How Can SLPs Support Students with Dyslexia?

Literacy intervention, specifically for students with dyslexia causes this interesting conversation around who best supports this type of intervention? Traditionally literacy specialists and special educators have been the ones tasked with supported reading disabilities, I mean…it makes sense it’s an academic issue right?

The challenge is that dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. It’s often really a continuum of an oral language disability that transcended into the world of written language. This is a challenge for literacy specialists and special educators who don’t have a background in supporting oral language problems. And really - literacy specialists and special educators generally don’t have a background in supporting oral language struggles because that is an SLPs bread and butter.

So what this means is that….

SLPs play a CRITICAL role in supporting students with dyslexia

…and often they don’t even know it.

So we’re going to break it down a bit here. If you’ve been with us before, you know that we are obsessed with the literacy processing triangle. We talk about it again and again and again. If you’re new to us, the literacy processing triangle is the visual representation of our neuronal connections needed to read and write.

dyslexia SLP

We progress from the visual structure of a letter or word (orthographic component) to a sound structure of a letter or word (phonological component) to a meaning structure of a letter or word (semantic component) in any order depending on the task at hand.

While literacy specialists and special educators have been well trained (in many but not all cases) in the orthographic component of reading and spelling - they often don’t have nearly the same level of training in phonology (the sound structure) and semantics (the meaning structure) of our language.

This makes it exceedingly difficult for those tasked with intervening on behalf of the reading and spelling difficulties for students with dyslexia. What you begin to see is that these areas are considered within an SLPs domain. But unfortunately, many SLPs do not see literacy intervention to be within their scope.

But… dyslexia intervention is absolutely within the scope of an SLP!

Students with dyslexia traditionally struggle with the bottom two bases of the literacy processing triangle. They either show difficulty in phonology and phonological awareness, or in orthography, or in some cases both. Then they often struggle to connect what they are reading or writing up to that top piece of the triangle (semantics) which is also an area in which SLPs are skilled at supporting. A student must have strong oral language before they can move into written language. And by written language we mean both receptive written language (reading) and expressive written language (writing).

We know the scope of an SLP is incredibly broad, no questions asked but when we begin to think about the overlap here we start to see how well suited SLPs are in supporting literacy deficits. The shaded area of this representation shows the necessary skills for literacy.


So here is a breakdown of the exact ways in which an SLP can support a student with dyslexia:

1. A student can’t be good at reading and writing without having solid oral language skills first.

They must be able to differentiate between similar sounds, they must have strong enough sentence structure and syntax to gain meaning from written words, they must have adequate vocabulary to determine whether or not their decoding was accurate, etc.

2. SLPs play a critical role in the identification of dyslexia or the possibility of the diagnosis

Many students with dyslexia started with an oral language or speech deficit. Having a history of a speech language difficulty paired with a family history of difficulty reading or writing is a huge red flag warning sign for dyslexia and therefore SLPs have to be on the front line of alerting parents or other educators of this potential.

A child with an affected parent has a risk of 40–60% of developing dyslexia according to a study published by the Journal of Medical Genetics in 2007. Another article was published in 2004 by Dortothy Bishop and Margaret Snowling in the Psychological Bulletin indicated the likelihood of children with a language disorder “progressing across that continuum” into a reading disability arguing that developmental language disorder may simply progress into dyslexia as a child grows older.

Therefore we have to understand the critical role SLPs have in identifying, at the very least, the possibility of students on their caseload having specific reading disabilities.

3. SLPs can and should support students with dyslexia as a primary interventionist

Given an SLPs training in both phonology and semantics, it stands to reason that by simply pairing these skills with orthographic tasks (the visual letter/word component) SLPs have everything they need to support dyslexic students at a high level.

It is important to recognize the critical role a structured and systematic literacy approach will play in this type of intervention but there is no reason that SLPs cannot be the ones to provide this type of intervention given that truly it’s just an extension of everything you already do at the oral word level.

Okay, so if you are an SLP…are you convinced that you should be doing this intervention yet?!?!

I sure hope so because your skills are the missing link for so many dyslexic students who continue to struggle with literacy even after being identified and receiving “reading intervention”. The only thing you need to add is the systematic structure to follow in order to weave that orthographic component in using a cumulative progression of skills.

And lucky for you, we have a step-by-step guide that you can use to begin laying out that framework immediately. Click here and get access to a totally free SLP Guide to Beginning Literacy Intervention.

What are you waiting for? Go! These students you are ALREADY serving need you.

Corey PollardComment