How do children learn to read and write?

Children learn to read and write by acquiring a series of skills that lead to awareness and manipulation of the sounds in words. They develop an understanding that letters are associated with sounds and must be able to recall these sounds automatically. Children also learn that words are made up of sounds and must be able to identify and manipulate these sounds to form new words. Finally, children must learn that writing these letters and words in a different order can mean different things.

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Why do some children have difficulties with literacy?

There are many reasons why children may have difficulties with literacy development however it is not uncommon. About 10% of school children in Australia will have difficulty learning to read and write. This may be due to circumstances such as learning English as a second language, interrupted schooling, chronic ear infections or hearing problems, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities or underlying speech and language difficulties.

Why is it important to intervene early?

Literacy difficulties do not only affect academic achievement. A child's social interaction and self-esteem can also be affected by difficulties with reading and writing. It is vital to intervene early and provide support for children with literacy difficulties to ensure they can develop academically, emotionally, and socially throughout their school years.

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How do Speech Pathologists help with literacy?

Speech Pathologists are experts in supporting those with communication difficulties and are therefore, an important part of a literacy team.

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Speech Pathologists can:

  • Assess a child's speech and language skills to identify any underlying issues contributing to literacy difficulties.
  • Support a child's oral language development in areas that are relevant for literacy development.
  • Use their specialist knowledge of the sound system of English to support children who are having difficulty with their letter-sound relationships.
  • Help children to use strategies to understand what they are reading.
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When should I get help for literacy problems?

Research has shown that getting help for literacy problems early can prevent those problems becoming more severe. Some children may show signs of potential difficulties before they reach school. Seeking help before your child starts school may reduce or eliminate those problems.

These signs may include:

  • Being very late to start talking
  • Using pronunciation patterns that are not typical ‘baby talk’ and that make the child difficult to understand
  • Having difficulty learning and remembering new words
  • Not being able to provide simple information clearly
  • Needing very simple instructions
  • Showing poor awareness of sounds in speech
  • Not learning to recognize alphabet letters
  • Not showing an interest in listening to stories
  • Any of these difficulties with a family history of literacy learning difficulties.

When your child is at school some of the signs may include:

  • Not developing confidence with letters and sounds; not ‘having a go’ at spelling.
  • Mispronouncing several longer words (e.g. ‘congratulations’; ‘computer’).
  • Persisting with immature grammar (e.g. ‘Her broked her glasses’).
  • Not developing the ability to tell stories and give explanations.

As your child moves through the school you may notice that your child is:

  • Not reading grade-level texts fluently and accurately.
  • Not using a strong range of spelling strategies.
  • Not able to make inferences as they read, getting the main idea and reading ‘between the lines’.

If your child is showing any of these potential problems, it would be useful to get some help from a speech pathologist.

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Can Speech Pathologists help children with dyslexia?

Yes. Dyslexia means difficulties with learning to read. It is important that a speech pathologist is part of the team working with a child with dyslexia to help support their literacy development.

Reference: Speech Pathology Australia Literacy Factsheet

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