Speech Pathology Week “Literacy for Life”

The theme for Speech Pathology Week in 2011 is "Literacy for Life". This acknowledges that the foundations for literacy are laid down from birth. The peak language acquistion period is from birth to 4 years. This does not mean that children older than 4 are not able to benefit from speech therapy intervention but it does mean that children will progress more rapidly in therapy the earlier they are identified.
Babies as young as 12 months or earlier are aware of tone of voice, word boundaries, speech sounds combine together to form words, social aspects of communication (such as eye contact and turn taking) and that langauge can be used in a number of ways to protest, to greet, to acknowledge and to request help.
Once the pre-school child has developed oral languge mastery to a particular level and is confident that he/she can follow instructions and tell stories with a beginning, middle and end, they use language to talk about language. It is then we start to see the beginnings of reading and writing starting to develop. Children may become aware of print and comment on signs such as McDonalds or STOP. They might start to make up rhyming words, or comment about long or short words and point out certain letters in a book. These are all very positive signs that a child is starting to be aware that written words carry meaning and are another means of communication.
Sadly, however up to 50% of children entering our pre-school children are not at this level of being able to use langauge to talk about language because of  their delayed or poorly organised oral or spoken langauge foundation.  Some of these children may have experienced hearing difficulties such as otitis media (or glue ear), they may have been exposed to little oral langauge in their envioronment or they may come from households which speak another langauge. These children who are not performing to the level of their peers require additional support in their acquisition of oral standard Australian English before they begin to learn the foundations of reading and writing in Standard Australian English in our Australian schools.
Ideally, what should occur in Australian schools, is that any child who is struggling with oral or spoken Standard Australian English is assessed for their comprehension and expression of Standard Australian English. If they are not performing to the level of their peers, they should be provided with intensive speech pathology aimed at improving their oral langauge abilities before any formal literacy teaching is introduced.
No child should be set up to fail in our Education system and children who start school without a sound basis of oral Standard Australian English have poor outcomes in our present day Australian system. Sadly, we do not seem to be learning the lessons and we are introducing literacy earlier and earlier. What we should be doing for these children who are struggling is the exact opposite. They should not be taught to read and write until their oral langauge can support it.
We need to advocate for our children who are unable to express themselves and ensure that all children have the opportunity of reaching their potential in our school system.
Let speech pathologists and teachers work side by side for better literacy outcomes!

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