Preschool Speaking ability and Developing Dyslexia
Children who show a delayed onset and progression of expressive language in conjunction with otherwise seemingly age-appropriate biological development can be referred to as late talkers. The development of language in this group of children who begin to speak at a later point in their development than their peers is quite significant.

While most family doctors would suggest to the parents not to worry too much and that - their late talkers will ultimately recover and develop adequate language skills, our personal belief and observations is that talking and more importantly – when and – how - in toddlerhood is a precursor to difficulties with language throughout school age and into adulthood.

In addition, evidence from the children who have visited the Dyslexia Association of India™ suggests that a subset of children who are initially identified as late talkers are - eventually later on diagnosed with different subsets of learning disabilities when they enter school.

This subset of children who begin to speak late, are at an elevated risk of problems with phonological issues, which are a significantly important skill required for developing reading abilities. It is also true - that not all preschoolers who have delayed language abilities will go on to have persistent speech or sound production problems, or phonological issues, it is nevertheless a significantly higher percentage of these children who are later screened and diagnosed as being on the spectrum of learning disabilities.

It is also our personal observation at the Dyslexia Association of India™, that those children with atypical sound errors - and distortion errors, eventually have demonstrated that these children reflect different levels of psycholinguistics processing, and this eventually is transformed into an inability to learn how to read and write correctly.

We have also observed during the screening of the various children who come to us that, besides the restricted early vocabulary and protracted expressive language development that these children typically demonstrate, there is an inability to correctly understand the phonological categories, as well as the fine grained phonetic details associated with various sound categories.

During the screening process that is followed at the Dyslexia Association of India™, a significant percentage of these children show a developmental delay in higher-level categorical features of the sound patterns of the language, and eventually this leads to a lower level motoric inability of these representations - which occurs as misarticulations of words begin to take place, due to a incorrect phonological and phonolinguistic process.

We have observed children producing, speech sound errors that include a mix of speech sound error types, which actually are a combination of higher-level phonological representations plus the lower level motoric aspects.

It is very important if that any of the parents notice that their children have a delayed onset of the ability to produce sounds, or speech sounds that they should immediately consider the possibility of having the child assessed to find out if there is any developmental delay.

The reason is that Phonological representations are refined during normal development as children acquire more knowledge of the higher level representation patterns of the language, and if the ambient language containing certain predictable patterns of sound are not learnt in the correct manner, we are going to have children who are going to produce errors in their output.

We find a lot of children who come to the Dyslexia Association of India™, who will have a ‘hovering’ and very indulgent parent who will smile and hug his child when he says “Loyal” rather than “Royal”, and who will refuse to believe that syllable structure errors are beginning to take place, and that if we were to advise them about what is happening using phonological process labels, they simply cannot believe that the “cute” baby speak actually implies a serious problem in the developing brain of the child.

It is our personal opinion that such frequent production of atypical speech sound errors might indicate that a child's developmental path is unusual where the phonological characteristics of the language are being learnt incorrectly. In fact it is also our opinion that this may indicate a system that has gone wrong, and may indicate a potential for long-term weakness in the foundation of the phonological system.

Additionally another word of caution from our end to those parents whose children are expressing different types of phonological speaking abilities in their developmental years is that, sometimes when you go and get your child tested on a very simplistic basis, you may get a performance on a global test of expressive and receptive language that falls broadly within the normal range, but these findings are only a part of the story as standard scores tend to be significantly different, and falling within a broad category does not mean that your child has mastered the ability of appropriate phonological expression accurately.

There is a huge difference if a child is screened and scored on the 40% range whereas another child is screened and scored on the 95% range.

It would be evidently clear to any parent that, which of the two children is going to be successful there learning to read and write are concerned, and eventually where academic output and performance are going to be concerned.

We also do come across children whose speech and sound errors reflect lower level phonetic problems. But our testing indicates that more or less these issues are related to motoric problems in that the productions lack articulatory precision.

The sophistication of the screening tests at the Dyslexia Association of India™, are able to pick up the issues relating to tongue placement or configuration, whether it is a dentalized or a derhoticized related problem.

It comes as a surprise to parents that these kind of distortion errors reflect a mortal template for a particular sound that may be phonological accurate, but may be imprecise in the detailed specifications for the phonetic representation.

Eventually it is these errors that reflect weak phonological representations in preschool which may be indicative of future difficulty with skills that require well-defined representations, whereas errors that reflect lower level articulatory precision may be indicative of difficulty refining articulatory targets.

But in both the cases what is going to happen is that, the child is going to miss out on the early stages of learning to read and write, and is going to begin to rely on his or her ability to recognise whole words, and when the capacity for the ability to memorize complete whole words runs out, which is going to run out by the time the child reaches class III, difficulties are going to begin to show up in the classroom, and the most visible of all these difficulties is going to be poor marks, as well as lower grades than the rest of the children in the same class.

Additionally. children who were developmentally late to begin to talk, or who we can call as being late talkers, are going to continue to exhibit specific areas of deficit especially in grammar, as compared to other children of the same age and the same cultural background, who are using the same language.

