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Written Language Disorders

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) play a critical and direct role in the development of literacy in children and adolescents and in the diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of written language disorders, including dyslexia, given that

  • SLPs have unique knowledge about the subsystems of language (i.e., phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) as they relate to spoken and written language and knowledge of the metalinguistic skills required for reading and writing (e.g., phonological, semantic, orthographic, and morphological awareness);
  • spoken language provides the foundation for the development of reading and writing abilities;
  • spoken and written language have a reciprocal relationship;
  • children with spoken language problems often have difficulty learning to read and write; and
  • instruction in one modality (spoken or written) can result in growth in the other modality.

The following roles and activities for SLPs include clinical services (assessment, diagnosis, planning, and treatment); prevention and advocacy; and education, administration, and research (ASHA, 2016a):

  • Providing prevention information to individuals and groups known to be at risk for written language disorders as well as to individuals working with those at risk
  • Helping to prevent written language problems by fostering language acquisition and emergent literacy
  • Being involved in initiatives (e.g., response to intervention [RTI]) to prevent academic failure as a result of reading and writing difficulties
  • Establishing collaborative partnerships with teachers, administrators, and others to foster literacy acquisition among students at risk for or experiencing reading and writing disorders
  • Educating other professionals on the needs of persons with written language disorders and the role of SLPs in diagnosing and managing these disorders
  • Participating in activities that will result in early identification of language-based difficulties that put young children (preschool through kindergarten) at risk for literacy problems
  • Screening individuals at risk for reading and writing difficulties, including determining the need for further assessment and/or referral for other services
  • Considering whether students who are already being treated for spoken language difficulties might require assessment related to reading and writing
  • Conducting a comprehensive, culturally and linguistically appropriate assessment of written language skills (reading and writing)
  • Understanding the influences of home language/dialect on reading and writing
  • Understanding potential situational bias and test-item bias in assessment
  • Diagnosing disorders of reading and writing - including dyslexia - and describing the relationship between these disorders and the student's spoken language difficulties
  • Referring to other professionals to rule out other conditions, determine etiology, and facilitate access to comprehensive services
  • Making decisions about the management of written language disorders
  • Making recommendations for a multitiered system of supports (e.g., RTI) in the schools to support speech and language development
  • Developing culturally and linguistically appropriate treatment plans, providing treatment, documenting progress, and determining appropriate dismissal criteria
  • Counseling persons with written language disorders and their families regarding communication-related issues and providing education aimed at preventing further complications relating to written language disorders
  • Consulting and collaborating with other professionals, family members, caregivers, and others to facilitate program development and to provide supervision, evaluation, and/or expert testimony, as appropriate
  • Serving as a member of the interprofessional team within the schools and providing a focus on the language underpinnings of the curriculum to help students meet state curriculum standards (see interprofessional education/interprofessional practice [IPE/IPP])
  • Remaining informed of research in the area of written language disorders and helping advance the knowledge base related to the nature and treatment of these disorders
  • Advocating for individuals with written language disorders and their families at the local, state, and national levels
  • Providing quality control and risk management

As indicated in the Code of Ethics (ASHA, 2016a), SLPs who serve this population should be specifically educated and appropriately trained to do so.

The role of the SLP in literacy intervention may vary by setting and availability of other professionals (e.g., reading teacher and resource personnel) who also provide written language intervention. Regardless of the SLP's specific role, it is important that intervention be collaborative. For example, the SLP can be part of the team helping to implement Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2010).

Content Disclaimer: The Practice Portal, ASHA policy documents, and guidelines contain information for use in all settings; however, members must consider all applicable local, state and federal requirements when applying the information in their specific work setting.