Dyslexia, multilingual speakers and otitis media
Current theories for the underlying causes of dyslexia highlight the role of phonological difficulties in the period of initial schooling. Both magnocellular and cerebellar deficit theories attempt to explain these difficulties in terms of abnormal brain function at birth. However, there is a dearth of evidence relating to the pre-school years. Intrigued by the difficulties of my own children, who had otitis media (OM) at an early age, I determined to assess the incidence and impact of OM in bilingual and multilingual children with reading difficulties. Over a period of eight years, data was collected for the first study on a sample of 1000 bi/multilingual children and adults who were referred for assessment due to identified difficulties along the dyslexia continuum. Of these, 703 had experienced serious bouts of OM and 297 had not. A 70% rate of occurrence is far beyond other incidence figures internationally - a highly significant finding. Having identified the existence of OM in the cohort, in the next two studies I investigated the impact of the condition. The studies were based on work with 63 of the 1000 families, and the teachers of their children. In no case was a connection made between hearing difficulties at a young age and later learning problems. This was echoed in conversation with those working in ENT who advised GPs on outcomes. There were several findings, which were highly significant for the OM group as opposed to those without OM considering the fact that the group, as a whole, was dyslexic. These were in areas of reading, writing, speed of processing, rote learning, lack of hearing in ax noisy background, anxiety and poor behaviour. It became evident from the results of the studies that there is a prospect of identifying needs of dyslexic children, if there is a background of OM. A fourth study was directed at 74 dyslexic adults from a bi/multilingual background and asked for their perspectives based on specific difficulties experienced by them in the learning process. The findings are novel in that they suggest that there is a potentially large group of dyslexic children who may not suffer from abnormal brain function at birth, but rather suffer from a phonological and speed disorder that is actually acquired in early childhood via OM. The' research has significant implications at theoretical, diagnostic and policy levels.