You may ask, "Why is a speech language pathologist working with literacy issues?" Or perhaps, "How is dyslexia related to speech?" The truth is, oral language (speaking and listening) is the foundation to literacy. In other words, reading and writing are superimposed on top of oral language processing skills. Research suggests 80% of learning to read is AUDITORY - how well we can hear and PERCEIVE the sounds within words and begin to manipulate them in 'auditory-space' is the first step to "breaking the code." This is referred to as phonological awareness. Can a young child count each word in a sentence? Can she break words into parts (syllables)? Or if you ask the young child, "What's the first sound you hear when we say, CAT?" Or you may ask, "What happens when we change the /k/ sound to /m/ in the word /cat/?" This begins to develop before young children 'sound out' words on a page or match letters with the sounds we say - which is known as phonics. Children must become auditorily aware that we can change the meaning of a word if we change a sound, rhyme based on just manipulating the initial sound, or group spoken words together based on their initial and final sounds. Children need a strong auditory system to develop these sound manipulations long before we introduce the 26 letters in the alphabet.
Oral language is part of our biology as we are natural oral communicators. Reading and writing, on the other hand, are LEARNED and have to be explicitly taught. Yes, a small percentage of young children seem to 'break the code' with very little direct teaching, and most research suggests it does not really matter what 'type' of reading program was used with these early code-breakers. They are usually the exception to the rule. The real question is can we identify children very early on who may be at risk? Can we assess their early oral language skills and measure their progress over time, and intervene BEFORE a literacy problem unfolds? The answer is, YES. We can measure oral language skills and monitor those young children who are at greater risk, as well as provide explicit phonological awareness training. Ideally, we would work with families, pre-schools and caregivers to build success across all environments. We don't have to wait-and-see if they 'fail' - we can support with purposeful instruction and build a stronger foundation for literacy through their oral language so when she sits down to connect letters and sounds, she can auditorily perceive and sequence smoothly. We can ease the struggle, and in most cases alleviate it before it develops.