Speech Sound Disorders and Literacy

What is a speech sound disorder?

“an umbrella term referring to any difficulty or combination of difficulties with perception, motor production, or phonological representation of speech sounds and speech segments—including phonotactic rules governing permissible speech sound sequences in a language” [source]

How are SSDs and literacy linked?

“More than half of children with SSD experience difficulties with reading” (Bishops  & Adams; Catts, Adlof, Hogan, & Weismer; Catts; Catts, Fey, Tomblin, & Zhang; McCardle, Scarborough & Catts; Nathan, Stackhouse, Goulandris, & Snowling; Tomblin, Zhang, Buckwalter, & Catts)

What is the biggest oral language/reading factor in reading difficulties in individuals with an SSD?

phonological awareness

What is phonological awareness?

sensitivity to the sound structure of a word measured by rhyming, blending, and deleting phonemes

How are phonological awareness and SSDs connected?

Preschoolers with SSDs, especially atypical speech sound errors and distortions, are a higher risk of phonological awareness deficits. School-aged students with SSDs (even residual ones), have weaker phonological awareness skills than those without.

How are phonological awareness and literacy connected?

There is a causal link (Hogan, Catts, & Little) between phonological awareness and reading skills. 

Does the risk of literacy deficits preceded by SSDs decrease as a child gets older?

No! Research shows that even students as old as 10 – 14 with both residual and remediate speech sound errors demonstrate weaker phonological processing skills. 

What is the SLPs responsibility?

SLPs should participate in both early identification and early intervention of SSDs and potential reading disorders. According to research, deficits in oral language and speech sound production are the primary early signs of a reading disorder, including dyslexia. 


All students with suspected SSDs should also be tested for phonological awareness skills.

Teacher should supply information on decoding, phonological awareness, and spelling skills.  

General Intervention Tips

Incorporate phonological awareness skills into speech sound activities.

Include minimal pairs.

Use references to orthography in speech sound activities.

Push into the classroom.

Use curriculum-based vocabulary as treatment targets.

Encourage students to find their sounds in texts before reading.

Have students sort pictures by their sound in multiple positions (phonemic awareness) and written words in multiple positions (orthography).

Have students listen to a spoken word, identify the location of their sound, then compare what they heard to its written form.



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