Early Literacy Research Library (ELRL) - Article

Literacy as a Distinct Developmental Domain in Children

Klass, P., Hutton, J.S., DeWitt, T.G. (2020) Literacy as a Distinct Developmental Domain in Children. JAMA Pediatrics, 174(5), 407-408.,

Access: Institutional Access

Publication year


study description


core topic(s)

Early Literacy

Exposures, Outcomes, Other

Brain/Neurocognitive , Child Development (general) , Language and Literacy Development , School Readiness and Educational Outcomes , Screening and Tools


To propose recognition of literacy as a domain of early child development, distinct from spoken language.

outcomes evaluated

Literacy as a developmental domain.


Pediatric primary care.


Topics Discussed: Domains of early childhood development defined by AAP; Reading and literacy as distinct from language and school readiness; Reading and literacy in the context of brain development; Prevention capacities of literacy as a developmental domain (eg ROR); Screening tools that assess literacy development; Literacy development as a determinant of long term success.




The acquisition of literacy, from earliest emergent stages to full fluency with understanding and self-expression in written language, represents a distinct developmental trajectory. Unlike other developmental arenas, achieving literacy combines environmental stimulation and informal interaction in the preschool years with formal school-based instruction in decoding print and reflects the integration of multiple neuronal networks. Skills children acquire along this literacy trajectory powerfully influence life course, from early school achievement to earning potential to lifelong self-expression and civic engagement. Recognizing this, many pediatric health care professionals have incorporated literacy promotion into primary care, often through Reach Out and Read, an evidence-based model (supported by a national network) that provides parental guidance and children’s books at health supervision visits.


Adding this domain to our thinking and to pediatric clinical assessments would consolidate our developmental understanding of reading and the brain, offering insights and approaches to help families—and society—to nurture learning and deepen understanding of childhood developmental trajectories.


Not discussed.