Literacy: Speech-Language Pathologists Play a Pivotal Role

Literacy is an essential prerequisite for social well being, academic achievement, and lifetime opportunities. Speech-language pathologists play important roles in ensuring that all children gain access to appropriate instruction in reading, writing, and spelling. These roles include the following:

  • Early Identification & Assessment
  • Intervention
  • Development of Literacy Programs

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) published a family of documents in 2001 addressing literacy entitled Guidelines for the Roles and Responsibilities of Speech-Language Pathologists with Respect to Reading and Writing in Children and Adolescents. These documents highlight the roles and responsibilities of speech-language pathologists in the development of reading and writing among children and adolescents, particularly in developing literacy for younger children who have communication disorders, including those with severe or multiple disabilities.

Appropriate roles and responsibilities for speech-language pathologists in the improvement of literacy in children include, but are not limited to:

Early identification: (a) help teachers and other professionals with early recognition of language factors associated with later literacy problems; (b) collaborate with other professionals to identify risk factors; (c) participate on child study teams; and (d) consult with government agencies, teachers, school administrators, and other health professionals on indications, timing, need, and use of diagnostic assessments.

Literacy Intervention: responsibilities involve providing direct intervention and collaborative assistance to general education teachers, students, and parents that is needs- and research-based, culturally and developmentally appropriate, and curriculum relevant. The report gives examples of intervention program activities for children and adolescents in early childhood, early elementary, later elementary, and secondary programs.

Identification of Literacy Problems Among Older Students: (a) educate other professionals regarding risk factors involving all language systems; (b) participate on child study teams; (c) recognize added literacy risks for children being treated for spoken language difficulties; (d) interview students, parents, and teachers about curriculum-based language difficulties; (e) monitor classroom progress and other factors that justify formal referral for assessment; and (f) suggest assessment strategies to identify whether a language difference or disorder might be at the root of literacy challenges.

Research: (a) formulate questions to inform practice in literacy and design strategies for answering them; (b) bridge gaps between research and practice; and (c) participate in collaborative research teams that include academicians and practitioners.