I have answered this question many times over my career, what do Speech Language Pathologists have to do with reading? The answer, to me, is simple. Language and literacy really are two sides of the same coin. We develop the language skills we need for tackling literacy from birth. Sound discrimination starts from the very beginning, even in the womb babies are coordinating sounds to language. So, if speech language pathologists are experts at language development, then it’s easy to understand how we may be able to provide some answers when reading doesn’t follow a normal path. Language is often seen as an oral to written continuum – spoken language is the foundation for learning reading.
It’s also important to remember that reading is extremely complex and encompasses many areas of the brain. Numerous parts of the brain work together to create functional reading. These areas some of the brain are critically involved in the process of reading:
• Your temporal lobe helps with sound awareness and discriminating sounds.
• Your frontal lobe helps with speech production, reading fluency, grammar and comprehension, attention and regulation
• Your angular and supramarginal gyrus are the reading integrators, linking parts of the brain together to execute the actual task of reading
• Your occipital lobe helps with visual processing and recognition by creating a visual word form that then links to language regions of the brain
Basically your whole brain is involved! So it’s easy to see how the answer to what is going wrong is never simple. It’s important to screen and assess all areas of function to help determine a focused intervention program. This requires a team of professionals looking at all of the underlying skills that encompass reading. A thorough: learning, visual, motor and language assessment is key to uncovering the mystery. This may often involve a psychologist, speech language pathologist, optometrist, and occupational therapist. Without really knowing what areas children are struggling with, intervention can sometimes be ineffective as it may not be targeting the underlying difficulties.
So what exactly do speech language pathologists do as part of the team?
We help PREVENT difficulties by identifying children with language or sound difficulties early that may be creating risk factors for reading difficulties in the future.
We IDENTIFY children who have these underlying difficulties even before they begin reading.
We ASSESS phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, fluency in oral reading , comprehension, spelling, and written structures.
We PROVIDE THERAPY to children with risk factors, or to identified children to support underlying skills that may be critical in intervention.
We TEAM with other professionals to create an intervention plan that supports all of the student’s needs.
There are many ways reading can veer off the expected path, but with a good assessment and a thorough plan by a team of professionals, including a speech language pathologist, we can help get it back on the right track.