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  • Writer's pictureAimée Pharr

An SLP and the Struggling Reader: An Option Worth Considering

What is literacy and why is it important?

Literacy is defined as the ability to read and write, and it’s one of the most important skills for children to develop. Literacy is strongly correlated with academic success, higher socioeconomic status, better physical health, greater self-esteem, and stronger communication skills.

Studies have documented the importance of reading to young children and its positive impact on speech, language, and literacy development, as well as academic achievement. In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced its support and recommendation to parents to begin reading to infants from birth.

But what happens when there are bumps in the road?

It’s important to speak with your child’s teacher, their pediatrician, and a speech therapist, also known as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), to determine the best path forward for your child.

Why should I see a speech therapist for literacy difficulties?

Most people know to seek a speech therapist for a child who cannot say their “Rs” or one who is late to talk. Many people do not realize that SLPs also treat literacy difficulties. SLPs are uniquely trained in a child’s development of language and its subsystems –

  • Phonology - the sound system of a language

  • Morphology - the smallest units of meaning in a language

  • Syntax - how words are put together to generate meaning

  • Semantics - the meaning behind the words, sentences, and discourse, and

  • Pragmatics - how language is interpreted and used in context,

all of which contribute to one's ability to read/decode and spell/encode the words (phonology/morphology) and comprehend and generate written text (syntax/semantics) for a given purpose (pragmatics). SLPs possess specialized skills in the prevention, assessment, identification, and remediation of oral, written, and pragmatic/social language disorders. We develop individualized goals and provide therapy for identified needs by isolating and remediating the particular skills that appear to be holding a child back from developing into a proficient reader. Treating literacy difficulties early and efficiently has been shown to lead to better long-term success.

What might therapy for literacy look like?

For very young children with articulation or phonological difficulties who are already receiving speech therapy, this may mean monitoring the child’s development of phonological and phonemic awareness skills, both of which are the building blocks to reading acquisition.

For the Pre-K and Kindergarten kiddo who is having difficulty with rhyming, dividing words into syllables (e.g., butterfly=> butter + fly), identifying letters and letter sounds, or with listening skills in general, an SLP can conduct a screening of the necessary building blocks to reading and develop an individualized plan to address these skills using engaging, play-based therapy.

For those parents who are concerned about reading skills because of perhaps a family history of reading difficulties, a child’s history of speech or language delay, or even an ADHD diagnosis, SLPs can implement a program to teach reading to children as young as three years old. This will provide the child with a head start in reading and build a foundation upon which for them to learn the skills being taught in their early school years.

For the school-aged child who cannot seem to “break the code,” who appears to struggle, or who hates reading, the assessment process may delve deeper into reading, examining the child’s knowledge of sound-letter correspondence, phonological processing, decoding, word recognition, reading fluency (rate and accuracy), and reading comprehension. Based on parental concerns, teacher feedback, and SLP observation, the SLP may recommend instead a comprehensive language and literacy evaluation that seeks to understand the child’s pattern of strengths and weaknesses across all four language domains – listening, speaking, reading, and writing. This often includes assessing the child’s abilities on tasks that involve memory, processing, and executive functioning. When necessary, SLPs offer referrals to licensed psychologists who specialize in cognitive testing and diagnosing attention difficulties. Together, accurate diagnoses and individualized plans for remediation of skills related to developmental language disorder, dyslexia, and dysgraphia are possible.

As children grow, the ability to comprehend what is read gains in importance as instruction shifts from teaching basic reading skills (decoding and comprehension) to accessing new information through reading texts in math, science, social studies, and literature. The ability to convey one’s thoughts through written responses also becomes essential as children progress through the elementary school years. Reading opens doors to knowledge, but also plays a vital role in a child’s continued growth in vocabulary, complex grammatical structure, and in appreciating how people use language in varying contexts. Clearly, reading is a critical skill for academic and long-term success.

How is therapy different from a reading intervention or tutoring?

Therapy seeks to identify the specific skills with which a child struggles and remediate those skills using evidence-based techniques. An evidence-based reading intervention (e.g., Orton-Gillingham, Wilson, etc.) must follow and be implemented with fidelity, covering all basic reading skills in a particular sequence in order for it to be considered effective. It’s an appropriate path for teaching reading, but does not seek to determine the cause of a child’s struggles. It tends to take longer as it requires implementation of both scope and sequence, and even then, some children still require specialized instruction. Tutoring, depending upon who is offering it, may involve some determination of which skills require remediation. Tutors can offer some valuable services, but they typically do not possess the advanced training and knowledge of language structure and child development that an SLP brings to the process.

Where do I start?

If you have concerns about your child’s ability to read or write or someone who works with your child does, or you just want your child to get a jump start on reading acquisition, Holding Hands Speech can help! You may even be able to access insurance benefits for therapy services.



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