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Speech production deficits in early readers: predictors of risk.

  • Author(s): Foy, Judith G
  • Mann, Virginia A
  • et al.

Speech problems and reading disorders are linked, suggesting that speech problems may potentially be an early marker of later difficulty in associating graphemes with phonemes. Current norms suggest that complete mastery of the production of the consonant phonemes in English occurs in most children at around 6-7 years. Many children enter formal schooling (kindergarten) around 5 years of age with near-adult levels of speech production. Given that previous research has shown that speech production abilities and phonological awareness skills are linked in preschool children, we set out to examine whether this pattern also holds for children just beginning to learn to read, as suggested by the critical age hypothesis. In the present study, using a diverse sample, we explored whether expressive phonological skills in 92 5-year-old children at the beginning and end of kindergarten were associated with early reading skills. Speech errors were coded according to whether they were developmentally appropriate, position within the syllable, manner of production of the target sounds, and whether the error involved a substitution, omission, or addition of a speech sound. At the beginning of the school year, children with significant early reading deficits on a predictively normed test (DIBELS) made more speech errors than children who were at grade level. Most of these errors were typical of kindergarten children (e.g., substitutions involving fricatives), but reading-delayed children made more of these errors than children who entered kindergarten with grade level skills. The reading-delayed children also made more atypical errors, consistent with our previous findings about preschoolers. Children who made no speech errors at the beginning of kindergarten had superior early reading abilities, and improvements in speech errors over the course of the year were significantly correlated with year-end reading skills. The role of expressive vocabulary and working memory were also explored, and appear to account for some of these findings.

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