hearing loss, which would make it harder for them to access the curriculum. Current hearing screening procedures are not picking up these children, and we would advise that children have their hearing tested in more detail and more often, particularly if they are showing unexpected literacy difficulties.