Media Releases

One third of adults with dyslexia report they were physically abused during their childhood

July 3, 2014

TORONTO, ON — Adults who have dyslex­ia are much more like­ly to report they were phys­i­cal­ly abused before they turned 18 than their peers with­out dyslex­ia, accord­ing to a new study from researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to and the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na School of Med­i­cine in Chapel Hill.

Thir­ty-five per cent of adults with dyslex­ia report they were phys­i­cal­ly abused before they turned 18. In con­trast, sev­en per cent of those with­out dyslex­ia report­ed that they had expe­ri­enced child­hood phys­i­cal abuse.

“Even after account­ing for age, race, sex and oth­er ear­ly adver­si­ties such as parental addic­tions, child­hood phys­i­cal abuse was still asso­ci­at­ed with a six-fold increase in the odds of dyslex­ia” says co-author Esme Fuller-Thom­son, pro­fes­sor and San­dra Rot­man Endowed Chair at Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to’s Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work.

Inves­ti­ga­tors exam­ined a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of 13,054 adults aged 18 and over in the 2005 Cana­di­an Com­mu­ni­ty Health Sur­vey includ­ing 1,020 respon­dents who report­ed that they had been phys­i­cal­ly abused dur­ing their child­hood and 77 who report­ed that they had been diag­nosed by a health pro­fes­sion­al with dyslex­ia.

The results were in a study pub­lished online this week in Jour­nal of Inter­per­son­al Vio­lence.

“Our data do not allow us to know the direc­tion of the asso­ci­a­tion. It is pos­si­ble that for some chil­dren, the pres­ence of dyslex­ia and relat­ed learn­ing prob­lems may place them at rel­a­tive­ly high­er risk for phys­i­cal abuse, per­haps due to adult frus­tra­tions with chron­ic learn­ing fail­ure,” said study co-author, Stephen Hoop­er, pro­fes­sor of Psy­chi­a­try and Pedi­atrics, and Asso­ciate Dean and Chair of Allied Health Sci­ences at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na School of Med­i­cine. “Alter­na­tive­ly, giv­en the known asso­ci­a­tion between brain dys­func­tion and mal­treat­ment, it could be that the expe­ri­ence of phys­i­cal abuse may also con­tribute to and/or exac­er­bate such learn­ing prob­lems, sec­ondary to increased neu­ro­log­ic bur­den.”

Fuller-Thom­son asserts “Although we do not know if the abuse-dyslex­ia asso­ci­a­tion is causative, with one-third of adults with dyslex­ia report­ing child­hood abuse, it is impor­tant that pri­ma­ry health care providers and school-based prac­ti­tion­ers work­ing with chil­dren with dyslex­ia screen them for phys­i­cal abuse.”


For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact:

Prof. Esme Fuller-Thom­son
Pro­fes­sor & San­dra Rot­man Endowed Chair
Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work &
Depart­ment of Fam­i­ly & Com­mu­ni­ty Med­i­cine
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Cell: 416–209-3231

Stephen R. Hoop­er, Ph.D.
Asso­ciate Dean and Chair
Depart­ment of Allied Health Sci­ences
Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na School of Med­i­cine
Phone: 919–966-9040

Michael Kennedy
Media Rela­tions
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Office: 416–946-5025