Reading Skills & Reading Comprehension Therapy: What Parents Need to Know
About Reading Skills
Reading is a skill that must be taught explicitly to a child, unlike speech and language skills, which are mastered without explicit instruction by an adult. When a child is learning to read it necessitates a number of skills, some of which are influenced by speech and language abilities. Reading comprehension therapy may be needed if one of the skills a child needs to learn to read are impacted by an underlying disorder or insufficient instruction.
There are 5 reading skill components which a child needs to master to be a functional reader. These include:
- Phonemic (Phonological) Awareness – This has to do with a child’s ability to attend to and manipulate the sounds in spoken syllables and words. Phonemic awareness instruction to children significantly improves their reading skills more than instruction that does not pay any attention to phonemic awareness. For example, when asked, a child will understand that the last sound in the word “cat” is a /t/ sound (this does NOT include reading the word or seeing it in print).
- Phonics – this is the relationship between letters (or letter combinations) in written language and the sounds in spoken language. When a child receives phonics instruction they learn how to use these relationships to read and spell words. For example, a child will learn that the written letter “B” makes a /b/ sound.
- Vocabulary – This is very closely connected to comprehension. When a child’s oral or print vocabulary is bigger, it is to understand what is read. Vocabulary can be learned through storybook reading or listening to others, and should be taught both directly and indirectly.
- Fluency – This refers to a child’s ability to read with appropriate speed, accuracy, and proper expression for their level (and considering instruction). Fluent readers are able to read well and make sense of the text without having to stop and decode each word.
- Comprehension – This is a complex cognitive process that encapsulates all of the above skills that children use to understand what they have read. When a child can comprehend what they are reading, they integrate vocabulary skills with fluent decoding skills to understand a text.
Children who have a severe phonological delay or do not have age appropriate vocabulary (which may be due to a language delay) might show difficulty making progress in their reading skills, and they may be at a higher risk. If parents are worried about their child’s reading readiness, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) may be a valuable resource.
Risk Factors for Reading Difficulties
The following are risk factors for reading difficulties:
- Children with a language delay are more likely to experience reading difficulties
- Limited exposure to oral and written language or pre-literacy skills in their preschool years
- Family members with a history of reading difficulties
- Children with hearing impairments
- Diagnosis of oral language disorder like childhood apraxia of speech or a phonological disorder
- Having a primary medical diagnosis in which reading problems co-occur
What is Reading Comprehension Therapy?
As stated above, reading comprehension encapsulates many different sub skills that a child needs to master. When one of these skills is weak, overall reading comprehension is affected and reading comprehension therapy might be warranted.
A speech therapist would have to initially evaluate a child in these different areas to determine which of the sub skills are weak and require intervention. The type of intervention will also depend on what exposure the child has already had to reading skills, their age, and their grade if attending school.
For example, a child who is already in school and is having difficulty with reading might require working on their decoding skills. A child who is still in preschool with a prior history of speech or language issues may start at the level of phonemic awareness.
Parents that are worried about their child learning to read should discuss the situation with their teacher if the child is in school and consult with a speech therapist to determine if an evaluation is needed.