Dyslexia and psychopathological symptoms in Italian university students: a higher risk for anxiety disorders in male population?

M. Scorza 1, M. Zonno 2, E. Benassi 3

1 Department of Education and Human Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy; 2 Freelance Psychologist; 3 Department of Humanistic Studies, University of Urbino, Italy


Although socio-emotional problems are well documented in children and adolescents with dyslexia, little is known about the psychopathological consequences that the dyslexia may have in university students. It is possible to hypothesize a significant discouragement in dyslexics enrolled at university, as a result of their learning difficulties, which may result in psychopathological disorders secondary to these difficulties. This study, for the first time, administered the Self Administrated Psychiatric Scales for Children and Adolescents (SAFA) test to university students and investigated whether male and female university students with dyslexia demonstrated more psychopathological symptoms than males and females without dyslexia.


This study involved a total of 80 monolingual Italian university students: 27 students with dyslexia (16 males and 11 females) and 53 non-dyslexic students (21 males and 32 females). The mean age of the dyslexic group was 19.87 (SD = 1.21) and that of the control group was 21.51 (SD = 1.27). Psychiatric symptoms were examined with the standardized SAFA test. We administered to our groups the Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive-compulsive disorders, Psychogenic eating disorders, Somatic symptoms and hypochondria scales and subscales. Mann-Whitney tests were conducted to assess potential differences in the SAFA scales and subscales both between male university students with dyslexia and without dyslexia and between females with dyslexia and without dyslexia.


Relative to males without dyslexia, the male students with dyslexia obtained significantly higher scores on SAFA Total Anxiety scale and on Social Anxiety, School/university Anxiety and Insecurity subscales. No significant differences were found on the SAFA scales and subscales between the two group of female university students. Examining the number of university students who fell within pathological range we found a higher number of male students with dyslexia that appeared to show psychopathological disorders on almost all the SAFA scales and subscales, relative to the control group.


Despite our findings should be considered as preliminary results, our study provides evidence that the psychopathological consequences of the dyslexia appear to be life-long. The present work had the strength of focusing on university students with dyslexia, that have been under-investigated to date, and of examining male and female university students with dyslexia separately. The males appear at higher risk for anxiety disorders than females with dyslexia. Thus, our results call attention to the importance of separately considering male and female university students with dyslexia when their psychiatric symptoms are investigated. Finally, our preliminary data seem to provide support to the effectiveness of the SAFA test for the identification of psychopathological conditions and for suggesting deeper examination and specific interventions in young adults.

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