Speech, Language and Literacy – Does Your Child Need a Speech Pathologist?

Introducing Catherine Lavery – Lane Cove Speech Pathologist, and (always immaculately coiffured) local mum, as a special guest blogger. Thanks Catherine!


Speech, Language and Literacy – The Role of the Speech Pathologist

I thought it would be useful to explain the role of the speech pathologist in supporting literacy development.


People are often surprised when I tell them that a large part of the role of many speech pathologists is to support reading and spelling skills. We just help people to speak properly right? Wrong!


Speech pathologists have specialist knowledge in the field of oral (spoken) language development and the associated disorders. We aim to identify underlying oral language difficulties, provide intervention tailored to the individual child and to support the generalisation of skills from oral to written language.

So how do oral language difficulties affect reading and spelling?

The relationship between speech, language and literacy is interwoven and complex. In order to read and spell, children need a clear understanding of letter-sound relationships together with intensive, explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension.

reading stages“The Reading Rope” Scarborough (2001)

Oral language skills are a crucial foundation for literacy development and include:

  • Comprehension — the ability to understand, follow directions and process questions
  • Speech – the ability to pronounce sounds correctly
  • Phonological awareness – the ability to break up and blend sounds and syllables in words (e.g. the sounds in cat = c – a – t, the syllables in caterpillar = cat – er – pill- ar), judge and generate rhyming words and identify and manipulate sounds in words (Replacing the /t/ in ‘cat’ with a /p/ produces ‘cap’)
  • Vocabulary – understanding a wide variety of words and appreciating the semantic links (relationships) between words
  • Narrative skills – the ability to understand and tell a story
  • Grammar (syntax) – the ability to understand and talk in grammatically correct sentences
  • Reasoning – problem solving, predicting and inferencing

Many children develop these skills without difficulty but others need additional support. We can identify children likely to be at risk of early literacy difficulties even before they start school. Pre-school screening assessments are offered periodically by many local speech pathologists. There are also some wonderful local speech pathologists who specialise in the treatment of learning and literacy difficulties for older students.

What can you do if you have any concerns about speech or language skills?


  • Discuss any concerns with preschool/day care staff and Early Childhood Centre
  • Put your child forward for screening assessments if offered at their preschool/day care
  • Consider a self-referral for speech pathology assessment at the North Shore Ryde Child and Family Health service (covered under Medicare for preschool age)
  • Private speech pathology is available locally for more immediate concerns (no referral necessary and health fund rebates may assist with fees)

School age:

  • Talk to your child’s class teacher to gain an insight into how they are progressing
  • Approach the learning support team at school to explore additional school based support and guidance regarding possible referrals to: paediatrician, school counsellor, educational psychologist, speech pathologist, audiologist etc
  • Be careful and discerning as the accuracy of online information varies
  • Self-referral for a private speech pathology assessment – search by location and speciality at Speech Pathology Australia

How to help your child develop literacy skills at home
Ensure your child has clear articulation of speech sounds By 4 years of age a child’s speech should be easy to understand and include correct use of the following sounds: m n p b t d w h k g y s z f l. sh ch and j should be correctly used by 4 ½ years old. Until around Kindy to Year 1 of school the following speech errors may still be present:

  • Substituting ‘b’ for ‘v’ so that they may say ‘berry’ for ‘very’
  • Substituting ‘w’ for’ r’ – saying ‘wed’ for ‘red’
  • Substituting f (or v, s or d) for ‘th’ – saying ‘fing’ for ‘thing’ or ‘dis’ for ‘this’

Teach letter sounds It is important that children learn both the name and the sound of the letter. Be clear and teach the difference between letter names and sounds. E.g. the letter “s” – the name is ‘es’ and it makes the long sound ‘sss’.

Work on Phonological Awareness skills

Blending and segmenting syllables

  • Talk like a robot who only speaks in syllables to demonstrate the ‘beats’ of a syllable
  • Clap out or finger count syllables in word categories e.g animals/vehicles

Recognising and producing rhyme

  • Say and sing nursery rhymes and read lots of books with rhyming text
  • Play “I spy with my little eye, something that rhymes with…”
  • Think of words that rhyme with family member names

Beginning sounds

  • Sort pictures according to the sound they start with
  • Play “I spy something starting with…”
  • Put objects in a box. As the child pulls them out ask what sound they start with

Work on developing strong vocabulary skills Research shows that the best thing you can do to enhance reading comprehension is to explicitly teach vocabulary.

Be positive and believe in your child! Praise all reading/spelling attempts. Help them choose books at the right level. A book where they can manage 80 – 90% of the text independently with around 10-20% scope for learning is ideal for most children.

Seek out information and help Ask questions and do your own research to find the best professional/approach for your child. You know your child best.

Finally – have fun! Teach your children to love books. Read to them, borrow books from our wonderful Lane Cove library and enjoy the learning process.

Catherine Lavery is a local mum and speech pathologist working privately in Lane Cove at Sydney Speech Clinic, and as a clinical educator to speech pathology university students at ACU. Catherine also works in collaboration with a number of local schools, preschools and day care centres.

sydney speech clinic

Sydney Speech Clinic has just moved into brand new state of the art purpose built centre.  Take a centre tour here.


 1 Pottery Lane, Lane Cove NSW 2066
 (02) 8404 0715
Sydney Speech Clinic is an ITC Gold Sponsor