In our jobs, it is the expectation that we address the greatest needs of the classroom.  That is what special education is for right?  To support and enable academic growth.

We spend a lot of time looking for ways to further support our little guys.  When it comes to literacy, I would like to make the case that speech therapy and literacy goals already overlap and we are already doing a pretty good job.  However, we probably aren’t doing a good job letting people know just how well we are supporting them.

Take a look at this chart.  Any of these words look familiar to you?speech therapy and literacy

Of course they do.  Speech therapy and literacy goals are often one in the same.  In this post, let’s talk a little bit about literacy.  Then in next week’s post, we will present all the ammunition you need to show how your hard work ALREADY supports literacy.

Flex your Language Expertise

speech therapy and literacy

Understanding the symbiotic relationship between reading difficulties and communication development helps practitioners design and implement appropriate intervention programs for monolingual and bilingual children.  Many students who exhibit communication disorders often have difficulties acquiring reading skills. By understanding language development and reading skill acquisition, therapy can be targeted to meet underlying oral language needs in conjunction with reading fluency and comprehension skills.  Such an approach enables SLPs to apply language expertise to struggles in reading.

One of the key goals in elementary education is teaching children to read.  Acquiring reading skills is based on two basic areas:


In early elementary school, instruction focuses on learning phonemes, rhyming and decoding simple words to apply meaning.  As children reach the later elementary school years, students have developed reading fluency, the ability to decode with fluidity, and are building their syntax, semantics and discourse skills.  Reading acquisition requires the integration of many skills, including but not limited to, sound-symbol awareness, automaticity in word recognition, vocabulary skills, and understanding of morphological and syntactic structures.  Reading skills also transfer to writing skills in which children apply knowledge of sounds to write words, and practice their knowledge of morphology and syntax to formulate sentences to describe, define, and analyze. A variety of resources show that children’s elementary reading abilities are used as predictors for future reading abilities, high school dropout rates, and the ability for children to communicate effectively, (Lipka, 2007; Morais, 1998).


Another element of reading success is related to reading comprehension.  Some language models show that while reading fluency and decoding skills are a component of reading comprehension, children also need to gain knowledge of morphology, oral vocabulary, syntax, phonological memory and aspects of discourse, (Teal, 1986).  Children need to understand the structures, actively access vocabulary, and interpret incoming information from spoken and written sources, (Lesaux, 2003).

Because reading abilities require the application of a spoken language system to a written system, many spoken language skills are already targeted in speech therapy and literacy.  This is how we help build a foundation for stronger reading skills.

Where Speech Therapy and Literacy Meet

In order to best support students with speech, language and reading deficits, we need to address reading and writing foundations.  Assessing our intervention and modifying the focus of intervention can ensure more effective outcomes for student success with BOTH speech therapy AND literacy.

Literacy-Based Speech and Language Therapy Activities

According to current research, children with speech and language difficulties often present with co-occurring reading difficulties, (Berninger, 2008), so speech language pathologists working in all settings, but especially in schools, can support students’ reading acquisition and comprehension through their intervention.

Children with language delays often need more frequent instruction that is shorter in duration, and can also benefit from modifications in complexity to accommodate language processing, (Verhoeven, 2004).

More Reading:

ASHA has some great resources:  ASHA’s Literacy Gateway (Reading and Writing)

Content for this essay adapted from Literacy-Based Speech and Language Activities. Use it to learn how to create powerful language therapy using predictable books.

  • De Jong & Van der Leij, 1999; Dufva, Niemi & Voeten, 2001; Muter & Snowling, 1998; Parila et al, 2004; Scarborough (Phonological memory is only weakly correlated with reading ability).
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