Reading/spelling difficulties may occur more frequently in families

family-2972218_1280For decades there has been a discussion among experts that dyslexia can occur in the family as a special reading and spelling weakness. Why these difficulties can occur more frequently in the families concerned in the acquisition of written language has not yet been fully clarified scientifically.

Adopted behaviour or hereditary predisposition as causes of reading and spelling problems

There are some indicators as to why people have similar difficulties as individual family members (father or mother, grandparents or uncles and cousins). So far, there are some neurological and genetic assumptions that can promote dyslexia. These are believed to trigger problems in auditory and visual processing in the speech centre, working memory and short-term memory. These problems are similar in the family accumulations of cases, which is why those affected find it more difficult to acquire written language compared to non-dictates. On the other hand, there are behaviours that are adopted from one generation to the next, which can additionally favour difficulties. Probably an interaction of environmental imitation and hereditary predisposition plays a greater role in these accumulations. It has not yet been clarified which dimension of these two factors is greater. Perhaps only environmental-institutional imitations occur in LRS and hereditary causes play a more dominant role in dyslexia. Too little is currently known about this.

Transgenerational transmission and less neuronal peculiarities?

In any case, there are indications from practice that the family accumulation must be due on the one hand to a predisposition to this. This point is undisputed in the professional world. On the other hand, there are family predispositions that, for example, parents offer children little incentive to learn to read and write. There are, so to speak, weaker role models or even educational poverty than environmental imitation, which cause difficulties in reading and writing and can favour an unfavourable course of these. Could transgenerational transmission play a role here? And less neuronal peculiarities of those affected? It is not known. We know of those affected where mental illnesses also occur. But the problems do not always have to automatically lead to psychological damage or be related to trauma.

Different family accumulation and coping with learning problems

Our observation in practice shows time and again that there must be different causes for the family accumulation. In some cases, the difficulties are passed on directly to the children and grandchildren. Probably about 50-60 percent of all reading and spelling difficulties are inherited in this way. Then a generation can be skipped once, whereby the grandpa had a dyslexia and the grandchild can show similar difficulties. Father and mother had no or very little problems at school. In this group the coping and compensation of the problems is different, this is due to the severity of the weakness and the psycho-social health. Problems in the social fabric probably play a lesser role here than in children with Reading/spelling problems.

Cases where environmental conditions are likely to predominate – socially disadvantaged families are also disadvantaged here.

In other cases we see family environments in which unfavourable behaviour and educational problems (uncontrolled media consumption, low family incentives to learn to read and write, low educational attainment of parents, problematic social fabric) can play a role and in which there are no hereditary particularities. These interrelationships have so far been discussed too little in the professional world or neglected by socio-political ignorance. Although some studies provide clear indications that the social conditions play a greater role in the acquisition of written language, especially among those from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. Therefore, the topic „LRS“ is also an important social topic. Because only experts will be able to keep their jobs or get one again in the future if they have no difficulties in reading and writing.

Normal intelligence and neurological peculiarities are not sufficient causes

In our research, we observe various causes for a familial accumulation of these reading and spelling problems in affected persons. Only neuronal characteristics and normal intelligence, as assumed by clinical psychologists, are too little to explain, because neuroscience still knows too little about the human brain. One aspect that has not been considered very much so far is the environmental causes, the

A dyslexia test must not be used as a certificate of convenience

Some people think they have a reading and spelling weakness confirmed so that they can sit back and relax. Some personal problems are then projected onto the dyslexia, which is not connected to it at all. It’s about psychological problems that can show up in social behaviour. A person with dyslexia can promote psychological problems in connection with a problematic childhood and learning difficulties that have not been overcome. Nevertheless, dyslexia is not a weakness with disease value, such an approach makes it too easy. Therefore, dyslexia testing should not be used as a certificate of comfort. It should be an impulse to tackle and overcome the problems.

It is not uncommon to see adult sufferers having difficulty reading and writing since childhood. They perhaps visited therapy offers over the social welfare office (§35a SGB VIII) or as usual in Saxonia,Germany, a special class, which is more common to most than LRS classes. In addition to these offers of help, only a few of those affected have a willingness to learn on their own, to cope with their problems. Therefore, the difficulties persist in in adulthood spite of the aid measures in childhood and adolescence. Without an independent will to learn, which should already be laid as a foundation stone at home, there is a high probability that the unresolved learning problems will be covered by psychological and personal difficulties that are not directly related to dyslexia. One should not project personal problems into a reading and spelling weakness, but rather have them treated by a psychologist.

A much more important approach must be to change the behaviour of those affected. If the mental balance stabilizes, there is the chance to compensate this weakness as far as possible in order to master life better. Those affected who get along well in life have often reflected on their difficulties and are able to understand their childhood or school biographical development. Only if the problems are understood, the chance exists to process them. Behavioural therapy can certainly be a help here, but unfortunately many behavioural therapists are not sufficiently familiar with this problem. In the case of depressive moods, which often occur in adults, we have already observed good progress in therapy. Adults with more severe psychological problems often find it more difficult or they do not want to admit that they have a mental problem in addition to their dyslexia. In adults, the number of people affected with mental problems does not seem to be small. The number is probably higher than among children and adolescents. According to our estimates, around 60-70 percent of those affected suffered psychological damage in childhood as a result of a problematic social structure and learning environment. Only this can explain the mental disorders that can occur in dyslexics.  Because dyslexia in itself is not a mental disorder. It is only a partial performance weakness in reading and writing.

