Debra Fenton: My name’s Debra Fenton. I am a Speech Language Pathologist in Denver, Colorado. I’m the owner of a pediatric therapy practice called Lowry Speech and Occupational Therapy. I am here today with our Clinical Director, also a Speech Language Pathologist, Erin Heighway.
Erin Heighway: Morning Deb. We are going to chat a little bit about how does a child’s speech sound errors impact their spelling and what does it mean when a child who has an articulation problem is struggling with spelling. Is that something that’s just going to go away?
Debra Fenton: We get a lot of questions about this and frequently we get phone calls to enroll a child in articulation therapy to correct speech sound errors. The reason the child has been referred is that the teacher or parent feels that if the child were able to pronounce the words correctly, they’d be able to spell correctly. Sometimes that’s the case but oftentimes it could be a sign of some deeper underlying difficulty within the whole sound system of the English language. A lot of times, if students are struggling to articulate or make the speech sounds, that gives us some indication that something developmentally is just not clicking. They’re not hearing individual sounds very well, they’re not discriminating sounds, and they’re having a hard time making self-corrections. Of course, there are some speech sound errors that are completely developmental and to be expected but there are certain types of errors, that when we listen to a child, it kind of gives us an indication that there might be a little bit more going on than just an articulation problem.
Erin Heighway: So everyone has these skills that are lower level language skills. They’re called our phonological processing system or phonemic awareness skills and they’re really a critical skill for literacy development. We have to be able to hear individual sounds and words, break them up, segment them, blend them back together, manipulate them, in order to be able to be a successful reader and speller. And this system, your phonological system, can be what’s impacting articulation but it is certainly what is going to be impacting their success with spelling at school.
Debra Fenton: So research has shown that somewhere between 41% to 75% of children that do exhibit speech sound errors also have difficulty with that underlying phonological component of language and those students will be at risk for having difficulty in their literacy development and possibly later being diagnosed with a reading disability. So when we talk about some of the speech sounds, for example, if I were to say the word “slip” and ask a student to break that down. “How many sounds are in the word slip?” What we’d want the student to be able to do is give us the individual sounds and be able to hear each of those individual sounds.”s-l-i-p”. Some students have a very hard time breaking the sounds apart and isolating them. And when you think about how that relates to spelling and reading, if you can’t segment and isolate sounds, you’re going to have a really hard time marking all the sounds in words as you spell. Also when reading, being able to blend all those sounds together to make a word.
Erin Heighway: And this is why when a child is experiencing difficulty with articulation or beginning to show some early signs of difficulty with literacy, a speech-language pathologist is a really great fit to be the one to support these skills. We’re going to be able to not only support these phonological processing skills, these lower-level language skills, but also the articulation pieces of it and ensure that all of the other parts of our child’s language system are working together to make them successful.
Debra Fenton: That’s right. And we’re often the first referral when a student does have difficulty with their sound system and it’s exhibited in their speech. Were typically the first referral for those students. So one of the things that we do that is standard in our practice is as soon as a child is referred to us, even if they’re as young as 2 or 3 years old, we begin to assess and evaluate their overall sound system to determine if they’re at risk and also provide parents with activities so they can support the development of the phonological system. The earlier you can intervene and support these skills, the much better the outcome. When a student comes to us a little older; maybe six or seven years old with some speech sound errors; and they do have underlying difficulty with the sound system, it takes a lot more work to get that student up to speed and the chances of them being able to catch up to their peers, with regards to reading and spelling, is just a lot harder to achieve.
Erin Heighway: Right. So some of those early signs that we can be looking for, and parents can be looking for, is any history of a child being a late talker, having a lot of difficulty acquiring those speech sounds or having speech sound errors that are not really resolving at an expected age. There’s a really defined age that speech sounds are supposed to be acquired by and the longer that that takes for a student, the more likely it is that there are going to be some difficulties in their phonological processing system.
Debra Fenton: Some students have difficulty pronouncing longer words. While it can be really cute, sometimes that is an indication that a child has difficulty with that sound memory and sound sequencing. Difficulty saying longer words like, “computer” or “popsicle” when they’re at the age of 4. Some of those things should be ironed out and they should be able to be producing maybe not all of the individual sounds clearly, but certainly all of the syllables in the right order. Difficulty remembering the names of colors and numbers or remembering nursery rhymes, difficulty being able to rehearse the alphabet after a lot of practice when they’re 4 or 5 years old can be an indication. If you’re finding that you’re exposing them to shapes and letters and colors and it’s taking a lot of repetition and they’re still not getting it, Each time you revisit it, it seems like it’s a new learning opportunity, it’s like the first time they’ve seen these things, This would be an indication that there’s something a little bit bigger going on and it would be worthwhile to have someone assess those skills.
Erin Heighway: We would be happy to be that someone. Please feel free to give us a call at 303-360-0727.