Sunday, April 8, 2018

Can Nonspeaking Students Learn to Read? Why Not?!

If you follow my blog you’ve probably read before about developing literacy skills in children with limited language and/or complex communication needs (CCN).  We just do not spend sufficient time teaching literacy skills to these children; not anywhere near the amount of time devoted to teaching reading in general education classes and even less than students in general education classes who are struggling readers and who receive additional support in the resource room.

A recently published article by Barton-Hulsey, Sevcik, and Romski (2018) examined the relationship between receptive and expressive language skills and phonological awareness skills in children with development disabilities.  They attempted to help us understand how children with developmental disabilities and minimal speech develop reading skills; specifically phonological awareness skills.



The National Reading Panel has reported that instruction in phonics and phonological awareness is very effective.  In fact research has shown that, while taking significantly more time than neurotypical peers to acquire literacy skills, the relationship between phonological awareness and reading skills is the same in both groups. (The Institute for Educational Sciences - IES, 2014).
Children’s understanding about the sound structure of language plays a significant role in their understanding of how speech and reading support each other (Frost et al, 2009).  Contrary to widespread belief, letters do not actually represent the sounds in a word; rather they represent the underlying phonology (Liberman, Shankweiler, & Liberman, 1989).
While there have been a number of studies exploring the relationship between speech sound disorders and development of phonological awareness skills, little has been done to explore this relationship in students with minimal speech with filtered variables.  There have been some studies exploring reading development in individuals with motor speech impairments but no significant impairment in cognitive skills.  However, there are very limited studies that have looked at the development of reading skills in children with intellectual impairment.
In one study (Card & Dodd, 2006) it was found that children who could speak performed better on some tasks of PA (phoneme manipulation & visual rhyme), but not in other tasks (segmenting syllables, spoken rhyming words, and reading nonwords).  If development of PA skills is not dependent upon the ability to speak, then we should be able to develop these skills in AAC users.


This newest study looked at the relationships between receptive language, speech ability, early literacy skills and phonological awareness in children with developmental disabilities.  The results suggest that “…speech ability does not play a significant role in PA for those children.”

“Speech ability and letter-sound knowledge we found to have a small, nonsignificant correlation.”  Similar to the 2006 study by Card & Dodd, the findings suggest that limited speech does not result necessarily in limitations on tasks of PA.

The study concludes that the “ability to speak may not be an important component in the linguistic knowledge necessary for PA…”  While significant modification may be necessary for reading tasks for students who use AAC, there is nothing to suggest that we cannot teach them to read.


As David Yoder said (ISAAC, 2002): No child is too anything to learn to read!




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