My child has a speech difficulty and is struggling to read – are these two things related?
The short answer is yes – studies have shown that children who have speech sound disorders usually struggle with learning to read. When breaking this down further, Children with speech sound disorders tend to have lower phonological awareness skills, which translates to poorer reading ability (Anthony, et al., 2011).
Phonological awareness is the ability to hear and consciously break words into syllables, rhyme, onset and rime, and individual sounds or phonemes (Ministry of Education, 2019) . Essentially, it is someone’s awareness of sounds and how the sounds go together to make words.
Our awareness of the sounds in our language help us to break down unknown words (i.e. sound a word out) which is a big part of learning to read and learning new words. When a child has low awareness of sounds, they find it difficult to break words apart and put them back together.
Improvement in speech sound ability is linked to improved reading ability (Foy & Mann, 2012) ; which is promising as it shows that improving the speech sound disorder also has a positive impact on reading ability.
Speech therapists can test for phonological awareness at the same time they test for speech sound disorders, and can therefore identify risk factors for poor reading development. If a child has both poor phonological awareness as well as a speech sound disorder, then both skills can be practiced and improved on in therapy.
What can I do at home to help my child learn to read?
As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect”! But it does go a bit further than that. Often, when a child struggles with an activity, they don’t want to do it; so the trick is trying to take away some of the challenge and make the activity enjoyable. Find a book that incorporates their interests, or try talking about the pictures in the book and make silly voices. Take turns reading parts of the book so that they get a break and can listen for a sentence or two before needing to concentrate again.
When reading, encouraging the following will help improve their phonological awareness skills:
- Rhyming –ask them what other words they can think of that rhyme with a word you say e.g. Parent: “what words can you think of that rhyme with call – I’ll start you off, I can think of tall! Now it’s your turn!” Child: “ball, fall!”
- Putting syllables together – give them the syllables/chunks and ask them what the word is e.g. Parent: *point to each syllable in blueberry* “I can see blue…be…ry. What word is that?”
- Breaking large words into syllables – talk to them about breaking words into syllables/chunks. E.g. *child reads pony* Parent: “what chunks are in pony?” “po-ny”
- Break words into sounds – when reading; randomly ask them what sounds they can hear in that word e.g. Parent: “clap – what sounds can you hear in clap?” child: “c-l-a-p”
- Put sounds together –help them break down written words into their individual sounds e.g. *car* “what sounds can you see?” “c-a-r” “that’s right! Now say them together quickly.”
- Take sounds away – play a game where you think of a word, and it sounds like another word but without a particular sound e.g. Parent: “I’m thinking of a word that sounds like ‘leg’, but without the ‘L’”, Child: “Egg!”
Anthony, J. L., Aghara, R. G., Dunkelberger, M. J., Anthony, T. I., Williams, J. M., & Zhang, Z. (2011, May). What Factors Place Children With Speech Sound Disorders at Risk for Reading Problems? American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 20, 146–160.
Foy, J. G., & Mann, V. A. (2012, April). Speech production deficits in early readers: predictors of risk. Reading and Writing, 25(4), 799-830.
Ministry of Education. (2019). Literacy online – Phonological and phonemic awareness. Retrieved from Ministry of Education: