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Family-Based Risk Factors

By: Catherine Snow, Susan Burns, Peg Griffin
Knowing that students with certain family backgrounds and experiences are more likely to have trouble learning to read means that efforts can be made with these children to prevent difficulties from developing. For example, children with a family history of difficulties or with little exposure to books are at increased risk.

In many circumstances, early identification of children who will have reading difficulties might proceed better by considering target groups rather than by assessing individuals.

Demographic data suggest that a majority of reading problems tend to occur in children from poor families with little education, although they may of course occur in families that are neither poor nor undereducated.

Also, being a member of a family in which reading difficulties have occurred before may also constitute a risk, whether for biological or environmental reasons. We review here a number of factors identifiable at the level of the family to assess their value in identifying children who should receive prevention and intervention activities.

Analysis of family-based risk factors

Parents' reading disabilities predict a higher than normal rate of reading disabilities in their children (31 to 62 percent versus 5 to 10 percent). Although parental reading disabilities are not completely predictive of their children's reading disabilities, the substantially greater risk at least warrants very close monitoring of their children's progress in early language and literacy development.

Lack of English proficiency for a Hispanic child is a strong indication that he or she is at risk for reading difficulty; however, linguistic differences appear to be less responsible than other co-occurring group risk factors, particularly school quality. In a similar manner, the occurrence of family use of nonstandard dialect and individual family SES covary considerably with factors such as school quality, which is discussed in the next major section of this chapter.

The quantity of verbal interaction in families constitutes a risk factor primarily in that it relates closely to child vocabulary scores. Findings related to home literacy environments are mixed. Many of the large-scale studies (Walberg and Tsai, 1984; White, 1982) of the correlations between home environment and school achievement have focused primarily on samples of children in elementary school (or older).

Because the focus of this report is on the prevention of reading difficulties in young children, it is especially important to consider the different roles that home environment may play at different ages. In particular, the opportunities provided in the home for literacy acquisition during the preschool years may contribute primarily to the child's acquisition of attitudes toward literacy, of knowledge about the purpose and mechanics of reading, and of skills (such as vocabulary growth and letter knowledge) that may facilitate learning when school instruction begins.

Once the child has begun to attend school and has started to learn to read, the contributions of home and parents may be somewhat different; assistance with homework, listening to the child's efforts at reading aloud, the availability of resources such as a dictionary and an encyclopedia, and so forth may be particularly important for fostering high achievement in school.

References

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Endnotes

Endnotes

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Excerpted from: Snow, C. E., Burns, S. M., & Griffin, P. Editors. (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, Chapter 4: Predictors of Success and Failure in Reading.. National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences. Courtesy of National Academy Press. Reprinted with permission.

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