What does Speech have to Do with Reading?

September 12, 2018


The article Hard Words: Why aren't kids being taught to read? spread like wildfire through social media. It was shocking for people to learn that so many kids are failing at reading even at higher grades. I'm saddened but not surprised, since we've been treating reading as something kids will just pick up along the way.

I'm a speech therapist that treats children, but I always work on developmentally appropriate literacy activities. Even with children that that don't have a diagnosed reading disorder. Why? Because children with a speech or language disorder are more likely to have a reading disorder later on. As was noted in the article:

"while we use our eyes to read, the starting point for reading is sound. What a child must do to become a reader is to figure out how the words she hears and knows how to say connect to letters on the page. Writing is a code humans invented to represent speech sounds. Kids have to crack that code to become readers."

Since the starting point for reading is sound, kids that have difficulty with sounds - like those with a speech sound disorder or childhood apraxia of speech - have a higher risk of having trouble decoding.


The author of the article pointed out the kids with dyslexia have significant difficulty learning the relationship between sounds and letters. But the problem is, by the time a child is diagnosed with dyslexia (usually school age, after they have "failed" at decoding for some time), many critical years have passed. Ones where literacy instruction could have been focused on.


This sets up a child for failure from so many directions. Since learning to read is hard, they read less. Since they read less, they get less practice. Then their reading doesn't improve and they learn less from reading. So when they read, it continues to be hard and the cycle continues.


This leads me to to what I do as a speech therapist, in almost all of my sessions. Well, it's simple: I read a book. For just a few minutes, and target the early literacy skills the child either should be at developmentally or where they are showing they need to start (e.g. if they are delayed, I will start at a lower level skill).


In the Hard Words article, the author stated the crucial skills that was missing from reading instruction was phonics. Phonics is basically learning that letters represent sounds. The letter "B" makes a "buh" sound and the letter "N" makes an "nnn" sound.


I take it back a few critical steps in my sessions by focusing on:

1. Phonological awareness. What is it? It's a skill that includes identifying and manipulating units of oral language – parts such as words, syllables, and onsets and rimes. Can your child make rhymes, tap out syllables, or understand that compound words (like "redhead") are made up of two words?


2. Phonemic Awareness. What is it? The child's ability to focus on and manipulate sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. Can your child tell you that the different sounds (not letters!) in the word "bat" are "buh" "aah" "tuh"? Can they tell you that the last sound in the word "mom" is "mmm"?


There are so many sources for ideas to work on these skills online. Here are some links for parents who need ideas on what to work on at home.


I also like this book on Amazon because it focuses on learning phonological awareness through play not memorizing letter sounds or using worksheets. Kids learn best through play!

To get help with diagnosis or treatment, or to schedule a free consultation with a speech therapist, please contact me at Speech Therapy that Works.

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