Literacy and Writing


The Effects of Speech and Language Disorders on Literacy and Writing

Children begin to develop their language skills at birth. Gesturing and listening are forms of language just as reading, writing, listening and speaking are. While children mature, their skills in understanding language mature. They learn to communicate in more complex ways.

During a stage of development called “emergent literacy” children develop skills in speech and language on which reading and writing success relies heavily. Spanning a period of time that begins with birth and lasts through preschool years, emergent literacy also describes a stage when children interact with print in their environment. They notice and appreciate text (in books, street signs, logos, etc.) as it is exposed to them. This accumulated knowledge of written language eventually collides with a child’s knowledge of spoken language and he or she learns to read and write.

A child’s skill in talking and listening is directly related to his or her skill in reading and writing. And child who starts school with weaker verbal abilities will most likely find advancements in literacy challenging. An example of the connection between spoken language and literacy is the importance of phonological awareness to one’s ability to sound out the spelling of words. Phonological awareness describes the ability to recognize every word’s composition of separate sounds. When an individual can separate and sound out the individual parts of a word, he or she will find attribution of certain letters or groups of letters to certain sounds (in short, spelling) possible.

Speech and literacy are the basis of communication, and communication is the basis of most, if not all, aspects of life. Therefore problems with speech and language are not to be treated lightly. Skills in communication are critical to success in life.

Speech-sound disorders, language disorders, cognitive-communication disorders, fluency disorders and voice disorders are the various speech and language disorders children experience and which affect communicative success.

What to watch for

Certain circumstances put children at a heightened risk for problems with literacy. Of course, language and speech disorders place children at a high risk, as do conditions that affect skills in verbal communication. These include physical or mental conditions, developmental disorders, poverty, home environment, and the literacy skills of one’s family. With or without apparent risk factors affecting literacy, parents should be alert to early warning signs of problems. Excessive baby talk, lack of appreciation for text, difficulty understanding speech, difficulty learning the letters and failure to recognize the letters in one’s own name are all signs that hinting at future challenges in language and literacy.

What to do

If your child already finds language and literacy challenging, you might contact a speech-language pathologist (SLP). SLPs identify specific language problems and work with your child to help him or her overcome those problems. Issues with speech and language see the most improvement and the least negative effects the earlier parents or SLPS address them. When left unattended the challenges of language problems snowball. However, this is not to say that older children or adults should forego speech-language help. In this area, help is better sought later than never.

In general, parents can help their children towards a mastery of language in literacy in many ways during their period of emergent literacy:

  • Communicate with your child
  • Repeat your child’s verbalisms and add more complex sounds
  • Respond to your child’s questions
  • Show your child printed language in his of her environment
  • Teach your child new words
  • Sing and play rhyming games
  • Read to your child
  • Provide paper and drawing material for your child and encourage creative expression
  • Encourage your child to communicate on paper
  • Show enthusiasm in all areas of speech and literacy

For more information visit:

The Effects of Speech and Language Disorders on Literacy and Writing
Published: April 30, 2008 © Carolina Pediatric Therapy

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