Stand Up for Your Dyslexia Expertise School-based SLPs are well-equipped with skills and knowledge to help students who struggle with literacy tasks. School Matters
School Matters  |   October 01, 2018
Stand Up for Your Dyslexia Expertise
Author Notes
  • Maggie Block, MA, CCC-SLP, worked in public schools in the St. Louis area for five years before starting her private practice in Edwardsville, Illinois. She focuses on diagnosing and treating school-age children with language-based literacy disorders.
    Maggie Block, MA, CCC-SLP, worked in public schools in the St. Louis area for five years before starting her private practice in Edwardsville, Illinois. She focuses on diagnosing and treating school-age children with language-based literacy disorders.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Normal Language Processing / Language Disorders / Reading & Writing Disorders / School Matters
School Matters   |   October 01, 2018
Stand Up for Your Dyslexia Expertise
The ASHA Leader, October 2018, Vol. 23, 38-39. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.23102018.38
The ASHA Leader, October 2018, Vol. 23, 38-39. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.23102018.38
In recent years, a surge of speech-language pathologists began focusing more of their services on literacy—both reading and writing. However, many of my school-based colleagues still feel left out—and let’s face it, already overworked—when it comes to students’ literacy. Let’s change that.
Children with language-based learning disorders, like dyslexia, may receive an initial diagnosis of spoken language impairment or even a phonological disorder by an SLP. Only much later might another professional, such as the school psychologist, classify those same students as having a reading or writing disorder. As school-based SLPs, we come across these children daily. We see them struggle with basic spelling and write less-complex sentences than peers, or hear teachers comment on how they can’t write a basic paragraph.
Reading and writing is our business. ASHA has promoted the role of SLPs in the identification and treatment of literacy disorders for decades. I urge us to continue to advocate for our place in identifying, diagnosing and treating children with literacy disorders in schools.
Identification insights
According to the International Dyslexia Association, roughly 15 to 20 percent of children in schools present with some form of dyslexia, a language-based learning disability. Identification criteria for learning disabilities vary by state, but many students with dyslexia might go undiagnosed. Reasons include lack of data supporting the negative effects on academics, or the student’s performance on standardized assessments doesn’t indicate the need for services.
Yes, some of these children will appear on your caseload, but not all. Children with strong visual memories and oral language skills can mask symptoms of a literacy disorder—possibly for years.
How can we help?
Create a checklist of age-appropriate literacy skills—including areas such as orthographic knowledge, spelling patterns, reading comprehension, oral language development and sentence composition—for classroom teachers. When they come across students struggling with one or more skills, they can prepare a checklist for that student and share it with you. This is especially crucial for written language skills.
Provide an in-service to school staff to share your expertise on the role of spoken language and literacy development. Tap into resources like ASHA’s Practice Portal on Written Language Disorders for useful information.
For students on your caseload, consider the five main areas of reading—phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary, text comprehension. What skills are missing? Are they missing these skills at the sound, syllable or word level—or at the sentence or discourse level?

Targeting a child’s language goals in the context of literacy is an efficient way of increasing overall spoken language and literacy skills.

Collaboration approaches
Working with other professionals in the building doesn’t mean you are encroaching. It also doesn’t mean you now have to be the go-to expert in the building. It simply means you can help the literacy team understand the relationship between spoken language and literacy, and can help identify students at high risk for a literacy disorder.
To advocate for your role with literacy, you can:
Provide examples of a written language analysis. No one can dissect a written language sample like an SLP. Areas included in this are phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics—sound familiar? For a refresher on this task, consider accessing information by a language pioneer like Marilyn Nippold. And, because reading and writing are so interrelated, we need to target these skills simultaneously.
When you’re already directly involved with a case, speak up! Don’t be shy about sharing what you know. SLPs can offer approaches on improving phonological awareness, morphology and syntax. For example, if a student struggles to produce a certain phoneme related to a phonological process, we can help classroom teachers target these concepts through appropriate reading materials. We can also weave a student’s spoken language skills goals into broader literacy goals.
Classroom teachers feel overwhelmed, too. Once you know where a student faces challenges, help his teacher understand. For example: “Johnny really struggles to understand the formation and structure of words, but these activities help him.” And then share an easy exercise, such as showing the relationship between words like “act,” “activation” and “reactivate.”
Intervention ideas
Help the literacy team recognize red flags indicating a possible literacy disorder. These might include students’ challenges with rhyming, phonemic awareness skills, learning letters, writing their own name, narrative skills, reading comprehension or acquiring sight words.
When finally diagnosed with dyslexia, students often receive instruction in phonological awareness. An area that can remain impaired, however, includes writing.
Here are some ways we can intervene.
Take time to analyze writing skills. Collect a narrative and persuasive writing sample—if necessary, using assistive technology, like a speech-to-text software—and analyze the differences. How many different words does the child use? Can you describe the types of nouns and verbs they use? What about use of abstract nouns like “bravery,” “calm” or “generosity”? Do they incorporate any metacognitive verbs, such as “assume” or “recognize”? Do they know and understand how to use cohesive ties to connect ideas? What percentage of words do they spell correctly? Do they use a variety of clauses? If so, what kind? What story grammar elements do they have in place? If a child also has dysgraphia—an impairment in both the motor and linguistic aspects of writing—speech-to-text software can help.
Target certain vocabulary words and sentence structures in spoken language to enhance these skills in reading and writing.
Include materials from a variety of literacy genres, but use information from the curriculum. Working independently—without considering classroom curriculum—makes our job more challenging, and ultimately produces slower progress.
Consider taking on a vocal leadership role in your school to help increase awareness of the strong interconnections between spoken language and literacy. SLPs are fully equipped to treat students with any language-based issue.
You are qualified.
1 Comment
October 2, 2018
Nicole Power
Excellent article
Thank you for supporting SLPs who are embracing the written language side of our job! Great suggestions!
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October 2018
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