Get access

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

Authors


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.

Barbara Maughan, MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, P046, King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK; Tel: +44 (0)20 7848 0470; Fax: +44 (0)20 8748 0866; Email: b.maughan@iop.kcl.ac.uk

Abstract

Background:  Developmental reading problems show strong persistence across the school years; less is known about poor readers’ later progress in literacy skills.

Method:  Poor (= 42) and normally developing readers (= 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.

Results:  Individual differences in spelling were highly persistent across this 30-year follow-up, with correlations between spelling at ages 14 and 44 years of = .91 (< .001) for poor readers and = .89 (< .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.

Conclusions:  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.

Get access to the full text of this article

Ancillary