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Literacy Part 1: Background Information

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

Updated March 2022

When I was in grad school, I remember learning about phonological awareness. Period. I don’t remember learning about how to provide instruction on reading and writing, let alone how to determine whether a kid was behind or not. When I got a client on my caseload with concerns about reading and/or writing, a panic would set in. I would spend many hours attempting to put together an assessment, goals and therapy plan.

Working in private practice, I have the opportunity to work on a wide range of goals. (A note for all the SLPs from outside Ontario: Ontario’s service for speech-language pathology is quite different from other places. In a quick overview, there are generally: SLPs employed by schools who service language and language-based literacy; SLPs employed by third party contractors who go into schools to service speech, voice and fluency; and private practice SLPs who can work on any area). Having clients walk through my door with literacy concerns combined with a mentor whose passion was literacy pushed me to want to learn more about this area and how to best service these clients. Cue this blog series!

This series will be broken up into three parts: definitions and background information, assessment, and intervention. Each part will have tips for both SLPs and parents.

Most people are familiar with literacy, the group of skills related to reading and writing. What is not as well understood, among both families and professionals, is reading and writing challenges. Three profiles of reading difficulties outlined in Spear-Swerling (2015) is very helpful:

- Children who struggle with decoding words (reading words by sounding them out). When a child persistently struggles in this area, this is known as dyslexia (now referred in DSM-V as specific learning disability affecting reading).

- Children who struggle to understand what they read, even with at least average abilities in word-reading. This is often known as reading comprehension difficulties.

- Children who struggle with a combination of both areas above, in that they have less than average word reading skills and struggle to comprehend what they read.

A few facts about dyslexia:

- Neurologically-based disorder whereby there is a deficit in the language processing system, specifically the phonological (sound) system. In layman’s terms, the brain does not process sounds as well as it needs to in order to decode words.

- The most common learning disability - present in approximately 20% of children.

- Not reflective of an individual’s intelligence. Although speaking and reading are both system based on sounds, speaking is natural whereas reading is an invention that has to be learned with effort.

- Not letter or number reversals. This can occur in children who have dyslexia but does not mean a child has dyslexia.

- Not something you outgrow. An individual may become more accurate when reading, but areas of concerns persist including highly effortful reading, difficulty comprehending higher level texts, and difficulty decoding complex or multi-syllabic words.

- Not more common in boys.

Knowing that there are different types of reading and writing difficulties is the first step. The next step is to learn how to assess children's reading and spelling. And lastly, learning how to differentiate instruction, methods of measuring progress, and technological supports to best support these kids.


Shaywitz, S. (1996). Dyslexia. Scientific America.

Spear-Swerling, L. (2015). Common Types of Reading Problems and How to Help Children

Who Have Them. The Reading Teacher, 69(5), 513-522.

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