Early literacy in Autism

Researching Autism Spectrum Disorder and associations with literacy skills at the start of primary school.

Birdseye view of a child reading a book

In a nutshell

Evidence suggests that children who are diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism have relatively poor reading skills by the middle of primary school. We know little, however, about the early reading skills of these children, and how these children learn to read. This is important because early reading skills lay the foundations for learning throughout childhood and beyond.

This research will clarify how the early literacy profiles of children with autism compare with those of children without, and exploring variations within the autism group.

About the project


 We are creating a novel linked dataset containing educational records and health records. The educational records included detailed information on the early reading skills at the start of primary school and children’s characteristics. This was linked to health data including weight and gestation at birth, and additional support needs, such as autism.  In the future we plan to apply for further funding to enable us to analyse these initial data on autism, and reading skills, as well to explore opportunities for extending this linkage further, either to look at early literacy skills and other conditions, and/or to extend to literacy skills in later childhood.

Key Questions

  • What do the early literacy profiles of autistic children look like, and how do they differ from typically developing children?
  • What different profiles of early literacy do we see among autistic children, and what socio-demographic characteristics and perinatal (immediatley before and after birth) risks affect these?
  • Can we extend data linkage to explore the impact of other neurodevelopmental conditions (e.g. ADHD) on early literacy, and which combinations of disorders put children most at risk of experiencing literacy difficulties?
  • Can we extend data linkage to assess how stable these literacy difficulties are for autistic children or children with other neurodevelopmental disorders?


The results of this research has the potential to influence the way in which the literacy education of children with additional needs is approached. If we can improve the early literacy skills of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, we may be able to have a lasting impact across the life course.

Key contact

Dr Rachael Wood