An epidemiological study on Finnish school-aged children with learning difficulties and behavioural problems

Int J Circumpolar Health. 2011 Feb;70(1):59-71. doi: 10.3402/ijch.v70i1.17799. Epub 2011 Feb 21.


Objectives: To investigate the association between learning difficulties (LDs) and behavioural and emotional problems of 8-year-old children in the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986 (n=9432).

Study design: A cross-sectional study.

Methods: Teachers assessed children's behaviour with a Rutter scale (RB2) and assessed their learning with questions about whether a child had difficulties in reading, spelling and mathematics.

Results: Of the children, 21.4% (n=1774) had 1 or more learning difficulties (LDs): 12.3% (n=1026) had a verbal LD, 3.0% (n=248) a mathematical LD and 6.0% (n=500) a combined LD. For boys with LDs, an adjusted odds ratio of having behavioural problems was 3.1 (95% CI 2.5-4.0) and emotional problems 3.0 (2.0-4.6), and for girls 3.9 (2.6-5.8) and 5.3 (3.6-8.1), respectively. In boys and girls, verbal difficulties were associated with behavioural and emotional problems whereas mathematical difficulties were associated with behavioural problems in boys and with emotional problems in girls. Divorced and reconstructed family types were significant risk factors for LDs and behavioural problems, whereas a lifelong one-parent family type was a risk factor for behavioural problems, but not for LDs. A child's younger age compared to that of classmates, a mother's and a father's low education level and a low family SES were risk factors for having LDs.

Conclusion: More attention should be paid to children whose families are facing adverse circumstances, especially as it affects their preschool education, in order to support their learning and school attendance.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Learning Disabilities / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Population*
  • Social Class
  • Surveys and Questionnaires