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Pre-Reading Speech and Language Disorders and Dyslexia

Karen Fallon, Ph.D

June 19, 2006



Is there any relationship between pre-reading speech and language disorder and dyslexia?


The research literature most definitely indicates that children who demonstrate speech and language impairments in their preschool and kindergarten years are more likely than typically-developing children to present with language learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia) in their school-age years (e.g., Catts & Kamhi, 2005). Several studies suggest that young children with speech and language impairments are at any increased risk for reading/writing disabilities. However, the exact relationship between speech, language, and literacy skills development is still debated in the literature (Nathan, Stackhouse, Goulandris, & Snowling, 2004). Studies have suggested several variables involved in the developmental equation including type of disorder (e.g., speech impairment, language impairment, mixed speech and language impairment) and the specific communication areas affected (e.g., vocabulary skills). A number of key language skills including vocabulary, narrative skills, and phonemic awareness have been identified pivotal in the development of literacy skills (e.g., Catts & Kamhi, 2005; Nathan et al., 2004). In addition to the specific language skills affected, some researchers have suggested a critical time period for remediation of speech/language impairments. Specifically, some studies have reported that children who continue to present with speech/language problems as they enter first grade are at a higher risk for reading/writing disabilities (Bird, Bishop, & Freeman, 1995; Bishop & Adams, 1990). Although some of the relationships continue to be debated, these data can offer some important clinical implications for speech language pathologists working with young children.

The application of these data to the practice of speech-language pathologists suggests a number of important points. First, when planning assessments and intervention for young children, clinicians should be aware of the key communication skills that could affect literacy outcomes. Language assessments should include measures of vocabulary, syntax, narrative skills and phonemic awareness skills. Weaknesses found in any of these areas should be given consideration when developing and prioritizing intervention goals and treatment plans. Some researchers have suggested that early identification of and intervention to address weaknesses in key language skills such as vocabulary and phonemic awareness could actually improve the reading/writing outcomes of young children (Catts & Kamhi, 2005).

In addition, understanding the potentially critical time period for remediation argues convincingly for the importance of early intervention and early identification of children at-risk for reading/writing disabilities. Speech-language pathologists working as early interventionists have a responsibility to educate parents and consult with the school clinicians so that they may advocate for the at-risk children. Similarly, speech-language pathologists working with school-age children with speech/language impairments not previously identified, need to address areas of communication weakness as well as consult with classroom teachers, With the understanding of the critical relationship between strong language skills and positive literacy outcomes, speech language pathologists play a critical role in the early identification and treatment of spoken and written language disabilities.


Bishop, D. V. M., & Adams C. (1990). A prospective study of the relationship between specific language impairment phonological disorders, and reading retardation. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31(7), 1027-1050.

Bird, J., Bishop, D. V. M., & Freeman, N. H. (1995). Phonological awareness and literacy development in children with expressive phonological impairments. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 38, 446-462.

Catts, H.W. & Kamhi, A.G., (2005). Language and Reading Disabilities. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Nathan, L., Stackhouse, J., Goulandris, N., & Snowling, M. (2004). The development of early literacy skills among children with speech difficulties: A test of the "critical age hypothesis." Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 47, 377-391.

Karen Fallon completed her Ph.D. work at Penn State where she specialized in augmentative and alternative communication, childhood language disorders, and literacy. She is currently on faculty at Towson University where she teaches courses in language disorders, language development, and AAC. Her research interests are in literacy, language disorders, and the application of literacy teaching and principles to persons who use AAC.

karen fallon

Karen Fallon, Ph.D

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