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  • Writer's pictureBethany Kessel

A Cover is Not the Book: Speech Sound Disorders & Early Reading Skills

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

Speech is what you do with your mouth, and reading is what you do with your eyes, right?

A child who just has trouble saying sounds won’t have trouble reading, right?

Maybe, but maybe not.

Speech and reading are, in fact, very closely linked - especially during the early years of emerging literacy in the toddlers and preschool children.

As a young child hears and begins to make the sounds of language, he or she also learns how to:

  • match those sounds to symbols (letters),

  • join sounds and letters together (syllables, words and word parts)

  • to join those words together (sentences)

  • to use words and sentences for a purpose (communication)

A Speech Sound Disorder affects ALL of those skills. The child has to work harder each step of the way.

So, what are the reading risks for a child with a Speech Sound Disorder?

Reading skills are built on many foundation blocks*, including visual perception, working memory, attention, vocabulary, and experience (to name just a few!) Cracks in any part of the foundation can have lasting effects on literacy and learning. Saying accurate sounds is one integral part of the emergent reader’s skill set.

A recent study of preschool children (1) found that those with poor speech sound production skills were at greater risk for literacy difficulties, especially those with poor skills in processing speech sound combinations.

A separate 2017 study (2) found that children with early Speech Sound Disorders were at higher risk for poor sound awareness and spelling skills at age 5 ½, and poor word reading at age 8. In particular, unremediated speech errors that persist into the school years are strongly linked to poorer reading skills, whether or not other risk factors are present.

What can I do to support growing reading skills for my young child with a Speech Sound Disorder?

  1. Early support and intervention from a skilled SLP (Speech Language Pathologist or Speech Therapist) can help your child learn to hear and make accurate speech sounds during the toddler and preschool years, setting your child up for school-age success.

  2. Read together! Sharing books is not only enjoyable for both caregivers and children, but regular positive experiences with print also encourage even struggling readers to love and learn from reading. Many libraries offer fun incentives for the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program (see

  3. Sing, rhyme, and play with sounds. Nursery rhymes, simple songs, and silly sound play will encourage children to have FUN with speech sounds and the rhythms of language.

The good news is that with appropriate professional and family support, children with Speech Sound Disorders can grow into competent and enthusiastic readers!

As Mary Poppins has wisely said:

“Chapter titles are like signs, and if you read between the lines, You'll find your first impression was mistook - For a cover is nice, But a cover is not the book!”

Written by: Bethany Kessel, MA, CCC-SLP, Innovative Speech & Swallowing Partners


2 When does speech sound disorder matter for literacy? The role of disordered speech errors, co‐occurring language impairment and family risk of dyslexia Marianna E. Hayiou‐Thomas, Julia M. Carroll, Ruth Leavett, Charles Hulme, Margaret J. Snowling J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2017 Feb; 58(2): 197–205. Published online 2016 Nov 7. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12648

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