Prevention Science, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2000
DSM-IV Learning Disorders in 10- to 12-Year-Old Boys With
and Without a Parental History of Substance Use Disorders
Christopher S. Martin,
Connie J. Romig,
and Levent Kirisci
This research examined whether learning disorders (LDs) among 10- to 12-year-old boys
are related to a parental history of alcohol and other substance use disorders (SUDs). Subjects
were boys with (SAϩ; n ϭ 179) and without (SAϪ; n ϭ 203) a parental history of SUDs.
LD diagnoses were made according to DSM-IV criteria using several standardized intelli-
gence tests, and mother and teacher reports of academic and cognitive difﬁculties. The results
indicated a higher rate of DSM-IV LDs in SAϩ compared to SAϪ boys. This association
remained signiﬁcant after accounting for the effects of socioeconomic status and ethnicity.
SAϩ boys with a lower socioeconomic status had particularly high rates of LDs (15.3%).
The results suggest that LDs are associated with a parental history of SUDs. SAϩ children
with lower SES may be at particularly high risk for cognitive and academic difﬁculties.
KEY WORDS: learning disorders; substance use disorders; family history.
Some children exhibit signiﬁcant deﬁcits in only
some areas of academic and cognitive functioning,
such as reading, mathematics, or spoken language,
which would not be expected from their overall level
of cognitive ability or academic achievement (Wong,
1996). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Men-
tal Disorders (DSM) and the International Classiﬁ-
cation of Diseases (ICD) describe a class of childhood
disorders conceptualized as a fairly speciﬁc deﬁcit in
a particular type of cognitive ability, in contrast to
the generalized deﬁcits found in mental retardation.
Despite differences in nomenclature, these disorders
are deﬁned in a very similar manner across the ICD-
10, DSM-III-R, and DSM-IV, and are described
herein as learning disorders (LDs).
The DSM-IV contains the LDs of articulation
disorder, mathematics disorder, disorder of written
expression, reading disorder, expressive language dis-
order, and mixed receptive-expressive language dis-
Center for Education and Drug Abuse Research (CEDAR), Uni-
versity of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsyl-
Correspondence should be directed to Christopher S. Martin,
Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh
School of Medicine, 3811 O’Hara Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.
1389-4986/00/0600-0107$18.00/1 2000 Society for Prevention Research
order (American Psychiatric Association [APA],
1994). LDs are not diagnosed when deﬁcits are due
to a medical or psychiatric condition, sensory impair-
ment, or a lack of educational opportunities. LDs
should be diagnosed only when standardized, individ-
ually administered tests indicate that scores for the
area of impaired skill are signiﬁcantly lower than
scores assessing overall cognitive function. Cognitive
deﬁcits must interfere with academic achievement or
activities of daily living.
Estimates of the prevalence of any LD has
ranged from 2 to 20% of the grade school population
in the United States (Kavale et al., 1987; Shaywitz et
al., 1990; Silver & Hagin, 1988), generally estimated
as about 5% (APA, 1994). However, there is little
information about the prevalence of speciﬁc LDs.
Among school-aged children, reading disorder has
been estimated to have a 4% prevalence rate, expres-
sive language disorder 3 to 5%, mixed expressive-
receptive language disorder 3%, mathematics disor-
der 1%, and disorder of written expression less than
1% (APA, 1994). LDs are often comorbid with one
another and accompanied by disruptive behavior and
attention deﬁcit hyperactivity disorder (Barkley,
1990; Korkman & Pesonen, 1994; Wong, 1996). LDs
related to speech and language are more common