Why SLPs are Uniquely Qualified to Support Students with Dyslexia
Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) are one of the best professionals to support students with dyslexia but often feel under qualified from the educational and reading perspective to help these struggling students.
We know that dyslexia is a language-based learning disability and so often the students that are referred to speech early on for early language struggles are the same students that wind up working with reading interventionists later on.
But the interesting thing is that SLPs really could be the best professional to take these students all the way through their journey of dyslexia.
When we break down the key features of strong reading intervention, specifically for the dyslexic reader, we begin to see just how well poised SLPs are to support the needs of these struggling readers. Let's break it down. Strong reading intervention needs instruction targeting:
Phonology is the study of how individual sounds within words break apart, come together, or change to vary words. In reading intervention we specifically want to teach students to break sentences into individual words, recognize and produce rhyme, recognize initial, final, and medial sounds, blend sounds, isolate sounds, and manipulate sounds. This is all a large part of what SLPs do every day with their kiddos. They are incredibly knowledgeable in this area as well as the progression of each of these skills!
When we work with dyslexic students we need to draw very clear connections between the letter we see and the sound we hear. Often students with dyslexia have a difficult time discriminating (telling the difference) between similar sounds like /m/ and /n/ or /p/ and /b/. It is at this time that we draw a very clear connection to the shape of the mouth whether air is being stopped when it comes out of the mouth like in the /k/ sound versus whether air is being pushed like in the /s/ sound. SLPs do this work with kiddos that struggle with articulation every single day. The only difference in strong reading intervention is that we are pairing that letter and its sound with the grapheme (the visual letter). By simply including this one additional piece SLPs are well on their way to providing solid intervention. The only difference between articulation instruction and systematic literacy is that the sound patterns are taught in a sequential matter moving from the most basic to the most difficult from a reading perspective as opposed to an oral-motor perspective.
Morphology is such an important part of strong reading intervention and it's so important in building strong language skills because it can help to support vocabulary and grammar. Morphology is the study of how we add prefixes and suffixes to words in order to change the meaning and/or to properly conjugate the words to create a logical and correct sentence structure. Diving into morphology helps students with reading and spelling from the educational perspective, but from the speech-language perspective, it supports even more. By studying prefixes like dis- and mis- we can learn to create antonyms, by studying suffixes like -ly we can create more vivid visual imagery. The addition that morphology brings to our language and reading truly is magical.
Syntax is another crucial area of reading intervention that is often left in the hands of SLPs, especially for students who struggle with creating grammatically correct and well-flowing sentences. The bottom line is that children who cannot speak in a grammatically correct sentence certainly cannot write in a grammatically correct sentence. And often, it's the children who started with difficulty speaking in syntactically correct sentences who will later struggle to write in syntactically correct sentences. By merging spoken language and written language we create a bridge for these students who will inevitably struggle in both areas.
Semantics is the fancy term for comprehension. We know this is the end goal of strong reading intervention. We need students to understand what they have read. In many programs designed to support struggling readers, this aspect is completely left out!!! This is okay if you have professionals who understand that development of reading comprehension skills as a hierarchy moving from the most basic skills like direct recall moving to the most advanced skills of inferring or drawing conclusions. SLPs are often very well suited to help support these areas because they were preceded by instilling strong listening comprehension abilities.
Reading is a complicated process involving a number of neural processes. When you look at these neural processes alongside the core components necessary to develop strong reading skills, you notice that SLPs have this knowledge and can tick the mark in every single one of these categories. The only piece they often feel less confident with is the order in which they would be teaching each concept so that they build logically, sequentially, and cumulatively.
When SLPs are provided with the basic structure of these lessons they can often fill in the gaps and holes that are often left out! We challenge you as an SLP to join the team of those supporting struggling readers because you can do this.
This IS your space...and the more professionals we have building up these students (especially because you often saw them first) the better. Power on team!