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Speech Problems and Reading

I would like to ask regarding a soon-to-be 6-year-old who is not doing well with phonics. I believe it is related to her speech. She does not pronounce the letters “r” or “l” clearly, although she seems to “hear” the difference. For instance, she pronounces her name as “Ambuh” rather than “Amber,” but is upset if someone else pronounces it the way she does. She confuses the letter sounds and cannot sound out words after several months of review. What suggestions would you have? Am I correct in thinking that her speech problem may be the root of her difficulty in learning to read?

Thanks for writing. If your daughter was 4, then I would say wait a bit, her r’s and l’s will probably correct themselves. Since she’s getting on to 6 now, there might need to be some retraining. I would start with a visit to the pediatrician’s office to make sure that all is in order with her teeth, tongue, and especially her ears. If all is well there, then I would make an appointment with a speech therapist. R’s and l’s are commonly mispronounced by small children, but as she’s getting to be school aged, she will need to have these corrected. Many public schools have speech therapists in attendance and that might be a resource for you. Fortunately, r’s and l’s are some of the easiest to correct, so it might be just a few visits as a therapist teachers her how to re-use her tongue while she’s saying those consonants.

Speech problems and reading aren’t necessarily connected—they might be, they might not be. If her speech concerns are related to her hearing, then they are more than likely connected. If her hearing is fine and her tongue just needs to be retrained, they might not have anything to do with each other. I’m not a speech therapist, so I’m just talking from teaching experience here—I’ve had children with real speech impediments read very well and other children with speech delays that seem to be delayed also in academic areas. Again, they may be related, they may not be. Sorry, that’s not a real great answer—yes’s and no’s are much easier to work with. I’m sure you’ll find some answers as you go and visit with these professionals. Good luck!

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