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Asthma may impact on young children's learning

2 September 2011

Asthma may impact on young children's learning to read even more than previously considered

Asthma may have even more negative impact on young children's learning to read than research linking the two to date has previously suggested delegates at the New Zealand Respiratory Conference were told in Wellington today.

Associate Professor Kathleen Liberty from the University of Canterbury told the 120-strong audience of health professionals that new analysis of data collected for the Children's Learning Study (CLS) -- conducted in Christchurch between 2005 and 2008 involving 298 children from several primary schools --suggested a strong positive relationship between increasing asthma severity in the first year of school and being six or more months behind their peers in the first year of school.

Associate Prof Liberty was the principal investigator of the CLS, the initial findings from which attracted media attention around the world in December when published in the prestigious North American medical journal CHEST. Linking asthma and reading outcomes in this way was a world first.

" This new apparent relationship is a very important finding, although we are still to determine whether such a clear relationship exists between asthma and reading outcomes in young children independently of other factors such as socioeconomic status, comorbid conditions, sleep quality and family life events.

"Our interviews with children who were struggling to read in a previous study indicated that children thought of themselves as 'thick' and did not understand that other factors may be the cause of their struggles.

The Chief Executive of the Asthma Foundation, Angela Francis, said that the new findings underscored the importance of parents of children with asthma discussing any concerns about their child's condition with their GP.

"We are not saying that children with asthma won't learn to read. What we are saying is that parents, caregivers, whanau, need to take care that children's asthma is as well managed as possible, because it may affect their education."

The Asthma Foundation funded the Prospective Cohort Study part of the CLS.


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