In our opinion, the psychological problems are often due to an unprocessed childhood – the dyslexia should then serve as a projection surface. But dyslexia is not to blame for the problems in childhood. It needs active cooperation and the will to develop further with the upcoming tasks. Only then can it and life as a whole be mastered. A dyslexia test should not be a certificate for an illness. It is only an indication that you have to do something on your own initiative. At this point one’s own personal responsibility for life comes into play. Only a return to personal resources and targeted self-help will make it possible to overcome these difficulties. Only when the affected person realises that he is not allowed to lean back with a dyslexia test will he be able to overcome the difficulties in the long term.


A diagnosis of dyslexia must always strengthen the will to overcome weakness. It must not be a comfort certificate. Therefore, the value of a medical diagnosis of dyslexia is questionable. This diagnosis is intended to cement the belief that the problems are pathological and unmanageable. In our experience, many difficulties can be overcome in the long term, even in adulthood. However, there is no blanket solution here because the group of people affected is very heterogeneous.

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Good upbringing lays the foundation for coping with reading/spelling weakness

child-561229_1280Our education dictates who we become and what we do (Parens, 2017). This is the title of an essay by Prof. Henri Parens, MD of Thomas Jefferson University, published in the book „Bindung und emotionale Gewalt“ („Binding and Emotional Violence“) by the well-known researcher Karl Heinz Brisch. Parent-child bonding is an important basis for the upbringing and emotional development of children. It forms the basis for how the self and in the long run the self-image of the child will develop. These findings are important for dyslexia research, because a good upbringing is an important basis for children with reading and spelling difficulties, to develop well into adulthood in the long term. Or the children have a lower bonding ability due to unfavourable environmental conditions and bonding patterns, which can result in psycho-social behavioural disorders or even mental disabilities.

Therefore, the definition of this reading and spelling disorder as a generalized clinical picture must also withstand criticism. Here we must ask ourselves the questions: Are children with a reading, spelling or writing disability born with a disease? Or do they become conspicuous children only through their environment, through their education, the school system and society?

A „medical malfunction“ – reading /spelling disorder definition, prevents holistic case understanding and neglects education and training.The medical-psychological world often regards the reading and spelling disorder as a pathological construct. One measures the abnormalities in reading and writing, in many cases also the intelligence + concentrations and then compares them with the corresponding age group. From a statistical point of view, this may be used to discover conspicuous children. Often, however, they are not discovered because the measured results can vary depending on the performance of the day.

But much more important is contained the question: How did the child develop psycho-emotionally in the course of its life? Education, which is based on the child’s ability to bind to its parents, plays an important role in the extent to which long-term reading and spelling weaknesses are compensated for and overcome, by a more precise knowledge of the developmental history.  One aspect of this is that there must be indicators as to why mental violence or even neglect, as well as a low ability to bind can lead to learning difficulties in reading and writing. So far, these dimensions have been given little consideration in dyslexia research.

From this point of view it becomes clear that the diagnosis of a reading and spelling disorder is not sufficient for sustainable help. This requires a holistic understanding of the case, which takes into account the entire development of those affected. Therefore, the family background study is inevitable and an obligation to educating institutions, for the understanding of the individual cases. This is why a described developmental disorder of school abilities as a medical disturbance (Krollner, 2018) does not go far enough. This definition labels and stigmatises those affected. From an ethical and human rights perspective, this definition should be deleted from the ICD-10-GM. 

Institutional imprints influence and shape upbringing and education

Families educate their children from the beginning under the pressure of the ideas and conceptions prevailing in the respective society. These institutional influences, impact and shape the respective education and thus the psycho-emotional development of the children. Therefore the education plays an important role for the cognitive learning ability and maturation of the children. If children experience love and acceptance, they will be able to develop a healthy bonding ability, which makes them psycho-emotionally resilient children. The more stable the children with learning disabilities can grow up, the better they can cope with their dyslexia. Other children, on the other hand, will not acquire these learning reading/spelling difficulties if their environment, family and school system, offers the best possible conditions.

On the other hand, it may be due to the parenting style and the family background and history of the family, that children may not develop, or that the child‘s life does succeed in its development. Social and public educational institutions seem to play a role in the dynamic development process through a pre-determined group identity. The nuclear family probably plays a greater role, as we are shaped in it, and what the children can become later. The more favourable the conditions, the better those with reading and spelling difficulties will be able to pass through school and later adult life. Therefore, the family lays an important foundation for learning in general and the upbringing of children (Lehmann, 2018).


Krollner, D. B. (2018). F81.-Umschriebene Entwicklungsstörungen schulischer Fertigkeiten. ICD-10-GM, Version 2018, Systematisches Verzeichnis: Internationale statistische Klassifikation der Krankheiten und verwandter Gesundheitsprobleme, 10. Revision, Zugriff am 5.5.2018. Verfügbar unter:

Lehmann, L. M. (2018, April 17). Eltern-Kind-Bindung und emotionale Entwicklung sind wichtige Faktoren zur Bewältigung einer Lese-Rechtschreib-Schwäche. Internetpräsenz von Legasthenie Coaching – Institut für Bildung und Forschung gUG (haftungsbeschränkt), Zugriff am 5.5.2018. Verfügbar unter:

Parens, H. (2017). Bindung und emotionale Gewalt (Fachbuch Klett-Cotta). Das bösartige Vorurteil – Ein Weg zur Entladung emotionaler Gewalt (Band Bindung und emotionale Gewalt, S. 145–178). Klett-Cotta.