Kids with asthma may lag in reading

Young children who start school with asthma may have trouble with reading skills, a new study suggests.

The study followed 298 New Zealand children through their first year of school. At the end of the year, just over half of the children with asthma - compared to a third of those without it - had fallen at least six months behind their peers in reading achievement.

The researchers looked at a number of factors that could explain the gap - including the possibility that children with asthma were more likely to be from low-income families, have "poor readiness" for reading or have higher absence rates.

But that was not the case, according to findings published in the journla Chest.

The study

"We think our findings suggest that asthma and early reading achievement are linked in some way, which is as yet not explained," said lead researcher Dr Kathleen A. Liberty, of the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand

She and her colleagues could only speculate on the potential reasons. But one possibility is that breathing problems come into play. In New Zealand, Dr Liberty noted, children in their first year of school do very little "silent" reading and instead say words and sentences out loud.

"Children with asthma may have difficulties controlling their breathing, or learning to control their breathing while reading aloud - which is a part of the reading process that apparently has had little research," she said.

In contrast, children's early experience with math does not involve much speaking out loud, and in this study the children with asthma were not at increased risk of being behind in math ability.

The findings

The findings are based on children whose reading and math ability were tested when they entered school and one year later. (In New Zealand, children start first grade when they are 5 years old.)

Just over 18% of the children had asthma when they started school. At the end of the year, 51% of those children were at least six months behind in reading words, and 55% lagged in reading sentences. That compared with 33% and 38% of children without asthma.

Dr Liberty and her colleagues are continuing to follow the children to find out more about their school achievement.

Support children's learning

For now, she suggested that parents of children with asthma be aware that their kids might have difficulty with reading, and then do what's recommended for all parents - support their children's learning.

That includes reading with them at home and communicating with teachers and schools. Schools may offer additional help for children struggling with reading or other skills, Dr Liberty noted.

Another question is whether getting young children's asthma under good control might blunt any negative effects on reading achievement. The researchers did account for asthma severity at baseline. But Dr Liberty she said it's possible their asthma severity changed during the year.

Further research, she said, might help show whether asthma control has an impact.(Reuters Health/ December 2010)

Read more:
Diagnosing asthma in children: the symptoms
How do you treat asthma in children?
The importance of reading to your child

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