BACKGROUND: The aims of this study were twofold: first, to examine behavioural and academic outcomes of children with hyperactivity, using data from two longitudinal studies; and second, to examine comparable psychosocial outcomes for children with early reading difficulties. METHODS: Measures of teacher-rated persistent hyperactivity, and reading ability obtained during early primary school were available for children from the Australian Temperament Project and the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study. Both samples were followed up to assess behavioural and academic outcomes during the adolescent and early adult years. Family background, antisocial behaviour and literacy were controlled in the first set of analyses to examine the influence of early hyperactivity. RESULTS: There were strong linear relationships between early hyperactivity and later adverse outcomes. Adjustment for other childhood variables suggested that early hyperactivity was associated with continuing school difficulties, problems with attention and poor reading in adolescence. Early reading difficulties, after controlling for early hyperactivity, predicted continuing reading problems in high school and leaving school with no qualifications. CONCLUSIONS: The findings suggest that there are dual pathways from early inattentive behaviours to later inattention and reading problems, and from early reading difficulties to substantial impairments in later academic outcomes.