Reading is fundamentally a language-based skill that relies on strong listening and speaking competence. As with spoken language, it can involve any of the five language domains: phonology, morphology, semantics, syntax, pragmatics. It is a skill that continues to develop throughout the lifespan.
COMPONENTS OF READING COMPETENCY
DECODING is the ability to translate letters/letter patterns into sounds that are blended into spoken words. After a number of exposures, automatic word recognition results.
FLUENCY is the ability to read words accurately and automatically with appropriate expression rate and phrasing.
COMPREHENSION is the ability to construct meaning from written text. Comprehension variables include accurate and automatic decoding skills, knowledge of vocabulary, complex syntax, text structure, and background information, as well as, application of executive function skills, attention, and memory during reading.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The signs and symptoms of reading disorders vary, much like fingerprints. Deficits in word recognition, fluency and reading comprehension can co-occur. Children who have “unexpected” difficulty learning to read---despite rich early literacy experiences and adequate learning opportunities---and struggle with reading throughout their academic careers are identified as having reading disorders. (Pennington & Bishop, 2009)
A skilled professional can identify reading challenges before a child enters school. Early signs at pre-school age may include difficulty rhyming, learning the alphabet, mispronouncing multi syllable words, and difficulty perceiving individual sounds inside words. These signs, combined with a positive family history of dyslexia or language learning disorders, support a decision for a professional consultation.
Most frequently, difficulties emerge in early elementary grades. Students may have difficulty with phonemic awareness, the ability to hear sounds inside words. This is the listening piece of reading that does not require any letters. For example, how many sounds do you hear in the word “ship”? in the word “box”? [Answers: 3 sounds in sh+i+p and 4 sounds in b+o+k+s]. They may also have trouble mastering the sound-symbol relationships, or phonics, of English. These are the critical skills and information necessary, but not sufficient, for decoding and word level reading.
Around third grade, as children move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” comprehension issues can emerge. These difficulties are often related to oral language comprehension issues, such as vocabulary and syntax processing.
MIDDLE and HIGH SCHOOL
At times, it is not until middle or high school that reading difficulties become evident. Students who have a “fuzzy phonics” base, and have relied on memory and oral language skills to read rather than decoding, have difficulty when unfamiliar academic vocabulary, formal syntax, and reading load increases. They may be slow, effortful readers who are overwhelmed by the demands of phonics because they have not yet automatized the process. As a result, their reading is slow and effortful. They often work more hours than peers on homework and in extreme situations, may just give up on reading and academics.
Reading deficits are very responsive to timely, appropriate intervention. A thorough diagnostic evaluation can determine the type of reading disorder and the scope and sequence of remediation appropriate for each individual. Reading and writing are highly interrelated and it is difficult to isolate any aspect of reading development that does not have a writing counterpart. When there are reading deficits, it is wise to evaluate for writing deficits, including spelling.
Reading disorders can undermine both academic achievement and self-esteem, and must not be minimized.
Speech pathologists have unique knowledge of the subsystems of language (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) as they relate to written language. Those with additional literacy training are exquisitely positioned to diagnose and treat reading, writing, and spelling disorders in a manner to maximize growth in all modalities.
MSPG is a strong literacy practice with a deep bench. All of its speech-language pathologist have literacy training. Our practice has launched thousands of readers. Kathy Hosty has trained hundreds of teachers and tutors in the Phono-Graphix reading program over the last 15 years. MSPG also has experience with a variety of other evidence based reading approaches, and is able to design a well-balanced program for its clients.