Early Literacy Difficulties

Early Literacy Difficulties

15 August 2022
Posted by: Chelsea

Early Literacy Difficulties: In what follows, the term “literacy” will be used to encompass problems children might encounter with speaking, reading, writing and using grammar commensurate with their age.

Remember that a non-professional perception of “early literacy difficulties” sometimes means little or nothing, as many children simply spontaneously catch up and suffer no longer-term negative effects on their development.

What are early literacy difficulties?

Over many years, scientists have charted the typical ages at which most children develop certain literacy skills.

However, there is very considerable variation when trying to place a child’s development on those charts. That’s because children are individuals and they develop different skills at different speeds than other children.

Essentially that means that a child may be behind the curve in learning a skill but that is NOT the same thing as saying they have early literacy difficulties. In most cases, it simply indicates that they’re running a little slower than others in developing said skill or skills.

Yet for some children, it is not just a question of speed of progress. Some find it consistently difficult to learn words, pronounce them correctly, use grammatical rules, learn their alphabet, read and so on. Where this is something that appears to be systematic and not responding to standard extra-help type provisions, a professional assessment may be required and that might lead to a diagnosis of early literacy difficulties.

The causes

Early literacy difficulties can be caused by a wide range of conditions. Some of these are at least partly understood and most people have now heard of conditions such as ASD (autism spectrum disorders), Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dysgraphia and so on.

Other causes though remain very poorly understood and some specialists may be reluctant to apply labels to attribute a cause to early literacy difficulties.

It is though now accepted that many causative factors arise from genetics and there is concrete evidence that some of these conditions are seen in family lines.


There is no direct link between early literacy difficulties and intelligence. Some highly intelligent people may have at one time had some difficulties in, say, learning to read well.

However, if left untreated, literacy difficulties may severely impact a child’s subsequent scholastic development. So, diagnosis and remedial support are essential.

Signs to look for

Diagnosis is best left to professionals and it is possible to worry unnecessarily.

Even so, you should consult your doctor if your child (based upon a 3 to 4 years-old pre-schooler):

  • is struggling to pronounce words that are commensurate with their age or still using baby-babble words as a large part of their vocabulary (e.g., “da” for “dog”). This may be slightly less of a concern, at this age, if your child is living in a bi or multi-lingual household;
  • is struggling to recognise some basic words in books where you’re trying to help – like “dog”. If you are not working with words with them by that age then that may be less worrying;
  • is unable to use even simple grammar when speaking. Examples might include using single words constantly, such as “potty” rather than “I need the potty” or “sweeties me” rather than “I’d like a sweetie”;
  • shows little or no interest in drawing and painting;
  • becomes upset, distressed or uninterested, when shown books.


Much will depend upon the diagnosis made by a professional.

For most early literacy difficulties, there is unfortunately no single cure-all treatment. A development specialist, often working closely with daycare centre or pre-school providers, will develop a programme of activities that may, over time, prove beneficial.

Some of these conditions may improve through special physical exercises to improve hand-eye coordination, others may be helped considerably by things such as changing where a child sits in a class relative to blackboards. In many cases just concentrated specialist extra help and practice can also yield impressive results.

Some of these conditions, through processes that are poorly understood, may also spontaneously resolve themselves in teenage or early adult life.

It can be difficult to be precise as to outcomes and the first step, if you have concerns about your child’s rate of learning, is to consult your doctor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *