This does not mean that reading and spelling difficulties must always be related to the social fabric of the family. But they often play a role that should not be underestimated. At the very least, they are an important factor in determining whether these difficulties can be compensated for in school until adulthood – or whether the chances of coping with them are lower among those affected. It is possible that the interplay between the social fabric of the family and reading and spelling problems can lead to mental illnesses. That is a further argument that reading and spelling weaknesses do not automatically lead to mental disabilities. Because the family environment is an important dimension in the search for the causes of each individual case. Thus there can be a real chance to overcome this weakness in the acquisition of written language.
Reading/spelling problems are manifold in nature. The important role of the social fabric of the children’s families is, however, not considered enough or only marginally in the professional discussions. It would certainly be a mistake to attribute all conspicuous features to the social structure of the family as an institution. According to our observations, there are quite a few reading and spelling problems among children, which can occur more frequently in difficult or problematic families. The socio-economic situation of the family often plays a role here. Socially weaker families have not always been empowered to live a stable family environment for their children. On the other hand, middle-class families may also experience similar burdens. We estimate that around one third of children and young people with reading and spelling difficulties live in families with problems in the social fabric, which can manifest themselves in different ways. This does not automatically have to be an indication of social weakness, but it becomes clear that in today’s rapidly changing environment there are adaptation problems in family and society that parents can overtax with their children. On the one hand it is due to the changed world of work and probably to the changed pressure to adapt and perform in the social environment of families. This can also trigger additional difficulties in the social structure of middle-class families.
Here are some examples of what problems are observed in children and adolescents with literacy problems. Family stability plays an important role. Children of divorced parents may experience difficulties in learning because the more difficult social structure of the parent-child relationship often favours behavioural problems and a refusal to motivate and perform at school. A stable family structure is an important factor in compensating for learning difficulties at school. In the case of children of the long-term unemployed, some parents have more often achieved lower levels of education and vocational qualifications. They are more likely to speak a strong sociolect (dialect), which can be an obstacle to learning a written language that is true to the spoken word. However, this does not mean that a pure High German expression can completely prevent orthographic and grammatical problems. A strong sociolect can influence the problems of expression and spelling to a considerable extent unfavourably. According to our observations it is a frequent factor influencing the acquisition of LRS.
In addition, domestic physical as well as psycho-emotional violence, drug and alcohol consumption of the parents or mental illnesses of the parents can burden the social structure of the children and adolescents who are weak in reading and writing. In addition, different educational perceptions of the parents can play an important role.
Coping with the reading and spelling weakness requires clear structures in the education and a systematic domestic support of the children. Nowadays, in many families the use of tablets, smartphones and computers in leisure time plays a more important role than playing in the great outdoors with other children. The unregulated use of these media can lead to difficulties in learning the written language. In the past it was the television set, today it is the technical devices mentioned, often in addition to TV offers, that have an unfavourable effect on the acquisition of written language, since not a few parents lack the competence to put into practice a sensible use of media diversity in the leisure activities of children. This probably affects all social classes equally. There is a danger that socially disadvantaged families will have less of these educational skills because they often have much more problematic social structures. This inadequate self-help and parenting competence also favours normally developed children who have difficulties in developing written language and can acquire an LRS in the long term – irrespective of their family disposition.
We experience these and similar examples in our practical work with those affected. The reading and spelling weaknesses are not to be found in the child as a medical disorder, but these difficulties are additionally favoured by the social structure of the family. It is therefore important that the parents acquire the necessary educational skills so that these additional difficulties of the children can be recognised and overcome in addition to individual support.
Our conclusion is as follows:
It is possible that the social structure in the children’s family environment may develop unfavourably. The family of origin lays important foundations for the acquisition of written language. That is why not only the school system is responsible for the early acquisition of reading and writing skills, but also the nuclear family of parents and children is a support and educational institution that should not be underestimated and can pave the way for the children’s schooling. Here it becomes clear that it is not easy for socially disadvantaged children from unstable families to receive the same educational opportunities in the long term if they do not have a stable social structure. This inequality cannot be fully compensated by a social system with its education system. That is why it is important for children to grow up in stable family structures in order to prevent learning problems in school.