Differential risk for developmental reading disorders in the offspring of compensated versus noncompensated parents

Jeffrey W. Gilger, Elizabeth Hanebuth, Shelley D. Smith, Bruce F. Pennington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


When one or both parents have a history of developmental reading disorder (RD) in childhood, the risk to their offspring for developing reading problems is substantially increased. However, risk research has usually assumed a stability of reading problems across the lifespan (i.e., if a parent was affected in childhood, he or she remains affected in adulthood). Yet, some individuals with RD in childhood compensate for the disorder as they grow older. Both an environmental and genetic hypothesis would predict that the risk for RD in offspring will vary as a function of parental compensation. This study examined whether risk to offspring was dependent on the parents' successful or unsuccessful compensation for their childhood reading problems. Two large family data sets were analyzed (N = 907). Diagnoses with either an age discrepant or IQ discrepant criteria essentially showed that having at least one still affected parent (i.e., RD both as a child and as an adult) put the offspring at a higher risk for RD than having at least one compensated parent (i.e., RD as a child but not as an adult). The lowest risk to an offspring occurred when both parents were never affected (i.e., not RD as a child or as an adult). The implications of these findings are discussed with regard to counseling and early diagnosis of reading problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)407-417
Number of pages11
JournalReading and Writing
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1996


  • Compensation
  • Dyslexia
  • Environment
  • Familial aggregation
  • Genetics
  • Risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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