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Curtin University of Technology
Twins and Multiples


What is specific reading disability and how is it assessed?

Some children are more able than others, irrespective of whether they are singleborn or multiples. Some children will be less able to read because they are generally less able at most if not all school activities. Specific Reading Disability is not about such children. Rather it is the name given to children who are of at least reasonable ability in all other areas but who have a specific deficit in reading. This is not the place to recognise the ongoing debate in Education and Psychology about this distinction, which goes well beyond multiple births.

This distinction raises one issue about diagnosis, in that one needs to know whether the child really has the intellectual capacity to read well. Such assessment may involve an educational psychologist or someone with similar expertise who can use very specific tests to focus in on what this particular child may need. When the child also has attention problems such as ADHD, the question of assessing ability becomes even more complex, since there needs to be some recognition that some specific skills such as Arithmetic (that is one part of many standard intelligence tests) does rely on good attention. You need to be able to measure ability, uncontaminated by attention and other problems. For example, ADHD children may also be more impulsive and guess at an answer without thinking the problem through.

The mere fact of such an assessment raises many new issues. It cannot just be done by observation in the classroom but means the child or children must be singled out. Drawing attention in this way to the fact that one child may be less able to read than their twin or higher multiple may be very traumatic in itself and has to be handled carefully both in the class with the other children and at home. Some children can be unwittingly very insensitive and find it great to emphasise just how much better their reading is than that of their other multiple. Sometimes it works in reverse:

" The difficulty we had was with the one who did NOT have the problems. He was upset his brother was being taken out of class and singled out for special attention. What had he done wrong that he was not getting the same? After all, everyone knew he was doing much better at school…."

Assessment may be arranged through the school but sometimes the waiting list can be very long. While parents may be tempted to "jump the queue" and to seek some private assessment, it is worth checking with the school about this. It may not be much good having someone come up with a whole list of what should be done, if there are practical reasons why these ideas cannot be implemented in the particular classroom situation. At the same time, it is worth checking with the person doing the assessment, that they have adequate experience of multiples and of the most common comorbid conditions in multiples that can complicate the evaluation.

What does comorbidity mean?

Many children have not just one problem but several, and good assessment needs a full evaluation and an intervention strategy that takes all into account. We give two examples here as the topic is covered more in the ADHD section:

(i) children with reading problems often have poor self-esteem and feel they are going to fail at everything. This may be more common in multiples, because of the very direct comparisons with their multiple brothers or sisters. If you know you are the "dumb" one (and children use crueler words than this), then you may not try your best in any assessment and your potential may be underestimated

(ii) some multiples are slower in developing fine motor co-ordination and this may impede their performance on some of the tasks that are often used in assessment.

How old are the multiples?

This may seem an odd question, but is actually important in gauging the reading and intellectual skills of multiples. Most formal assessments work by comparing the child's performance with norms for children aged almost exactly the same e.g five years, five years:three months etc. We lack good guidelines on what to do with very preterm children, as many of the multiples are. It may matter less by the time children are well into primary school, but the younger the multiples the more it may matter. In the 1970's, one of the very large US programs, the Louisville Twin Study actually developed separate norms for twins on some of the standard measures used with infants and preschool children. This has not been pursued further, even though there are many more extremely preterm multiples.