Early Literacy Development: Early Warning Signs and What to Be Aware Of
[Below is a transcript of the podcast]
My name is Debra Fenton and I am the owner of Lowry Speech and Occupational Therapy in Denver, Colorado. I am a speech-language pathologist and I’ve been practicing for almost 25 years working primarily with children. One of the most common questions I get from parents has to do with early literacy development. Speech-language pathologists look at literacy from a unique perspective. Literacy is closely tied to a child’s sound development.
A child who has some difficulty with sound development early on is at risk for greater difficulty developing their literacy skills. It is common that a child’s oral language skills parallel with their literacy development. So if they have some difficulty developing their speech sounds or they’re a late talker or have some developmental lags on the speech side, it’s not uncommon for them to struggle with their literacy development. Some of the early warning signs that parents can watch for in their young children, that may give them an indication that it would be a good idea to start literacy a little earlier on and maybe provide more of an explicit approach, are children who are late talkers. They’re not saying their first words by their first birthday. They’re not combining words by their second birthday and they’re not using sentences and phrases and being understood by their third birthday.
Generally, by the time a child hits preschool, between the ages of three to four, we like to see some beginning print awareness and letter identification and getting ready to learn some beginning shapes, colors, and numbers. Children that have difficulty remembering the names of colors, remembering the names of shapes, the names of letters, or the way names of numbers, these are the kids that we tend to be a little bit more concerned about with regards to their literacy development later on. These children, if given a more supportive approach to literacy, can really overcome some of these difficulties with additional practice and multi-sensory opportunities for learning. Children that also struggle with some of their sound and letter recognition may also have difficulty retrieving words on demand. They use a lot of unfamiliar or nonspecific vocabulary such as “stuff”, “things”, or act out or gesture as opposed to telling you about something. They may struggle to put their thoughts into words and have a much easier time showing you something or demonstrating something.
By the age of five, children really should have a good grasp of the alphabet and should be demonstrating some beginning phonics skills. Phonics refers to the matching up of sounds to letters. The letter ‘A’ says /a/ and ‘B’ says /b/. Kids should be starting to understand that relationship and be able to remember and recall these sound to letter associations quite easily and quite quickly with a little practice. A lot of times children seem to know the association but they can’t do it very quickly. It takes them a little while to come up with the sound to match the letters. Those are the children that may have difficulty with reading because reading really requires you to make fast and accurate sound to letter associations. When a child is having difficulty at a young age making these associations and coming up with letter names and letters sounds quite quickly, we can expect that reading might be a little bit more challenging for them.
There’s many ways to support early literacy. There are many websites. If you visit our website, we have a resource list for parents and as well as articles and website links that you can go to to learn how you can support your child’s literacy at home. Another thing is, if there’s any family history of a learning disability or dyslexia in your family, there is a much higher chance that you will have a child that may struggle a little bit more with their reading development or their learning as language and learning are very hereditary.
So a few key points to take away from this would be that children who talk a little later than we expect or show any delays in their speech sound development or their language developments tend to be at greater risk for later literacy difficulties. Also, any type of family history in your immediate or your extended family also increases that risk factor. When you’re looking at your child and wondering if they may be at risk for some challenges with their literacy development, try to think back about their early speech and language development and also think about your family history. If you have anybody in your family with an undiagnosed learning problem or anybody who avoided reading or is just known to be a poor speller, those can be indications that there could be something hereditary in the family gene and would warrant you to pay a little closer attention to literacy development.
Obviously, we always recommend early intervention. The earlier you can get support for your child the more success they will have later on. Thanks so much for listening today it’s been a pleasure. You can visit our website to learn more at lowrystot.com.