Children who are late talkers, or who have delayed preschool speaking ability, will demonstrate, specific difficulties in sentence imitation, as well as problems of associated syntax and grammatical morphology.

In a way it is quite amazing and surprising that parents would give everything to the children but find it quite “cute” when their child indulges in baby speak, with a completely incorrect representation of phonological sound structure, which is a sure shot foundation for the buildup of learning disabilities and acquiring dyslexia. And you will not have to wait long for it, because it is going to begin to show up by class III, or latest by class IV/V.

Cross sectionally and longitudinally it is our consistent belief that, delayed language acquisition, along with delayed preschool speaking ability, have a direct link between the ability to acquire phonological knowledge and literacy in a manner such that delayed preschool speaking ability, as well as delayed acquisition of speech along with incorrect phonological acquisition of the correct speech sound ability is going to directly lead to problems with language decoding and spelling.

In preschool children, those children who have started out on the developmental trajectory with delayed speed sound acquisition along with the awareness of syllables, rhymes, and initial consonants, are going to at some point of time or the other display learning disabilities, which are going to impact school an academic performance, with an increased risk of falling behind there peers.

At the Dyslexia Association of India™, we have tested children who have demonstrated problems in producing speech sounds which are directly associated with is significant weaknesses in processing phonological information in both auditory and written modalities.

Recently we had a case of a 18-year-old young lady, for every time when she said the word “conscious” phonetically articulated it as “con – science” with an emphasis on the word “science”. While it may sound as a very common error, this particular young lady was diagnosed to be an acquired dyslexic, because we found that she had not been able to establish phonological categories, and the consequence of that was that she had not learned to be subtle features of the motor movements involved in the production of acceptable allophones.

In addition whenever she used the word “Sully” she would articulate it as “soo –ly”, and we found that these speech sound distortions, were eventually related to her rhotics and sibilants, and these problems we believe may have been established in the preschool years.

Therefore we had a case of a young adult who had a significantly decent high IQ, but the problems arising out of fine-grained motor specifications, which had been used over and over the years, had led to a situation which had arisen where this particular dyslexic young lady was not able to refine her phonetic productions and achieve phonetically accurate speech. In a way there was no tuning into the subtle features of speech sounds, and no refinement in the production, so whenever this particular young adult would write an exam or a paper, or think of a word she wanted to put down on paper, she would always eventually land up miss spelling it, and the result was that marks would be deducted for incorrect spelling and spelling errors.

For those children who are demonstrating delayed language acquisition, as well as those children whose preschool speaking ability has yet not matured, or who are speaking in baby talk, these children are going to eventually be in a situation where they have residual speech sound errors later on due to early motor templates for sounds that have not resolved, leading to persisting speech problems.

Issues that are overlooked in the early childhood stage by parents or well meaning family doctors are in our personal observation at the Dyslexia Association of India™ worrying. We must understand that the clinical management of late talking toddlers does not depend upon waiting for the toddler to outgrow the delays himself or herself. It is possible that the majority of late talking children will end up with language skills that are largely within normal limits by the time they are in middle school, but the important question here is not about spoken language, it is about phonological awareness, as well as the ability to read to learn what is written in the book.

If education was all about oral language examination, we are sure that there would be no problem with any child, and that majority of the children would be able to go through the schooling system quite smoothly. However in the real world learning to read and write, is not about speaking the language correctly, it is about being aware of the phonology of the language, learning how to be able to accurately decode the language, and make complete sense of what has been written, so that it can be represented accurately in a similarly written format, when questioned about the content of the text.

We would say that children who are late to talk as toddlers and eventually in preschool tend to have weaker language skills at school entry and it is very important for the parents of these children to be sensible and to closely monitor the individual progress of their late talkers with respect to the acquisition of higher-level language and reading skills, as these skills are critical for academic achievement. In a society in which the ability to effectively use language to speak, understand, read and write clearly impacts later educational and vocational success, children who demonstrate weak language abilities as compared to the same age peers are at a significant disadvantage in a increasingly meritocratic environment.

Dyslexia can be developmental, or it could be acquired. For those children who are delayed in learning how to use expressive language, it is extremely important for the parents to monitor the situation, and have the child assessed as early as possible which could be - even at three years of age of four years of age, and take-up immediate remedial measures to rectify the situation so that these children can learn how to create the correct phonological repositories to prevent any future deficits in language as well as academic achievement. In fact late talkers have significantly poorer vocabulary, grammar, reading and spelling, and verbal memory skills by the time they are In Class V and that is when the school starts to notice as they generally perform in the average range on most language and academic tasks. We are convinced that slow early language development reflects a predisposition for slower acquisition and lower asymptotic performance in a wide range of language-related skills into adolescence.

To make an appointment with the DAI™ so that you can rule out the possibility of your preschooler showing any symptom of delayed speaking and eventually going on to develop Dyslexia - please call us on +91 – 8826022886 or e mail us for an appointment on info@dyslexiaindia.org.in as at the Dyslexia Association of India™ we have a strict policy to comprehensively check and diagnose only one child per day.

Any payment that is made for your appointment at the DAI™ qualifies for exemption from Income Tax (IT) and parents are provided a Section 80G receipt so that they can use it when filing their Income Tax Returns.