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Birth Months Associated with Learning Disabilities?

by Carole VanSickle



It has long been common is knowledge in medical circles that a person’s birth month is associated with higher risks of certain psychological ailments —schizophrenia, for example. Roy P. Martin, a University of Georgia professor of education, now suggests that birth month also matters with respect to learning disabilities in elementary-aged children.

“This concept has implications for special education and general education policy decisions — such as the cutoff dates for admission to kindergarten,” he said.

Most states’ cutoff dates are in September or October, meaning that the youngest children in a given class were born in the spring and summer. However, children born in spring and summer were in mid-gestation, a critical period for central nervous system development, during winter.

“In wintertime,” Martin said, “pregnant women may experience a wider array of ‘biological insults’ such as vitamin D deficiency — because they are exposed to low levels of ultraviolet light due to remaining inside more — and upper respiratory infections such as the flu.” Scientists hypothesize that these conditions can cause neurological damage to the central nervous system of the developing fetus resulting, say, in schizophrenia — but Martin believes there could be a correlation with less severe problems involving speech, language and behavior.

Between 3 and 5 percent of all kids in school are diagnosed with a learning disability, he said, making it the single largest category of special education. In a pilot study of children with learning disabilities in north Georgia, Martin observed that birth month appeared to be related to patterns of learning disabilities. More children with learning disabilities were born in the spring and summer.

“The youngest children in a grade seem to be at some disadvantage compared to their peers with regard to behavior and learning,” he said.

In the past, educators tended to think that this phenomenon is social — not medical — but Martin’s findings are significant enough that he is now conducting a follow-up study of 80,000 children.

He’s not saying that the cutoff date should be moved — not yet.

“But if the data keep going the same way, we may conclude that not only are spring and summer births the youngest in their grades, socially speaking, but they’re more biologically at risk as well,” he said. “So it’s possible that an early-fall cutoff puts them in double jeopardy.”

For more information, email Roy Martin at


Research Communications, Office of the VP for Research, UGA
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