Language, reading, and math learning profiles in an epidemiological sample of school age children

PLoS One. 2013 Oct 14;8(10):e77463. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077463. eCollection 2013.


Dyscalculia, dyslexia, and specific language impairment (SLI) are relatively specific developmental learning disabilities in math, reading, and oral language, respectively, that occur in the context of average intellectual capacity and adequate environmental opportunities. Past research has been dominated by studies focused on single impairments despite the widespread recognition that overlapping and comorbid deficits are common. The present study took an epidemiological approach to study the learning profiles of a large school age sample in language, reading, and math. Both general learning profiles reflecting good or poor performance across measures and specific learning profiles involving either weak language, weak reading, weak math, or weak math and reading were observed. These latter four profiles characterized 70% of children with some evidence of a learning disability. Low scores in phonological short-term memory characterized clusters with a language-based weakness whereas low or variable phonological awareness was associated with the reading (but not language-based) weaknesses. The low math only group did not show these phonological deficits. These findings may suggest different etiologies for language-based deficits in language, reading, and math, reading-related impairments in reading and math, and isolated math disabilities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Learning Disabilities / epidemiology*
  • Learning*
  • Mathematics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Reading*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Schools / statistics & numerical data*

Grants and funding

This work was supported by a Discovery Grant to the first author by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (371201-2009). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.