Lisanne T Bos, Jurgen Tijms 

Dyslexia is characterized as a specific deficit of reading acquisition. It is one of the most common learning disabilities, persists throughout life, and can have a major impact on someone's socioeconomic success in our knowledge society. Preterm birth is associated with an increased risk of developmental problems including reading disabilities later in life. 


What is Dyslexia? 

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. 

This affects areas of the brain that process language. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory, and verbal processing speed.  

Relationship between dyslexia & premature birth:  

A study showed that babies born just 1 or 2 weeks before their 40-week gestation due date are more likely to develop learning difficulties such as dyslexia. Scientists have found that while babies born at 40 weeks have a 4 percent risk of learning difficulties, those born at 37 to 39 weeks of gestation have a 5.1 percent risk.  


Dyslexia can influence areas such as coordination, organisation, and memory. 

Each person with dyslexia will experience the condition in a way that is unique to them and as such, each will have their own set of abilities and difficulties. 

Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities.  

Difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor coordination, mental calculation, concentration, and personal organization.  

Some common symptoms include Late talking, learning new words, difficulties in finding the right words or forming answers, spelling problems, low self-esteem, etc 

Babies who are born prematurely do have a higher risk of having learning and thinking differences. The risk of having learning and thinking differences in babies increases with their prematurity. It doesn’t mean that every premature child will be born as dyslexic or with any learning disabilities. 

In a premature baby, their brain doesn’t develop completely in the womb which can lead to a risk of having Dyslexia or learning or thinking disorders. There are many factors that can impact a premature foetus’s development.  

  • Some preemies are underweight. That means less than 5.5 lbs/2.5 kilograms are considered underweight babies. So, this can be a cause. 
  • Genetic disorders can be an important cause of this. 
  • Some babies have serious medical complications that can affect their brain development. 
  • Consuming alcohol, drugs, and nicotine of mothers, while their babies are in the womb, can seriously affect the fetus. 
  • Preemies have developmental delays sometimes. It can be an early sign of learning disorders. 


Babies who are born prematurely or sick do have a higher risk of having learning and thinking differences. But this doesn’t mean that all premature or sick babies go on to have learning and thinking differences. Many do not. It just means that there is an increased risk. 

There are many other factors that can impact a premature baby’s development. Some babies have serious medical complications. Genetics can also play a role. So can exposure to drugs or alcohol while in the womb. These factors can help explain why some children who are born prematurely or sick may have learning and thinking differences, and some may not. 

Many children who were born prematurely meet all their developmental milestones on time. But some babies who were born prematurely may have developmental delays. Developmental delays can be an early sign of learning differences. 

Babies with developmental delays may not meet their early milestones on time. Early milestones include things like learning to walk or talk. But sometimes delays don’t show up until a child is in preschool or older. Be sure to adjust the timeline for your child when looking at early milestones. For example, a child who was born three months early may talk or walk three months later than expected for a full-term baby. This wouldn’t be considered a developmental delay. 

If you notice anything about your baby that worries you, don’t hesitate to contact your midwife, GP, or Paediatrician.  

Useful Links

Miracle Babies Foundation 


Dyslexia Association Australia 


Learning Links Australia  


Confirmation Content

Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances. To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].