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Home readers, sight words, NAPLAN….while these words are just an ordinary part of the schooling experience for some, for others, they bring huge stress and angst. Often difficulties with these experiences arise from a breakdown in reading. Despite consistent efforts with daily homework, some children continue to be slow, effortful, frustrated readers. A question we often receive from our families, is: “why is it so hard for us to grasp?”. Unfortunately, there isn’t a straightforward answer to this question, because reading is such a complex process.

To be a successful reader a child (or adult) has to perform two tasks. Firstly – they must accurately decode (or sound out, or recognise) the words on the page. Secondly – they must be able to extract and hold onto the information on the page (that is, they must comprehend what they have read). Children may have difficulty with either or both of these tasks.

Many different processes are involved in reading. As a speech pathologist working in literacy, it is our role to examine each of these areas and to consider how they may be contributing towards the reading difficulty a child may have. Because of this specialist role, speech pathologists are able to help with reading and literacy in ways that other health and educational professionals may not. An assessment should specifically consider:

  1. Phonological Awareness: the ability to access and manipulate the individual sound units that make up syllables and words
  2. Phonological Memory: a type of working memory which stores sounds as a reader reads a word. E.g., to sound out ‘cat’ as ‘c-a-t’ a reader has to be able to hold onto each sound that they have read out – phonological memory makes this possible.
  3. Working Memory: short-term memory system which allows for information to be held onto and manipulated at the same time
  4. Rapid Naming: the ability to extract information from the long-term memory system – critical for reading fluency.

A break down in any of these areas will lead to difficulties with reading at the functional level. Research also indicates that children who have difficulties with both rapid naming and phonological awareness will have greater difficulties than a child who had a breakdown in only one domain.

And the functional reading abilities of:

  • Reading Rate: how quickly and smoothly a child is able to read across the page
  • Reading Comprehension: the ability to hold onto and understand information that is encoded into words that have been read
  • Reading Accuracy: how accurately a child can read or decode the words on the page.

When we consider that a child has to not only read the words, but understand their meanings and how all of the words on the page interact together to contribute toward the main idea, we quickly realise why oral language abilities are critical for reading success. So many children that we work with present to us in their early years for language development, and then go on to have reading difficulties because of literacy and language’s close relationship.

When we consider how fast-paced the curriculum is, and just how complex reading is, it becomes clear how critical early intervention is for our kids. While any person may become frustrated when learning a new skill, if your child is experiencing ongoing frustrations, or is just not picking up on their reading as you feel they should, contact us today to see how we can help!