Svetlana Atenzon 5 min read

Why is Reading Important for Speech Therapy?

The starting point for reading is sound, and kids with a speech sound disorder or childhood apraxia of speech may also have trouble reading, and vice-versa. This is why we incorporate reading and literacy into our speech therapy program at Better Speech.

The article Hard Words: Why aren’t kids being taught to read? spread like wildfire through social media when it was published a few years ago. It was shocking for people to learn that so many kids are failing at reading even at higher grades.

the boy with the book laughs

I’m a speech therapist that treats children, but we always work on developmentally appropriate literacy activities. Even with children that that don’t have a diagnosed reading disorder. Why? Because children with a speech or language disorder are more likely to have a reading disorder later on.

As was noted in the article:

“while we use our eyes to read, the starting point for reading is sound. What a child must do to become a reader is to figure out how the words she hears and knows how to say connect to letters on the page. Writing is a code humans invented to represent speech sounds. Kids have to crack that code to become readers.”

Since the starting point for reading is sound, kids that have difficulty with sounds – like those with a speech sound disorder or childhood apraxia of speech – have a higher risk of having trouble decoding.

The author of the article pointed out the kids with dyslexia have significant difficulty learning the relationship between sounds and letters. But the problem is, by the time a child is diagnosed with dyslexia (usually school age, after they have “failed” at decoding for some time), critical years may have passed.

This sets up a child for failure from so many directions. Since learning to read is hard, they read less. Since they read less, they get less practice. Then their reading doesn’t improve and they learn less from reading. So when they read, it continues to be hard and the cycle continues.
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Speech therapy for child and adult

Speech therapy incorporates reading and phonics.

This leads us to to what we do as a speech therapist. An important part of our program at Better Speech is to incorporate literacy in our program: We read a book. For just a few minutes, we target the early literacy skills the child should be mastering developmentally, or where they are showing they need to start (e.g. if they are delayed, we will start at a lower level skill, and work our way up).

In the Hard Words article, the author stated the crucial skills that was missing from reading instruction was phonics. Phonics is learning that letters represent sounds. The letter “B” makes a “buh” sound and the letter “N” makes an “nnn” sound.

How to use reading to help speech development.

As you start reading books to children at an early age, have fun making sound effects for animals, vehicles, and other words or phrases. Ask the child to make up a sound for an animal vehicle, or action which will reinforce the notion that sounds represent objects or ideas, such as:

  • Thump!
  • Squeak
  • Thud

Develop reading skills to help with speech.

Most children (not all) require the prerequisite skills of rhyming, syllable counting, blending, segmenting, and manipulating sounds to become proficient readers. Here are some fun ways to work on each skill with your child. These skills train the auditory discrimination as well as visual patterns for decoding words.

Rhyming:
Use puzzles, poems, songs, and story books with rhyme in them. Make up rhyming combinations and develop your own short poems or songs. For some ideas, see our 9 Fun Poems post.

Syllables:
Start with words that have one syllable and progress to two and then three. Clap out or tap out the syllables so that the child can detect the patterns. Use compound words, which are words that consist of two real words to make a new word (i.e., redhead). Use creative ways to reinforce these words with physical activity.

Blending/Segmenting:
This skill involves separating individual sounds and putting them back together. The child first needs to understand that each letter or letter combination (i.e., ‘ea’, or ‘th’) represents a sound. For example, the word ‘bat’ can be segmented into /b/ /e/ /t/.

Sound Manipulation:
After learning the blending and segmenting skills the child can then manipulate the sounds by moving letters around to form another word or take away a letter and place another instead to form a new word. For example, the word ‘bat’ can be manipulated to form ‘bit’ or ‘bag’ or even ‘tab’. You can have fun with this skill by placing letters on paper cups and shuffling them around to then have the child try to read the outcome.

Organize words by types:
Often, children have trouble learning to decode long and short words at the same time. Also, in the English language, several letters can represent the same sound. These variations are sometimes rule-governed and sometimes the reader just needs to memorize the differences. These variations and discrepancies can confuse and frustrate a struggling reader. The good news is that many words in the English language can be organized into types. I normally proceed with the following structure:

(C=Consonant, V=Vowel)

  1. CV, VC words (Bee, tea, Key, Eye, Eat, etc.)
  2. CVC (organize words based on the initial, middle, and final consonant; minimal pairs, or words that vary by one sound are even better). For example,
    1. Bug, bud, bun, buck
    2. Big, bid, bit, bill
    3. Duck, puck, luck, tuck
  3. Short vowels/ Long vowels: Long vowels with silent -e words and without
  4. CCVC words (s blends, l blends, r blends)
  5. CVCC words
  6. Silent letters
  7. Suffixes: ing, past tense -ed (3 ways to pronounce); -ly

The English language is not limited to these categories. However usually, when I work through these steps with struggling readers, they become more confident in their reading abilities overall.

There are so many sources for ideas to work on these skills online. Here are some links for parents who need ideas on what to work on at home.

We also like this book on Amazon because it focuses on learning phonological awareness through play not memorizing letter sounds or using worksheets. Kids learn best through play!


At Better Speech we know you deserve speech therapy that works.

We have experts in your needs and assign the right therapist; not just the therapist that happens to be in your area. If you want to find out more about our services, contact us to schedule a free consultation.