How A Child’s Literacy Development Can Be Impacted By Speech Development Difficulties

How A Child's Literacy Development Can Be Impacted By Speech Development Difficulties

Whenever speech pathology is considered by those whose knowledge of the subject is somewhat lacking, the assumption is made that it applies purely to developing a child’s speech. Whilst that certainly forms a large part of what happens in speech pathology, some are surprised to learn that speech pathologists such as also work to support a child’s literacy skills too.

Bear in mind that, under the umbrella of “language”, it is not just a child’s speaking skills that need to develop, but their writing and reading skills too. Further, in many cases, there is a direct link between a child’s language skills as they apply to their speech and their ability to read and write.

Many children develop as expected, and the need for a speech pathologist to intervene is zero. However, some children develop speech problems that impact their literacy development. One such example is “Speech Sound Disorders” (SSD), which can cause problems for a child when they are learning to read and write.

What Are Speech Sound Disorders?

SSDs are identified in a child who has problems processing specific speech sounds when they listen to or try to say certain words. Specifics can include a lisp, delays in a sound, substituting sounds, difficulties with articulation, dropping sounds, and dropping whole syllables. The latter often leads to others having difficulty understanding what the child is trying to say. How SSDs affect each child will differ, both in their nature and in the severity of the problem.

Literacy Skills And Literacy Difficulties

Literacy skills include reading, writing, and correctly spelling words. As with speech and language skills, each child’s literacy skills will develop at different rates, albeit within the expected variations for their age. This can be influenced by many factors, including how much time parents spend reading to them, if they have older siblings who also read to them, and their speech development, which we will return to. The literacy difficulties a child might experience can include the following:

  • Poor reading accuracy, including the ability to spell words
  • Excessive effort and focus are required to spell or read
  • Slow reading and writing development for their age
  • Lack of motivation to read or write
  • Low confidence levels when embarking on reading, writing, or spelling tasks

How Literacy Development Can Be Affected By Speech Sound Disorders

At the core of how sound speech disorders impact literacy development is a child’s “phonological processing” skills. These skills are what a child uses to take the sounds of words within their language, whether that be written or spoken, and process them. A child will use phonological processing as they learn to listen or read, which are both essential for their speech and literacy skills. Phonological processing consists of three distinct abilities which are:

Phonological Memory – The ability to listen to and remember sounds and sequences that children use to sound out and spell words and learn new words.

Phonological Awareness – This is the child’s ability to hear and then utilise the individual sounds they hear within words which is a crucial way children learn to spell.

Phonological Retrieval – This is the child’s ability to quickly recall the sounds within words that apply to specific letters and numbers.

As the above shows, it as much recognises the sounds of letters and words that a child uses within their mind to learn to spell, read, and write as the comments themselves. As such, children with SSDs have a compromised ability to recognise and process the sounds they hear, and thus their literacy skills may also be hindered as a result.