Reading skill-fractional anisotropy relationships in visuospatial tracts diverge depending on socioeconomic status
Low socioeconomic status (SES) has been repeatedly linked with decreased academic achievement, including lower reading outcomes. Some lower SES children do show skills and scores commensurate with those of their higher SES peers, but whether their abilities stem from the same systems as high SES children or are based on divergent strategies is unknown. We here investigated a potential interactive relationship between SES and real-word reading skill in the white matter in 42 typically developing children. SES was determined based on parental education; reading skill and age were not significantly related to SES. There was a significant neural interaction: Clusters in the bilateral inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF), left superior longitudinal fasciculus, and left corticospinal tract demonstrated interactive skill-SES relationships in fractional anisotropy. Follow-up analyses demonstrated that higher SES children showed a positive relationship between fractional anisotropy, reflecting tract coherence, and reading skill in left hemisphere tract clusters, whereas lower SES children showed a positive relationship in the right hemisphere homologues. Broadly, the ILF has been demonstrated to support orthographic skill on the left and more general visuospatial processing on the right, so high reading achievement in lower SES children may rely on supplementary visuospatial processing more than for higher SES readers. This pattern is consistent with previous work reporting low SES children’s environments to include less rich verbal experience, which may lead them to disproportionately draw on visuospatial skills for success. Further, these results indicate that group SES differences may be best described by an adaptive, not a deficit, model.