Early Phonological Awareness and Literacy
Reading is a complex action that involves a proficient development and interplay of multiple skills. Of these skills, early phonological awareness is a powerful indicator of later reading abilities (Gillon, 2018; Hogan et al., 2005; Justice, 2006). Broadly, phonological awareness is the conscious understanding that a spoken language is made up of separate segments of sounds. Amazingly, this powerful skill begins to develop in infancy as babies recognize native speech sounds. Then, many young children use this same skill to develop receptive/expressive language and to self-correct speech errors (Fowler, 1991; Yavas, 1998).
Proficient underlying phonological representations help children develop necessary speech, language, and literacy skills. However, children with speech sound disorders often struggle to develop strong underlying phonological representations (Carroll & Snowling, 2004; Farquharson et al., 2017; Larrivee & Catts, 1999; Nathan et al., 2004; Rvachew et al., 2003; Sutherland & Gillon, 2005, 2007).
Without access to stable phonological representations, these children can struggle to develop adequate phonological awareness. In fact, recent studies suggest that weak underlying phonological representations not only cause reading and spelling disorders but may be a causal factor in some speech sound disorders (Anthony et al., 2011; Bird et al., 1995; Larrivee & Catts, 1999; McNeill et al., 2018; Rvachew et al., 2003; Sutherland & Gillon, 2005, 2007).
Half of children with speech sound disorders struggle to develop proficient reading skills. Of these, fifty to seventy percent will require special education support throughout their formal education. Literacy Speaks!® helps SLPs to address speech and language goals and curriculum standards in one session.
Discharged with a Weak Underlying Phonological System
Whereas atypical errors (i.e., initial consonant deletion, backing) are red flags for deficits in an underlying system, single sound errors may signify hiccups in underlying system development and should not be overlooked (Dodd et al., 2017; Farquharson & Boldini, 2018; Hayiou-Thomas et al., 2017; Preston & Edwards, 2010; Preston et al., 2013; Rvachew, 2007). Additionally, correlations have been found between the severity of a speech sound disorder in preschool and whether sounds continue to be incorrectly produced at the initiation of reading instruction (Gernand & Morgan, 2017; Hayiou- Thomas et al., 2017; Preston et al., 2013).
Because speech and language skills develop before reading and spelling skills, SLPs frequently intervene before other professionals. For children with speech sound disorders, evaluations are completed, goals are set, and interventions are initiated to improve speech intelligibility. Historically, therapy for these children has focused on correct sound productions. Evidence-based techniques are implemented, overall intelligibility improves, and children are dismissed as quickly as possible to ensure their participation in curriculum instruction.
Research has found that even when children with speech sound disorders receive early speech intervention and sounds are successfully remediated, they may be at continued risk for later reading, spelling, and academic difficulties (Anthony et al., 2007; Farquharson, 2015a; Farquharson & Boldini, 2018; McNeill et al., 2018; Nathan et. al, 2004; Raitano et al., 2004). As SLPs, we target sound productions and strengthen a child’s expressive skills but may unintentionally leave behind a weak underlying phonological system. Early intervention is imperative. However, even with efficient and effective remediation, difficulties with literacy and academics may be on the horizon.
As SLPs, we target sound productions to strengthen a child’s expressive skills, but we may unintentionally leave behind a weak underlying phonological system. Using the Literacy Speaks!® approach, phonological misrepresentations can be addressed and corrected.