Wednesday, 29 May 2019

The Impact of Speech Sound Disorders on Literacy


In order to speak clearly and make themselves understood, a child must be able to say each speech sound accurately and be able to string these sounds together to make words and phrases. If a child cannot do this, it may be hard to understand them. Children may not acquire the full repertoire of speech sounds until they are 5-8 years old. There are developmental milestones for speech sound acquisition, therefore, different sounds are acquired at different ages. The sounds p, b, t, d, m and w are among the first sounds to be learnt and r and th may be among the last. 


When children are learning to talk, they may encounter problems with particular speech sounds. Speech sound difficulties are quite common in young children. When a child has a speech sound difficulty, they may struggle to say one or more speech sounds. Research suggests that between 2-25% of 5-7 year olds have difficulties with speech sounds and this can lead to problems with learning to read and write, among other things. If they have multiple speech difficulties, they may have a speech sound disorder.

You may first notice your child has difficulties with one or more speech sounds when they are around 3-4 years old. This is the age when they may be introduced to literacy if they attend preschool or kindergarten. Here in the UK, children are beginning to learn the alphabet at this age but I know in other countries children may start to learn to read later than this.




Skills required for literacy


There are a number of skills a child must have developed before they are able to learn phonics and begin to read. Firstly, children need to be able to think and talk about language. This is called metalinguistic knowledge. It is the next step up from metalinguistic awareness which refers to a child becoming aware of what language is. 

Language skills, of course, are closely linked to the ability to become literate. If a child does not have a good knowledge of words and meanings, it is likely they will struggle to learn to read and write. Early language skills are so important for literacy and all other learning and research has shown that a child's language skills at the age of five predict their later school achievements. 

Certain physical skills are required, such as the ability to sit still and focus. On top of this, the ability to cross the midline is important for tracking left to right when reading and writing. It is easy to underestimate the significance of good physical skills but studies have shown that delays in fine and gross motor skills in a child's first year were associated with cognitive development at the age of five.

Linked to physical motor skills is the ability to produce clear speech sounds. Over 100 sets of muscles are needed for the production of the vowels and consonants of English. A child needs lots of practise in coordinating all these muscles before they are able to speak clearly and be understood.




Link between speech and literacy


It is not only motor difficulties that can cause speech sound disorders, phonological difficulties play a big role too. Children who have speech sound disorders are likely to have deficits in the way they represent the phonology (the systematic organisation of sounds) of known words. Therefore, they are likely to have difficulties with phonological awareness which is essential for learning to read. According to Sally Neaum, author of What comes before phonics?, 'phonological awareness refers to the ability to identify and manipulate units of oral language. This includes the ability to identify and make oral rhymes, and awareness of aspects of language such as words, syllables and onset-rimes.' A vital aspect of phonological awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate sounds in spoken words. This is the very thing that children with speech sound difficulties may be struggling with.

There have been many studies which have looked into the phonological awareness skills of children with speech sound disorders. Laitao et al. (1997) discovered that children with speech sound disorders had problems with phonological awareness and when these children were assessed again 12 years later, most of the sample still had literacy difficulties. The children who had speech sound disorders when they started school were particularly impaired. Further studies have also shown a link between speech sound disorders and weak literacy skills. A more recent study by Hayiou-Thomas et al. (2017) found that although there were some initial literacy difficulties, particularly with poor word reading and poor word level literacy that were found to be present at the age of five, these difficulties had disappeared by the time they were eight.

So although it is debatable whether literacy difficulties persist, most research suggests that there are indeed initial difficulties in the reading and writing ability of children with speech sound disorder. That is why it is important to address your child's speech sound issues as early as possible. Once they have rectified their difficulties with speech sounds and phonological awareness, they should find it easier to learn to read and write and this will help them at school and in all later learning.


Learn to do speech therapy at home

If your child has speech sound difficulties, you can now learn to do speech therapy with them at home! My new course 'Clear Speech' will empower you with the knowledge and know how to help your child to speak clearly and confidently. Don't get stuck on a waiting list. You have the power to help your child right now! For more information about the 'Clear Speech' online course CLICK HERE.


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