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Why Doesn’t my Child Have Phonemic Awareness Skills?

While practicing word play with my son, I became aware that he was lacking some phonemic awareness skills, in particular the ability to segment sounds in a word.  The National Reading Panel reports that instructing children in how to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds in language (phonemes) improves their ability to read, comprehend what they are reading, and spell.

Elaine McEwan-Adkins suggests that phonemic awareness has nothing to do with intelligence, but a child lacking phonemic awareness skills will have a difficult time learning how sounds relate to the written word.  If a child has poor phonemic awareness, he or she will typically mix up words, stumble over sounding out words, and spell poorly.  The eyes, ears, and mouth work together to see, hear, and feel the sounds.  Some children are unable to distinguish the sounds within words because of a difference in processing ability.  Some children just need extra practice to develop their phonemic awareness skills.  The National Institute for Literacy advises that phonemic awareness skills should not be assumed even in older children and that early assessment is the key to identifying a child’s skill level.

 Let’s Go Learn’s DORA Phonemic Awareness measures nine phonemic awareness skills using audio and picture-only items for a thorough assessment of oral phonemic awareness skills. Specific phonemic awareness categories tested include:  1) addition, 2) deletion, 3) substitution, 4) identification, 5) categorization, 6) blending, 7) segmenting, 8) isolation, and 9) rhyming.

Tags: Why Doesn’t my Child Have Phonemic Awareness Skills?

  1. wordsalad
    Reply 08/26/13

    As a fellow SLP I found your post unsettling.

    1.  “It is stunning how many children with learning disabilities have large tonsils and upper respiratory congestion.” For this to be more than anecdotal, you would have to do a comparison to children without learning disabilities, i.e., in a sample size of 100 kids with and 100 without LD, how many have the symptoms you are stating? Are these temporary states or chronic conditions? Perhaps the truth is that a similar percentage of ALL children in this age range (when LD are being evaluated) have these conditions observed.

    2. “I recently read about a new theory…” ? This sounds very flimsy- did the study actually link chronic allergies to poor development of phonemic skills or is this something you are postulating?

    SLP are trained to have a thorough and critical understanding of research methods. Your comments do not reflect that training.

  2. Straub
    Reply 03/21/13

    The new theory you mention does sound interesting.  Where could I find more research on this?  Who did the studies?  Were they large scale and more valid than the theories about Otitis Media causing deficits in phonemic awareness?

  3. The E-Learner's Pro
    Reply 02/13/13

    As a speech-language pathologist who has seen hundreds of children with poor phonemic awareness skills, I have also asked why. There is an inherited component to many learning disabilities. Just as special talents can be inherited, so can deficits. The wiring diagram for how the brain will develop is influenced by our ancestors.

    This only explains a small portion of the children with poor phonemic awareness skills. What about all the rest? I was trained to do oral-motor testing on new referrals. It is stunning how many children with learning disabilities have large tonsils and upper respiratory congestion. For years I thought middle ear problems were to blame for early reading difficulties. I thought the imprecise hearing was creating a degraded auditory signal, which resulted in a degraded brain map for sounds.

    I recently read about a new theory that is even more compelling. Research in the area of neuro-immune disorders has shown that blood flow to the temporal lobe shuts down when a person is ill. The brain protects itself from the pathogens circulating in the blood. I know that my thinking becomes fuzzy when I have a cold. I usually recover in a few days. It is possible that a child with chronic allergies or congestion doesn’t get a chance to develop normal phonemic awareness skills because the part of the brain in charge of language development is not functioning at 100%. If the immune system is compromised, so is learning.

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