For the Love of Literacy

This months blog is a mixed bag on all things literacy. We talk about early literacy skills, reading and writing disabilities, and why it is important that ALL children receive targeted literacy instruction. Lets start at the beginning…

Phonological Awareness – Starting Early

Ever stumbled across this term and wondered what it means? Teachers and Speech Therapists often talk about Phonological Awareness (PA) in Preschool and Kindergarten. PA skills are important for early reading and writing success. They include a set of skills, which are usually taught in steps from easy to more complex, that include awareness of speech sounds, syllables and rhymes. I like to call it learning to “play” with sounds and words.

We normally teach the following PA skills, in this order:

  • Identifying rhymes (e.g. “do ‘dog’ and ‘shoe’ rhyme?”) and creating rhyming words (e.g. “what rhymes with mat?”)
  • Segmentation of words in sentences (e.g. “clap for each word in the sentence “the cat is hungry”)
  • Blending syllables (e.g. “I am going to say parts of a word. Tell me what the word is. ‘ha-ppy’.”)
  • Segmentation of syllables (e.g. “tap out each syllable you hear in the word ‘elephant’.”)
  • Deletion of syllables (e.g., “Say the word ‘cowboy’. Now say it without saying ‘cow’”.)
  • Identifying sounds in words (e.g. “What sound do you hear at the start of ‘kite’?”, “What sound do you hear at the end of ‘rug’?”)
  • Deletion of sounds (e.g. “Say ‘fate’. Now say it without the ‘f’”.)
  • Addition of sounds (e.g. “Say cook. Now say it with an ‘e’ at the end”.)
  • Manipulation of sounds (e.g. “Change the ‘m’ in ‘mad’ to a ‘s’ and say the new word”.

Why is it important?

It teaches children to recognize sounds in words and builds children’s skills to be able to sound out words (when reading) and blending sounds to build words (for writing).

Who can help teach these skills?

PA skills are often taught by educators as part of school readiness programs and can be reinforced at home by families. If your child has a speech delay or disorder, talk to a Speech Pathologist. PA skills are often targeted along speech sounds in therapy.

 

AAC Literacy Learning – Access to ALL

Children with complex communication skills have so much to gain from learning to read and write. No child is too cognitively or physically challenged to participate in literacy learning activities. Literacy skills are important for AAC users because it:

  • Provides access to language
  • Allows for more flexible communication (if theycan use a mix of symbols and writing to express themselves)
  • Provides access to the word beyond the individual’s immediate surrounding (such as access to the world wide web!)

The problem?

Evidence based practice calls for reading instruction for 90 minutes per day for general education students. Struggling readers often need an additional 30-60 minutes per day intensive instruction. But students who use AAC often receive no or little literacy instruction.

 What is needed for our AAC users?

More exposure to books and other written media (magazines, newspapers, poetry, song lyrics). More time spent on specific literacy instruction in classrooms. Assessment and instruction may require adapted curriculum and methods so it is probably best to talk to your Speech Therapist about your child’s individual needs.

 

Who can help build a literacy program for an AAC user?

At Small TALK, we run AAC literacy groups (such as our AAC Book Lovers Club) in the school holidays and our therapists provide literacy instruction and strategies for AAC users within the evidence-based Four-Blocks Framework. Speech Pathologists can work in collaboration with schools to develop individualized literacy programs for AAC users. We often start with a Written Language Assessment and go from there.

Dyslexia

What is it?

In simple terms, dyslexia is a neurological condition (brain based), that someone is born with, that makes it extremely difficult to read despite normal intelligence.  It can also have flow on effects to a child’s ability to write and spell. Interestingly, dyslexia often runs in families.

 

A common assumption is that kids with dyslexia will see letters in reverse, that is “was” appears like “saw”, but this is not always cause for a diagnosis of dyslexia. Reversals are actually quite common among children up until first or second grade. Also, dyslexia is not a vision problem. Children with dyslexia may have visual processing issues but this is not the same as a vision problem. Visual processing issues cannot be corrected with glasses.

According to the Australian Dyslexia Association, common indicators of dyslexia include:

  • Difficulty acquiring and using oral and written language
  • Difficulty in phonological awareness, including segmenting, blending and manipulating sounds in words
  • Difficulty mastering the alphabetical principle and basic decoding skills (sounds to letters)
  • Slow, inaccurate and laboured reading (lacking fluency)
  • Difficulty acquiring age appropriate sight word recognition skills (visual coding)
  • Difficulty learning to spell accurately
  • Difficulty learning and retaining multi-syllabic vocabulary
  • Limited reading comprehension due to weak decoding and/or word recognition and fluency skills
  • Oral language skills are often stronger than written language skills

 

Dysgraphia

What is it?

Whilst dyslexia primarily affect reading, dysgraphia mainly affects writing. Whilst dyslexia and dysgraphia are easy to confuse, and often occur together, dysgraphia can occur without dyslexia.  Children with dysgraphia find the physical act of putting words on paper difficult, and may also find it hard to organize and express their thoughts and ideas in written form.

Some signs of dysgraphia include:

  • Illegible handwriting
  • Slow, labored handwriting
  • Poor spelling and grammar
  • Spacing letters and words oddly
  • Difficulty gripping a pencil/pen
  • Fatiguing during hand writing tasks
  • Run on sentences and lack of paragraph breaks
  • Trouble organizing information when writing

 

Who can help my child with reading and writing difficulties?

If you think your child might have dyslexia or dysgraphia, talk to your GP or school counsellor. You will probably need to see a trained Psychologist for an assessment. Normally they involve assessments of general intelligence and academic abilities. Additional assessments by a Speech Pathologist and Occupational Therapist (for dysgraphia) may also be recommended.

There are range of professionals who can provide therapeutic supports for your child if they do have learning difficulties. Speech Pathologists can provide specific instruction for reading and writing in clinics and at school. Specialised tutors can also deliver literacy programs. For example, The LAB (Learn-Achieve-Believe) Learning Clinic, which has offices based in Newcastle, delivers reading programs based on the Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach. OG is a well-regarded approach to teaching children with dyslexia. If your child has dysgraphia, then an Occupational Therapist may be able to help build hand strength and fine motor co-ordination.

You can talk to your Psychologist or Speech Pathologist for recommendations about the best on-going supports for your child. If you have any questions about your child’s reading and writing skills, you can talk to one of our therapists about our Reading and Written Language Assessments and Individualised Therapy Programs. Call us on 1300 651 704 to organise an Initial Consultation.