Reading the Signs of Illiteracy

Reading the Signs of Illiteracy

I remember watching one of my friends trying to read in class and seeing the embarrassment grow on his face. Words he didn’t usually see, coupled with his insecurity in his shortcomings lead to an angry outburst of “[Screw] this class” and he walked out the room; leaving behind books, mocking laughter, and his confidence in being able to read. “It’s not that I don’t know how to read…” he later told me after class, “It’s just hard like the voice in my head takes time to start up for each word.” To this day, his reading hasn’t gotten much better. He had been in school his whole life so how did he make it this far and not develop the seemingly straightforward ability to read? Maybe it was the school system’s fault for letting him progress each grade? Was it his fault for not applying himself early on to read? Or is there something more unseen at play here?

“That’s what happens when you’re stupid.”

“He should’ve read more as a kid”

“He must be retarded lowkey”

Too many a times I’ve heard this about him and I know he’s sick of it as well. He’s an excellent math student and can play the trombone pretty well so his intellectual ability oblivious isn’t the problem here so what is?

Taking into consideration speech and sound disorders as a factor for literacy is very important. Speech and sound disorders is an umbrella phrase that includes numerous disorders that affect our ability to recognize, understand, and reproduce language. Some of these disorders are: functional speech (articulation) disorders, fluency(phonology) disorders, and voice disorders. In regards to literacy, functional speech and fluency disorders, or rather their symptoms, have major impacts on literacy. Fluency disorder symptoms include atypical rate, rhythm, and repetitions in sounds, syllables, words, and phrases. Moreover, functional speech disorders cause certain consonant sounds: /s/ /l/ /z/ /r/ and “th” to be harder to form.

Stand alone, these don’t usually correlate with below average literacy, however, when compounded with each other they almost certainly are inhibitors of it. This is because functional speech disorders cause a delay in retrieving semantics, meaning of words, while fluency speech disorders cause a delay in syntax, complete sentence meaning. These delays can be manifested in many ways.

Currently, the best way to combat this, outside of a more curated curriculum, is with traditional articulation therapy. While it has no formal definition, traditional articulation implements behavioral techniques that familiarize and introduce certain sound patterns into a patient’s everyday life through new vocabulary and repetition with increasing complexity/difficulty. At young ages this causes them to lag behind indefinitely if not address and combated.

The causes for these disorders are widely unknown and still speculated. However, being “stupid” isn’t one of them. Reading, especially English, is a complex task we’ve categorize as a marker for basic intelligence. So whether it be really severe, mild, or slightly noticeable, people’s abilities to read should always be viewed below the surface of what we hear from them.



American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (1993). Definitions of communication disorders and variations [Relevant Paper].

Bowen, C. (2011). Children’s speech sound disorders. Retrieved from on February 17, 2019

Bowen, C. (2011). Classification of children’s speech sound disorders. Retrieved from on February 17th, 2019

Peterson, R., Pennington, B., Shriberg, L., & Boada, R. (2009). What Influences Literacy Outcome in Children With Speech Sound Disorder?. Journal Of Speech, Language, And Hearing Research, 52(5), 1175-1188. doi: 10.1044/1092-4388(2009/08-0024)

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