For Children Struggling with Reading - Early Intervention is Key

The Importance of Early Intervention for Dyslexic Children & Struggling Readers

What can parents of children who struggle with reading learn from the world’s best football players?

Reading Ropes Team, Individual Needs, Literacy & Dyslexia Specialists


Early Intervention & Struggling Readers
In their best-selling book ‘Super Freakonomics’ Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner looked at the birthdates of all professional European Soccer Players (you’ll find out how this relates to early intervention in reading in a few moments)… What they found was extraordinary. 43% of players were born in the first three months of the year, while less than 9% were born in the last three months.

Children who are just a few months older than their friends, at 4 or 5, have developmental advantages that make them better athletes. Of course, as they grow older, these developmental advantages wear off, but curiously, the performance gap remains.


The authors reasoned that advantages in the very early years of childhood led to an ongoing self-fulfilling prophecy. In addition, those above average young soccer players enjoyed the sport more and spent more time honing their skills.

Okay… but what does this tell us about children who struggle with reading?

If a child is overachieving (or underachieving) in the very early years of their life in any discipline, the gap between their peers is likely to remain (or widen) over time if we do not act.

It shows us the dramatic significance of those early formative years in a child’s life and it validates the critical importance of acting early to help struggling readers close the gap before it is too late.

A hugely influential research paper (Stanovich, 1986) showed that children who struggle to acquire early literacy skills will see their difficulties compound exponentially over time if the issues are not addressed. They get frustrated at the reading process, their vocabulary development suffers and ultimately they just read less than their peers, who find reading more enjoyable.

Is Early Intervention the Only Answer for Struggling Readers? Yes, There is No Doubt About It.

What early intervention is: in the context of literacy, it is simply recognising the need to support a child who is experiencing reading difficulties as early as possible e.g. in the first year or two of schooling. It means taking action right away to give that child the best opportunity to make the reading gains they deserve. Often parents ask, “what can I do, my child is not learning to read the way I expected?” or they might say, “my child’s teacher has made me aware they are struggling, but we’re going to ‘wait and see’ if they catch up.” The “wait and see” approach to reading support is disastrous. It’s like a fire-fighter waiting to see if a house fire goes out all by itself – there’s a very small chance it will, but there’s a far greater chance it will get worse with the damage irreparable. It is tragic that so many schools, despite the very clear costs of waiting too long, fail to identify and support children before they fall victim to reading failure. We need to catch these children before they fall, because once a child gets out of the first 3 years of school, closing literacy gaps becomes almost impossible.

How do we Ensure Struggling Readers get the Early Intervention Support They Need?

We need to identify struggling readers and children ‘at risk’ of literacy difficulties early. Any child who is not finding learning to read seamless or those children who we instinctively know are struggling to breakthrough to literacy need to be identified (e.g. through a grade 1 phonics check or other progress testing) and provided with adequate early intervention. Once identified, they need to be placed into what educators call ‘Tier 3’ or ‘Tier 2’ intervention support at school.
We won’t be going into into detail on the ‘Response to Intervention’ model or the various other ways we can support struggling readers in this article, other than to say these children need targeted small group or 1:1 help at the appropriate level of intensity. They need direct, structured and explicit literacy support both in the classroom and outside of the classroom. Simply put, struggling readers need every opportunity to stop the gap in their reading skills from widening. How we do this fairly for all children may be a small debate; what the intervention looks like may be a small debate; and what resources make sense in which settings may be another small debate… But, the importance of early intervention as a principle is inarguable. It is the only answer we have for dyslexic children and slow-progress readers.
“Struggling readers need every opportunity to stop the gap in their reading skills from widening”


The data that shows us the importance of early intervention for children struggling with reading has been around for a very long time. We know that the “reading gap” between struggling readers and their peers continues to widen if we don’t provide early intervention support. It’s not fair that those who find breaking the reading code easy have an entire world of learning open up to them, while the struggling reader is left behind from the start. Why would we take any chances? Why wouldn’t we be proactive? We are talking about literacy learning here, a key life skill in a world full of print text. Even if we are vaguely in doubt about a child’s reading progress, we should take immediate action and intervene with the appropriate measures as early as possible. Let us know your thoughts below, we’d love to hear from you.


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