How Speech Delay Affects Language Development in Children

Most children who show difficulties in reading have or have had a form of speech disorder such as speech delay, dyslexia or stuttering. In this article, we explore what kind of role speech disorders play in a child's literacy development.

Speech therapists and psychologists believe that speech disorders are responsible for the failure of some functions critical in acquisition of literacy – reading and writing skills. Disorders affecting phonetic-phonological, psycholinguistic, and pragmatic-communicative levels of language have different effects on how children learn.

Examples of linguistic disorders and speech delay affecting how children learn:

  • Incorrectly formed sounds
  • Weaknesses in the auditory distinction of sounds
  • Inadequate vocabulary
  • Incorrect use of grammatical structures

First of all, we should define speech disorders.

What is "Normal" Language Development and How Are Speech Delays and Disorders Diagnosed?

It is important first to understand that a speech disorder is a deviation from the developmental norms for speech. These "norms for speech and language " are common forms of language use.

Language disorders are, therefore, deviations in the language development of a child from these norms, which are defined as rules, age and development stage appropriate use of the mother tongue. Deviations are caused by a psychophysiological malfunction of the speech system.

Experts diagnose speech delays and speech disorders in the following cases and after the initial phase of language acquisition is accomplished by a child:

  • The language development is not age-appropriate.
  • The language of the child is not a dialect and the child is not an illiterate.
  • There is no connection with language being foreign.
  • The speech disorder is sustainable, i.e. not "just a phase".

These disturbances can extend to one, several or all structural levels and subfunctions of the speech system.

Related article: What to Expect when Your Bilingual Child Starts Learning to Read

How Do I Know if My Child is Dyslexic?

In widely accepted scientific literature, dyslexia is defined as a sustained developmental delay in reading or writing in children.

Dyslexia refers to a cognitive difficulty with reading and writing due to inadequate development of higher cognitive functions (visual and spatial perception, attention and self-control, etc.), thus resulting in a speech delay. Dyslexia manifests itself in repetitive and persistent reading weaknesses. It also results in low reading accuracy and fluency.

Key signs of dyslexia in children:

  • Substitution of similar sounding sounds when reading (voiced and voiceless p, t, k and b, d, g)
  • Difficulty recognizing mirrored letters (b - d, p - q, Z - N, W - M, J - L)
  • Synthesis difficutlties: has trouble blending several sounds to make syllables and words
  • Show difficulty taking away the middle sound from a word or replacing it with a new sound
  • Insufficient reading comprehension of single words, sentences or the entire text
  • Incorrect reading aloud, often skip over small words i.e. prepositions
  • Reversed reading of words: from right to left

Most of the above difficulties are also quite common in beginner readers, and in this case it is not a reading disorder. However, if these difficulties are persistent even after the child has completed learning all the individual letters and understood the principle of reading, then such errors may indicate a reading disorder.

How Do Speech Disorders and Speech Delay Affect the Process of Reading Learning?

Since speech disorders in children are manifold, they have a diverse impact on reading.

Reading is a process that activates a variety of analyzers: visual, oral motor, speech auditory. The reading process starts with the visual perception, differentiation and recognition of letters. Children with speech disorders often have difficulties with visual perception in the initial phase. This leads to problems with the differentiation of graphically similar letters and with the recognition of the letters in a letter series. It often leads to replacing, omitting in and adding letters and syllables to the words.

In the next stage of reading, the connection between letters and corresponding sounds is practised with the help of an initial sounds alphabet. As a result, the sounds in the words can be connected and read. If a child shows difficulties with the reproduction of sounds (skipping or distortion of the sounds), which is common in speech delay, the child learns to read the words incorrectly. This makes the reading indecipherable to the child itself or listeners.

In the final stage of reading, the word and its meaning are linked. As a result of incorrect pronunciation or inability to memorise many words, the child does not comprehend the meaning of what is read. He or she can understand the meaning of each separate word, but forget it while reading.

Thus, due to speech disorders and the associated cognitive disorders, the reading process is adversely affected and such children have to overcome technical and semantic hurdles. Comprehension problems are often overcome with the accomplishment of therapy focused on the specific speech impairment. However, often there are cases where a child’s language skills are fully developed, but the reading disorder is persistent.

In this case, the expert must determine the cause of the reading disorder and the correspondingly affected cognitive function. Then, the form of dyslexia can be identified and and an individual support program can be created.

Today, it is proven that the earlier the speech disorders and speech delay are corrected in children, the lower the risk of learning disabilities in reading and writing will be.

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