Speech-Language (and Literacy?) Pathologists

by Jessica Klein, MS, CCC-SLP

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are busy.  Their caseload numbers are high, their list of students in need of an evaluation is continually growing, and IEP meetings are often dispersed throughout their day.  They are targeting goals for speech, language, social skills and auditory development. So asking them to address literacy skills, too, seems absurd.  Or is it?

To become efficient readers, students must develop two sets of skills: code-based skills and meaning-based skills.  Code-based skills include those skills necessary to “learn to read,” including, phonological awareness, alphabetic knowledge and print concepts.  Meaning-based skills include those skills necessary to “read to learn,” such as, vocabulary knowledge and language comprehension.  Both sets of skills are rooted in speech and language, and both are skills that likely are already being woven into sessions with SLPs.

It is easy to see how SLPs are supporting the meaning-based skills of reading.  Targeting vocabulary and teaching the syntax of language are being addressed with many students throughout the SLP’s day. The vocabulary being reinforced in sessions with SLPs likely even comes straight from text that is being taught in the classroom.  What isn’t always as obvious is how SLPs are supporting the code-based skills of literacy.

The term phonological awareness refers to one’s ability to manipulate the sounds of a language.  It encompasses a variety of skills, including, rhyming, counting syllables and phonemic awareness.  Phonemic awareness can then be broken down even further into the skills of being able to isolate, blend, add, delete and substitute sounds.

When SLPs work on articulation goals with students, regardless of the student’s level (producing a target sound in isolation, within a word, or in a sentence), the following progression often occurs: the target sound is produced in isolation; the target sound is blended into a word, the awareness of what sound should not be substituted is addressed.  This sequence of events, while necessary to meet articulation goals, is also supporting the development of phonological awareness, a key component in learning to read.

SLPs are busy.  They are targeting speech and language and all of the many skills that fall under the umbrella of these two terms.  They are writing goals, planning lessons, attending meetings and more.  They are supporting literacy… and they might not even realize it.

Jessica Klein began working as a speech-language pathologist at CID in 2004, assessing and treating children from birth to age 12. Klein co-wrote the “Targeting Speech Skills for Children Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing” workshop, presenting annually at CID as well as at Southeast Missouri State University and at the Missouri Speech and Hearing Association conference. In 2011, she accepted a job as a speech- language pathologist at a St. Louis charter school. While in the public school setting, Klein assessed and provided speech and language services to students with varying speech and language needs. She was a member of the school’s CARE team, collaborating with teachers and specialists to develop interventions for students struggling in the classroom. In 2015, Klein returned to CID ready to share her public school experiences with colleagues to help better prepare CID students for the mainstream setting. Since her return, she has written a webinar about developing literacy skills in children who are deaf and hard of hearing as well as spoken about literacy skills and case managing students who are deaf and hard of hearing at Fontbonne University. She has recently transitioned into the role of associate coordinator of the Emerson Center for Professional Development at CID.

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