For parents whose children are struggling with reading and spelling, a speech pathologist might not be the most obvious starting place for assistance. However, the relationship between oral language (i.e. speaking and listening), and learning to read and spell, is well documented. With the support of a speech pathologist, parents can help their children improve their literacy skills.
Dr Lisa Furlong is a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist at Box Hill Speech Pathology Clinic, with a special interest in children’s literacy.
“Reading is a skill that must be learned and explicitly taught,” says Dr Furlong. “Unlike spoken language, which is a biologically primary skill, we are not ‘wired’ as humans to learn to read. However, having good oral language skills including a good vocabulary, is an important foundation for the acquisition of literacy skills. Given the strong relationship between language, and learning to read and spell, speech pathologists are well-equipped and well-recognised to support children with learning difficulties and learning disabilities.”
Research indicates that children with typical language development generally learn to read and spell without difficulty; however, children with slow or disordered language development are at significant risk of struggling to successfully learn to read and spell.
How to identify if your child has literacy difficulties.
Literacy development is an accumulative process that takes place over many years, and of course, each child is different.
The following skills are ones that most children will master in their first year of formal schooling (i.e. prep or foundation). If your child is having difficulty with some of these skills, this might indicate that they have literacy difficulties which could benefit from formal assessment and professional support:
- Recognising letter and sound relationships for one:one correspondences, e.g. ‘t’ represents /t/ in “top” and ‘p’ represents /p/ in “pan.”
- Recognising that print is read from left to right, and top to bottom.
- Retelling simple stories.
- Reading simple words with 3 or 4 letters and sounds, e.g. “cat, stop, lamp.”
- Able to read some words without needing to sound them out, i.e. recognition of high frequency words like “and, it on.”
- Writing their own name.
- Understanding that words are made up of sounds and that we can segment these (e.g. HAT has three sounds: /h/ /a/ /t/), blend these (e.g. blending the sounds /m/ /o/ /p/ makes MOP) and manipulate these (e.g. if we take away the /p/ from the word PAT, we’re left with the word AT).
Identifying initial and final sounds in spoken words, e.g. the first sound in DOG is /d/ and the final sound in HAT is /t/.
- Writing upper and lower case letters.
- Writing short stories and attempting to spell words when writing.
How can a speech pathologist help?
To improve a child’s literacy skills, a speech pathologist at Box Hill Speech Pathology needs to assess a child thoroughly so they can set goals and develop a treatment plan individualised to the child’s needs. The assessment process includes spending time with the child, as well as talking to parents and possibly classroom teachers or other support professionals such as educational psychologists or paediatricians. It also involves formal assessment tasks that evaluate the child’s literacy knowledge and skills, including their knowledge of letters and sounds, word reading accuracy and spelling ability.
Each child’s treatment plan is unique to their presenting needs and structured around evidence-based principles of reading and spelling instruction. To become skilled readers, children must learn the Big Five: phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. Our speech pathologists provide instruction across these five essential components to support the development of reading and spelling. Our speech pathologists draw on resources and materials from multiple evidence-based programs. Parents play an integral role in supporting the development of their child’s skills.
How can parents help?
Like all areas of speech pathology, improving reading and spelling takes regular practice outside of consultations with a speech pathologist. If parents can learn the skills to support their child’s home practice, the child is likely to progress more quickly. Parents are encouraged to sit in on their child’s sessions and take part in the activities, so they feel confident to support their child at home.
Play-based literacy activities also encourage the development of phonological awareness, vocabulary and oral language, to help with a child’s ability to learn to read and spell. Examples of such activities can include rhyming games or less formal activities like reading together or visiting the library or museum to support the development of oral language skills with exposure to new words through books and conversation.
Maintaining shared reading activities with a school-aged child is also important to support a child’s literacy skills and can help develop children’s understanding of how books work.