Literacy Difficulties
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Literacy Difficulties

Spoken Language

Literacy difficulties

Literacy difficulties include...

The role of the SLP

Literacy Awareness Month 2011


​ Spoken language

Spoken language provides the foundation for the development of reading and writing. Children with spoken language problems frequently have difficulty learning to read and write. Moreover, children with reading and writing problems often have a history of spoken language difficulties. Because of these clear connections between spoken and written language, Speech and Language Pathologists play a critical and direct role in the development of literacy.


Literacy difficulties

Literacy difficulties are difficulties any person may have with reading or writing. The person’s literacy difficulties may (or may not) occur as a result of another condition (such as aphasia after a stroke). Although literacy difficulties are usually referred to using the term ‘dyslexia’, this disorder is usually only diagnosed when there is a specific inability or pronounced difficulty in learning to read and/or spell. The definition of dyslexia tends to vary between different professions. We often come across terms such as Specific Language Impairment (SLI), Specific Learning Disabilities/Difficulties (SpLD) and (Central) Auditory Processing Disorders (C/APD).


Specific Language Impairment (SLI)

A Specific Language Impairment (SLI) is a developmental language disorder that can affect both expressive and receptive language. SLI is not related to or caused by other developmental disorders such as hearing loss. Individuals with SLI exhibit problems in combining and selecting speech sounds of language into meaningful units. These problems are different to speech impairments that arise from difficulties in coordination of oral-motor musculature. Therefore, a child whose sole difficulty is stuttering for example does not have SLI.
Symptoms of SLI include the use of short sentences, problems producing and understanding syntactically complex sentences, an impoverished vocabulary, word finding problems and difficulty learning new words. Individuals with SLI also have difficulties with grammatical and syntactic development (e.g., correct verb tense, word order and sentence structure), semantic development (e.g., vocabulary knowledge) and phonological development (e.g., phonological awareness, or awareness of sounds in spoken language). These difficulties first become apparent in the preschool years, prior to formal schooling. Although the pace of oral language development varies widely among typical youngsters, children with SLI have language difficulties that are clearly outside the typical range and that can be diagnosed by a Speech and Language Pathologist.
SLI puts children at risk for later academic difficulties, in particular, for reading disabilities. Studies have indicated that as many as 40-75% of children with SLI will have problems in learning to read. This is because reading depends upon a wide variety of underlying language skills, including grammar and syntax, semantics, and phonological skills.


Specific Learning Disabilities/Difficulties (SpLD)

A Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) sometimes used interchangeably with learning disability or disorder is a difficulty in understanding or in using spoken or written language. The difficulty exhibits itself with a reduced ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. It is not a problem with intelligence. Such difficulties typically affect a student's motor skills, information processing and memory.
The umbrella term specific learning difficulties (SpLD) is used synonymously with dyslexia, but it is now generally accepted that dyslexia is only one of a group of difficulties that may include dysgraphia (writing difficulty); dyspraxia (motor difficulties) and dyscalculia (a difficulty performing mathematical calculations). Many students with SpLD suffer from a visual-perceptual discomfort and disturbance that is sometimes known as Meares-Irlen syndrome. This affects their reading of print on white paper, on overheads and slides, and use of a computer.


Risk Factors for Reading Difficulties

The child’s home literacy environment may provide an indication of the child’s degree of risk for reading difficulties. At risk children include those with a family history of speech and language or literacy difficulties and children who have lack of appropriate home literacy experiences, low Socio-Economic Status, and lack of support for curricular learning, including reading.
Also at risk are children who exhibit speech and language difficulties in the early years. Such difficulties include reduced speech intelligibility and/or multiple articulation/phonological difficulties, as well as language delay/deviancy. The latter involves difficulties in understanding spoken language and/or difficulties in verbal expression using words, phrases and sentences. A discrepancy between understanding language and verbal expression may indicate an increased risk for reading and writing difficulties.
Other risk markers include difficulties with verbal memory, word-finding difficulties, and difficulties in phonological processing, including phonological awareness skills which are the building blocks of later literacy development.


Auditory processing disorders

An Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is a difficulty in the brain’s ability to recognise and/or interpret the information received through the ear. APD is sometimes also referred to as central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) and so-called “word deafness.”

The cause of APD is often unknown. In children, APD may be associated with conditions such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum disorder, specific language impairment, or developmental delay. Sometimes this term has been misapplied to children who have no hearing or language disorder but have challenges in learning. Children with auditory processing difficulty typically have normal hearing and intelligence and need more time to process information. Some of the characteristics of APD include: 
  • Difficulty paying attention to and remembering information presented orally 
  • Difficulty carrying out multistep directions 
  • Poor listening skills 
  • Low academic performance 
  • Behaviour problems 
  • Language difficulty
  • Difficulty with reading, comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary


Literacy skills include...

  • Understanding the way speech sounds make up words
  • Focusing on printed letters/words
  • Connecting speech sounds to letters
  • Blending letter sounds into words and storing these in memory
  • Controlled eye movements across the page (scanning)
  • Building images and ideas
  • Comparing and connecting new ideas with personal knowledge / experience
  • Storing the ideas in memory
  • Reading in a fluent and adequate manner 

The role of the SLP

Speech-Language Pathologists play a role in the development of literacy because of the clear connections between spoken and written language. The speech-language pathologist works towards preventing literacy difficulties from an early age and also provides assessment and intervention of reading and writing difficulties. In the management of all children, the SLP aims to foster the skills necessary for the development of written as well as spoken language.
  • Assessing reading and writing skills
  • Identifying children at risk
  • Preventing written language problems by fostering language acquisition and emergent literacy
  • Providing intervention strategies focusing on auditory processing, phonological awareness and reading fluency
  • Working collaboratively with parents and allied professions
  • Providing training to parents and allied professions
  • Providing recommendations for classroom accommodations and literacy intervention
  • Referring to other professionals if beneficial to the child 

Literacy Awareness Month 2011

Each year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reminds the international community of the importance of literacy and adult learning. International Literacy Day is celebrated on September 8th with the goal of raising awareness about the importance of literacy and adult learning around the world. To this effect, the Literacy Specialised Division within the Speech-Language Department under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, the Elderly and Community Care, organised a half-day seminar at Mount Carmel Hospital Auditorium on the 15th of September 2011.
The aim of the seminar was to empower parents and educators with the necessary knowledge and practical ideas to work with individuals with literacy difficulties. Information about reading development and disorders was provided as well as the services provided by the Speech-Language Department in relation to literacy. The speakers were Speech-Language Pathologists with relevant experience in the field of literacy. An adult with literacy difficulties was also invited to share her experiences. A total of 107 participants attended the seminar and a repeat seminar will be carried out owing to the positive feedback from the audience. 
Literacy Awareness Month Group Photo 
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