February 6, 2023

The relationship between language and literacy is well established. Where one lapses, so does the other. If you are a school-based SLP lucky enough to work with a reading specialist, you know the aid they bring to establishing and improving literacy skills for a wide variety of students. Yet, you may also be wondering, “what do I bring to the table in terms of treating and preventing literacy disorders?”

In this blog series, we’ll be discussing exactly that: the role of the SLP in diagnosing, treating, and preventing literacy disorders and doing so congruently with a wide variety of disorders we see daily. For today’s piece, we’ll be going over the basics.

What is literacy?

Literacy refers to the development of both reading and writing skills. A foundational component of literacy is the development of both a speech sound system as well as language. Difficulties with producing or understanding certain sounds are often reflected in a student’s literacy abilities, along with an impairment in any one of the language areas (semantics, syntax, morphology, etc.).

The SLPs Role in Treating and Establishing Emergent Literacy Skills

SLPs can aid the development of emergent literacy skills, which establish the foundation for conventional literacy skills. Emergent literacy skills can include phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, narrative awareness, and language development among other key skills (Giroloametto, Weitzman, & Greenberg, 2012).

SLPs who work in early intervention can assess and treat language disorders at this age while also providing intervention for emergent literacy skills. In addition to direct intervention and identification of language delays/disorders, SLPs can also provide support to early childhood professionals and parents in fostering a literacy-rich environment or including embedded activities within daily life. In this way, early intervention SLPs prevent literacy disorders.

Assessment and Intervention for Literacy Skills in a School Setting

For our school-based SLPs, diagnosing and treating literacy disorders often coincide with conventional literacy instruction, past the point of emergent literacy skills. Conventional literacy skills include oral reading fluency reading comprehension, writing, and spelling. For these students, a formal diagnosis of either Language Impairment (LI) or an alternative qualifying IEP diagnosis is required for treatment by an SLP in a school setting. Literacy skills can be targeted indirectly and concurrently while targeting other skills (which will be discussed in depth later in the series), or directly through IEP-specific goals. Examples of literacy-based goals targeted by an SLP could include:

Conventional Literacy:

A) By the end of the IEP, student XXXX will use appropriate syntax in spoken and written sentences including irregular past tense/plural nouns with 80% accuracy given minimal cues (0-33% of elicitations).

B) By the end of the IEP, student XXXX will use a graphic organizer to identify key elements of a story or article (main ideas, characters, plot, problem, solution, etc.) with 80% accuracy given minimal cues (0-33% of elicitations).

Emergent Literacy:

A) By the end of the IEP, student XXXX will improve sound segmenting abilities by identifying onset/rhyme segments of spoken single syllable words with 80% accuracy given minimal cues (0-33% of elicitations).

B) By the end of the IEP, student XXXX will improve phonological awareness by correctly identifying syllables in spoken 2-4 syllable words with 80% accuracy given minimal cues (0-33% of elicitations).

For our students with multiple disabilities, Erickson (2017) argues literacy is most effectively targeted through a comprehensive and team-focused approach. It requires a shift from intensive literacy skills targeted in an isolated setting to working collaboratively with teachers, support professionals, therapists, and parents while emphasizing interaction, participation, and communication (Erickson, 2017).

SLPs and reading specialists are key parts of that team. Collaboration between these two professionals fosters success in our students at risk for appropriate literacy development. In the next few posts of this series, we’ll dive into the nitty gritty of targeting conventional and emergent literacy skills alongside specific diagnoses school-based SLPs often treat.


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2001, January 1). Roles and responsibilities of speech-language pathologists with respect to reading and writing in children and adolescents. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Retrieved December 29, 2022, from https://www.asha.org/policy/ps2001-00104/

Erickson, K. A. (2017). Comprehensive literacy instruction, interprofessional collaborative practice, and students with severe disabilities. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 26(2), 193–205. https://doi.org/10.1044/2017_ajslp-15-0067

Girolametto, L., Weitzman, E., & Greenberg, J. (2012). Facilitating emergent literacy: Efficacy of a model that partners speech-language pathologists and educators. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 21(1), 47–63. https://doi.org/10.1044/1058-0360(2011/11-0002)

Spracher, M. M. (2000). Learning about literacy: Slps play key role in reading, writing. The ASHA Leader, 5(8), 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1044/leader.scm.05082000.1

About the Author

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Marisa Julius is a speech-language pathologist that has worked in both public and private school settings with a focus in pediatric augmentative and alternative communication therapy. She currently works for a private specialized school setting with children 5-21 with complex communication needs and a variety of disorders including Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Childhood Apraxia of Speech, Language Delays, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and more. She is a Missouri native and earned two Bachelor degrees from Truman State University in Communication Disorders and German Studies. She received her M.A. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Saint Louis University. She considers herself a lifelong learner, and is thrilled to be writing for SLP Toolkit, if only for an additional excuse to read more. In her free time, you can find her cooking, reading, hiking, or showing everyone unsolicited pictures of her dog.