Mandy Grist

Understanding the links between dyslexia and speech, language and communication needs

The 4th – 10th October was Dyslexia Awareness Week; an important campaign that highlighted the difficulties faced by those with dyslexia and ways they can be supported. Dyslexia affects one in ten people – the same number of children and young people affected by speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). I CAN’s speech and language specialist, Mandy Grist, talks us through the speech and language indicators that could be linked to dyslexia.

The link between SLCN and literacy is a very strong one; there is plenty of evidence highlighting this close relationship. Good speech, language and communication skills are important in enabling children and young people to be successful readers, and later on in their language development, reading and writing can be excellent tools for developing spoken and written language skills once a child has the basics.

Dyslexia is a condition where people have trouble reading accurately and fluently – they may also have trouble with reading comprehension, spelling and writing. Often one of the first things noticed in a child with is their difficulty with literacy. However there are a number of indicating factors in dyslexia relating to speech, language and communication, as described by the British Dyslexia Association. Of course it shouldn’t be assumed that a child displaying these difficulties will be dyslexic, or every child with dyslexia will have the same range of difficulties with speech, language or communication, but it’s useful to think about them when considering the difficulties a child may be experiencing which lie ‘beneath the surface’ of any later literacy problems.

In a preschool child the following speech and language difficulties could be early signs of dyslexia:

  • Persistent jumbled phrases, e.g. ‘cobbler’s club’ for ‘toddler’s club’
  • Use of similar sounding substitute words e.g. ‘lampshade’ for ‘lamppost’
  • Inability to remember the label for known objects, e.g. ‘table, chair’
  • Difficulty learning nursery rhymes and rhyming words, e.g. ‘cat, mat, sat’
  • Later than expected speech development

In older primary aged children, the following speech and language related features may be additional indicators of dyslexia:

  • Problems understanding what he/she has read
  • Difficulty remembering and following lots of fast, verbally presented information

In older children and young people with dyslexia, the following speech and language related difficulties can be present:

  • A need to have instructions and telephone numbers repeated
  • A problem with ‘sequencing’ so confuses places, times, dates, making organisation challenging. 
  • Difficulty with planning and writing essays. 
  • Difficulty processing complex language or long series of instructions at speed. 

Children and young people with SLCN often present with other conditions such as dyslexia. For this reason knowledge of the links and overlapping features is important.

Of course, whatever diagnosis a child or young person is given, getting the right support is crucial. In order for this to happen, correct identification of their difficulties by a skilled and knowledgeable workforce and appropriate intervention at the right time are essential. There are some promising moves towards this but still much work to do. At I CAN we want to see all practitioners understanding SLCN and the crucial overlaps and links between speech and language and other conditions, to ensure that children and young people get the support that they need.

That’s why we’ll be supporting Dyslexia Awareness week and hope you will be too. There are plenty of materials available from the British Dyslexia Association and the Helen Arkell Centre.

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