London: Parents, take note! If your child has difficulty in reading, get them screened for hearing problems, as a study has found that 25 per cent of the kids who had reading difficulties suffered hearing impairment.
According to the researchers from Coventry University in the UK, if there was more awareness of youngsters' hearing problems, children might be able to receive more structured support to improve their reading and writing skills.
The study compared children with dyslexia to youngsters who had a history of repeated ear infections to see if they had a similar pattern of literacy difficulties.
A total of 195 children aged between eight and 10 - including 36 with dyslexia and 29 with a history of repeated ear infections - completed a series of tests to establish their reading and writing skills and how they used the structures of words based on their sounds and meanings, in speech and literacy.
They were retested 18 months later, when a hearing screening was also carried out.
None of the parents of the children with dyslexia reported any knowledge of hearing loss before the tests, but the screening showed that nine out of 36 of these children had some form of hearing loss.
Around one third of the children who had repeated ear infections had problems with reading and writing, although the researchers suggest repeat ear infections will only result in reading difficulties when accompanied by weaknesses in other areas.
The results showed that children with dyslexia have different patterns of literacy difficulties to children with a history of repeat ear infections, although there is some overlap between the groups.
Children with dyslexia had difficulties with literacy activities involving the ability to manipulate speech sounds (known as phonology) and the knowledge of grammatical word structure (called morphology).
Researchers said these youngsters need to be taught how to use morphology in a highly-structured step-by-step way to help them improve their literacy skills.
Children with a history of repeated ear infections mainly had problems with the phonology tasks; showing that they still had subtle difficulties with the perception of spoken language.
"Many children in school may have an undetected mild hearing loss, which makes it harder for them to access the curriculum," said Helen Breadmore, from Coventry University.
"A mild-moderate hearing loss will make the perception of speech sounds difficult, particularly in a classroom environment with background noise and other distractions," Breadmore said.
"Therefore, children who have suffered repeated ear infections and associated hearing problems have fluctuating access to different speech sounds precisely at the age when this information is crucial in the early stages of learning to read," she said.