Jen King, Speech-Language Pathologist

More Than Just Articulation: How a Speech-Language Pathologist can support students with dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, and organizational challenges.

As a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) for over 20 years, I often have folks thinking I just help students work on the /r/ or /th/ sounds. In reality, that’s just speech. So much of the work I do on a daily basis has to do with language–which falls under a whole other umbrella.  

Here’s how the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association defines speech and language:

Speech refers to 

  • Articulation (how we make sounds using the mouth, lips, and tongue)
  • Voice (how we use our vocal folds and breath to make sounds)
  • Fluency (the rhythm of our speech)

Language refers to  

  • Words we use and how we use them to share ideas and have our basic needs met. 
  • It includes both verbal and non-verbal expression 
  • In the form of both spoken and written language 

Listening, speaking, reading, and writing include phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics.

These are the five basic rules systems found in language.

  • Syntax. The rules that govern word order to form clauses, phrases, and sentences.
  • Morphology. The rules that govern change in meaning at the word level.
  • Phonology.The rules that govern the structure, distribution, and sequencing of speech-sound patterns.
  • Semantics.The rules that govern the meaning and context of words or grammatical units.
  • Pragmatics.The rules that govern language use across social communication contexts.

Language and language learning are complex! In my work, I encounter students who may have challenges with speech while others have difficulties with various aspects of language. For some, it’s both.

For those students with diagnosed language learning disabilities, here are some examples below of how I support them.

The International Board of Dyslexia defines the language based disorder as: “…a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Students with dyslexia may also often have co-occurring speech and language delays. 

Examples of how an SLP helps: 

  • Phonological processing, including phonemic awareness. Working with structured literacy programs to ensure students are developing the underlying skills of understanding and manipulating sounds and letters.  
  • Articulation (speech sound production). If a student struggles with the articulation of a specific sound, they will likely struggle with reading and writing that same sound. 
  • Comprehension. Giving meaning to the words on the page and utilizing strategies for understanding such as applying background knowledge, extracting main ideas and details, and making predictions.

Many language skills go into math, and for students with dyslcalculia, a learning disability in math, support with language skills may also be beneficial. Dyscalculia is sometimes referred to as “number dyslexia.” 

Examples of how an SLP helps:

  • Improving fluency and automaticity. Students might benefit from support in theirthe ability to perform basic math calculations fluently and automatically.
  • Language comprehension. Concepts such as larger than, less than, more than, and equal to,  are critically important when “decoding” a math problem. 
  • Reasoning and problem solving. These higher order language/critical thinking skills are required to break down more complex equations.

ADHD and Organizational Challenges 

ADHD impacts executive functions within the brain such as sustained attention, working memory, task initiation, frustration tolerance, and impulse control. Russell Barkley, a leading researcher in ADHD, has cited that as many as two-thirds of children with ADHD also have speech and language disorders, with some studies indicating that the prevalence is as high as 90%. While ADHD specifically is not a learning disability, it can affect an individual’s ability to learn. Executive functioning challenges can impact reading comprehension and the ability to express oneself both verbally and in writing.

Examples of how an SLP Helps:

  • Expressive Language. ADHD students are incredibly creative and thoughtful, but may need support in getting their ideas out in both oral and written form.  
  • Word Retrieval. If a mind is racing on 10 tasks, it can be hard to use a strategy to recall a specific label. 
  • Language Processing. We know that listening and following multi-step directions can be challenging for a student whose attention is compromised. 
  • Pragmatics. If a student struggles with impulse control, then they may struggle in social settings to know what’s appropriate and what’s not. SLPs are trained to help students in learning the skills for initiating interactions, topic maintenance, reciprocal exchanges, and ending/wrapping up a conversation.

Do you suspect your child has dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, or organizational challenges? Early intervention is the key! At McLean, we understand our students and know how to support them, but above all, we understand our students abilities and strengths and how to celebrate them! To learn more about Mclean School, you can request information, visit the campus or apply now!

-By Jen King, MS, CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist