Academic Achievement Among Children With Nonsyndromic Orofacial Clefts : A Population-Based Study

Cleft Palate Craniofac J. 2018 Jan;55(1):12-20. doi: 10.1177/1055665617718823. Epub 2017 Dec 15.


Objective: Children with orofacial clefts (OFCs) may experience poor reading proficiency, learning disabilities, and academic underachievement. We examined the association between nonsyndromic (NS) OFCs and end-of-grade (EOG) performance in reading and math from third through eighth grade in a sample subgroup.

Participants: We identified a cohort of 559 children with NS-OFCs and 6822 children without birth defects, classifying cleft type by cleft lip alone, with or without cleft alveolar ridge (CL); cleft lip with cleft palate (CL+P); and cleft palate only (CP).

Main outcome measures: Using logistic regression, we estimated the odds of not meeting grade-level standards among children with NS-OFCs compared to unaffected peers. Using longitudinal analyses, we estimated the odds of not meeting grade-level standards and average change in test scores through eighth grade.

Results: Children with NS-OFCs were 1.22 (95% CI: 0.96, 1.83) times as likely not to meet grade-level standards in reading compared to unaffected peers. The effect was similar for math (OR: 1.17; 95% CI: 0.92, 1.48). Children with CL+P were 1.33 (95% CI: 0.86, 1.83) and 1.74 (95% CI: 1.19, 2.56) times as likely not to meet grade-level standard in reading and in both subjects, respectively, compared to unaffected peers. The average rate of change in both scores was similar for children with and without OFCs.

Conclusions: Poor academic performance appears greatest for children with CL+P, a finding compatible with previous observations and hypothesized mechanisms associating orofacial clefts with subtle abnormalities in brain development. Academic performance monitoring and referral for academic assistance is warranted.

Keywords: academic achievement; nonsyndromic orofacial clefts; school performance.