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Moll, Kristina; Landerl, Karin; Snowling, Margaret J.; Schulte-Koerne, Gerd (2019): Understanding comorbidity of learning disorders: task-dependent estimates of prevalence. In: Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Vol. 60, No. 3: pp. 286-294
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Abstract

Background Reading disorder (RD) and mathematics disorder (MD) frequently co-occur. However, the exact comorbidity rates differ largely between studies. Given that MD is characterised by high heterogeneity on the symptom level, differences in comorbidity rates may result from different mathematical subskills used to define MD. Comorbidity rates with RD are likely to be higher when MD is measured by mathematical subskills that do not only build on number processing, but also require language (i.e. arithmetic fluency), than when measured by magnitude processing skills. Methods The association between literacy, arithmetic fluency and magnitude processing as well as the overlap between deficits in these domains were assessed in a representative sample of 1,454 third Graders. Results Associations were significantly higher between literacy and arithmetic, than between literacy and magnitude processing. This was also reflected in comorbidity rates: comorbidity rates between literacy and arithmetic deficits were four times higher than expected by chance, whereas comorbidity rates between literacy and magnitude processing deficits did not exceed chance rate. Deficits in the two mathematical subskills showed some overlap, but also revealed dissociations, corroborating the high heterogeneity of MD. Results are interpreted within a multiple-deficit framework and implications for diagnosis and intervention are discussed. Conclusions The overlap between RD and MD depends on the subskills used to define MD. Due to shared domain-general factors mathematical subskills that draw on language skills are more strongly associated with literacy than those that do not require language. The findings further indicate that the same symptom, such as deficits in arithmetic, can be associated with different cognitive deficits, a deficit in language skills or a deficit in number processing.