School absence and its effect on school performance for children born with orofacial clefts

Birth Defects Res. 2017 Jul 17;109(13):1048-1056. doi: 10.1002/bdr2.1041. Epub 2017 Jun 1.


Background: School absence is associated with lower performance on standardized tests. Children born with orofacial clefts (OFC) are likely to have more absence than children without OFC; however, school absence for children with OFC has not been quantified. We aimed to describe school absence and its relationship with school performance for children with and without OFC.

Methods: Population-based record-linked cohort study of children (402 with OFC, 1789 without OFC) enrolled in schools in Western Australia, 2008 to 2012. We compared median school absence rates using Wilcoxon rank tests, and investigated the impact of school absence on standardized scores from reading, numeracy, and writing tests, using multivariable models fitted by generalized estimating equations.

Results: In Semester 1, at each primary school year level, children without OFC and children with cleft lip only or cleft palate only had similar median absence rates (approximately 1 week). Children with cleft lip and palate had significantly higher absence rates in Years 4 to 6 (between 1 and 2 weeks). During secondary school, median absence rates were higher (2 weeks) for all children, but not statistically different between children with and without OFC. Higher absence was significantly associated with lower standardized reading, numeracy, and writing scores. However, having a cleft of any type had little influence on the association between absence and test scores.

Conclusion: School absence affected school performance for all children. Absence did not differentially disadvantage children born with OFC, suggesting current practices to identify and support children with OFC are minimizing effects of their absence on school performance. Birth Defects Research 109:1048-1056, 2017. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: Western Australia; cleft lip; cleft palate; medical record linkage; school absence; school performance.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Performance / psychology*
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Cleft Lip / psychology*
  • Cleft Palate / psychology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mouth Abnormalities / psychology
  • Schools
  • Western Australia