Literacy difficulties and psychiatric disorders: Evidence for comorbidity

Julia M. Carroll, Barbara Maughan, Robert Goodman, Howard Meltzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

284 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Literacy difficulties show high levels of comorbidity with both disruptive and emotional disorders, but questions remain over the nature and specificity of these links. Method: Relationships between specific literacy difficulties and psychiatric disorder were investigated in a large-scale national sample of children aged 9 to 15 years. Results: Specific literacy difficulties were more common in children from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and were significantly associated with increased risks of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (especially inattentive symptomatology), Conduct Disorder and anxiety disorders in both girls and boys, and with self-reports of depressed mood in boys. Associations between literacy difficulties and diagnoses of both Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Conduct Disorder (CD) were mediated by inattentiveness, as were links with low mood. Links between specific literacy difficulties and anxiety were of a different nature, suggestive of a direct impact of literacy problems on risk for anxiety disorders. Conclusions: Literacy difficulties are significantly associated with externalising disorders via inattention, but may constitute a more immediate risk factor for naturally anxious children to develop clinically significant levels of anxiety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)524-532
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number5
Early online date1 Oct 2004
Publication statusPublished - May 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Comorbidity
  • Conduct disorder
  • Depression
  • Reading difficulties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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