Maybe yes, maybe no.
Norwegian researchers are discovering new evidence that suggests gender and genes play a key role in the delayed language development of children. Researchers led by Eivind Ystrøm of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health looked at language development milestones for 10,000 Norwegian kids for five years to determine the impact of heredity on language delays.
Researchers found that most language delays occurred among the boys, who mostly caught up by school-age. Blame it on the testosterone. Past studies show levels of testosterone in amniotic fluid are associated with the development of autism and language disorders.
The reading and writing problems that come along later are a family affair. “We show for the first time that reading and writing difficulties in the family can be the main reason why a child has a speech delay that first begins between 3 to 5 years of age,” says Ystrøm.
“Reading and writing difficulties in the family are the predominant risk factors for late-onset language difficulties. We see no language problems when the child is between 18 months and 3 years old. They are latent.”
Reading disorders run in families, so parents with reading disorders are likely to have children with reading disorders “There is about 50% chance of a boy having dyslexia if his father has a reading disability and about 40% if his mother has a reading disorder; the chances are lower for girls, say researchers.
So there is a genetic predisposition to read or not to read. Is that like “to be or not to be?” Are people who read more likely to survive, better able to sow their good reading genes on fertile fields, spreading the seeds of knowledge? Or, are bookworms losing out, reading Anna Karenina instead of getting out there and doing it themselves? I suspect that these days reading difficulties make for financial difficulties too, reducing the odds of forming a family. But I’m just guessing.
Universal literacy is only a few generations old in most populations so it’s surprising that most folks manage pretty well with the written word. This suggests that humans work predisposed to the art of readin’ and writin’ by berry picking or nut tossing or some other activity where selection was rigorously applied, so that the brains of survivors and their descendants were ripe for picking up the written word when it came along. But the relatively recent demands of literacy creates barriers for those left at a genetic disadvantage. Fortunately, intervention and awareness can mitigate the epigenetic sting of the reading challenges.