To understand literacy, we must also look at genes. Genes are like a recipe, written in DNA. Our combination of genes serves as instructions, with plans for everything from eye color, to aspects of our personality. Genes lay out the blueprints for our bodies. Just like there are hundreds of combinations of ingredients that will make a delicious cake, there are many combinations of genetic ingredients that shape who we are.

Humans are unique in their ability to learn to speak, read, and write. Our particular genetic code has allowed humans to develop this rich system for communicating ideas. The genetic aspect of reading is complex because it can also affect how easy, or difficult, it is for any given child to learn to read. There are many combinations of genetic ingredients that will allow for the fluid development of skilled reading. However, for some children, their particular combination of genes makes learning to read challenging. This doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to learn to read. Instead, it means that some children will likely require more time or specialized instruction.

Some of the traits written in our genes that make it more difficult to learn to read run in families. If learning to read was slow and effortful for you as a child, there is a chance that your child will also find reading more difficult than their peers. Struggling to read is no one’s fault. Instead, outside factors may impact how a child learns. Difficulty with reading is not tied to intelligence. Likewise, children who struggle are not simply lazy. Many brilliant minds, from Carol Greider, a Nobel winning scientist, to Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, have struggled with reading skills but have achieved incredible things.

  • Auditory
    related to hearing
    the inherited biological ‘recipe’ for appearance and other individual characteristics
    the ability to read and write
    cells located in the brain and throughout the body that are specialized to communicate messages
    the smallest unit of speech (a sound)
    Phoneme “play”
    manipulating sounds that make up words
    Phonological awareness
    the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds in spoken language
    Primary visual cortex
    an area in the brain responsible for interpreting visual information
    neural cells at the back of the eye that are sensitive to light
    Skilled reader
    a reader who is able to focus on comprehension, rather than on sounding out words
    Visual word form area
    the area of the brain responsible for recognizing words during reading