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Chilhood and Literacy
Identifying Reading Problems Before they Begin
Parents no longer have to wait until their children are in elementary school to find out if they are going to struggle with a reading disability. Communication Sciences and Disorders Professor Linda Lombardino has developed a language and literacy test for children ages 4–7 able to diagnose pre-illiteracy.
“Our goal is to identify children as early as we can who are having difficulties so we can do interventions immediately, rather than waiting until they are failing in reading,” Lombardino says. The Assessment of Literacy and Language exam—designed for speech and language pathologists, reading specialists and special educators—can predict in about an hour whether a child is going to have trouble reading.
“We know from studies that have been done that early intervention makes a very big difference,” says Lombardino. “Children can learn the concepts they need and not fall as far behind as they would have had they not had the treatment.”
Available since November 2005, the test focuses on early identification and prevention of severe reading problems by looking at three dimensions of language—spoken language (vocabulary, word meaning and syntax), phonological processing (the ability to manipulate sounds and words through rhyming and letter deletion), and basic literacy tasks (alphabet knowledge, book handling).
The test is unique in that it is the first in the field of speech and language pathology to examine both spoken and written language extensively in young children. Lombardino’s Assessment of Literacy and Language test, appropriately nicknamed “ALL” for short, provides the nation’s first standardized method of evaluating both areas of communication simultaneously.
“Speech pathologists have not been working in the realm of reading for very long,” says Lombardino. “Usually, when children have reading problems they go to learning disability specialists, so the role of the speech pathologist in reading is a relatively new one for us, though it shouldn’t have been—we should have been doing it for years.”
Lombardino has been ahead of the game in this regard for quite some time. More than a decade ago she established the UF Reading Clinic within the department’s Speech and Hearing Clinic, so graduate students in speech-language pathology can learn how to test, diagnose and treat children with reading disabilities. Parents from all over the South bring their children to the clinic to determine the extent of their reading problems.
The clinic is especially known for its thorough diagnosis of dyslexia. Susan Barton, founder of Bright Solutions for Dyslexia in San Jose, California, often refers patients to the clinic. “Many parents who followed my recommendation and had their children tested at Dr. Lombardino’s clinic have called back and thanked me,” she says. “Not only did they get an excellent report within a short period of time, but the staff was professional, treated the parents with respect and answered their many questions.”
Lombardino says that while dyslexia is one of the most common learning disabilities in the U.S., only 8–15 percent of children with reading problems suffer from a biologically based reading disability. The far more common culprit is a lack of exposure to reading and language skills in the home and/or poor instruction in school.
“There are many reasons kids have trouble,” she says. “One tends to be a learning disability that has a neurobiological basis and is often inherited, and the other is environmental. Our goal is to pick these kids up, regardless of the reason.”
Lombardino says parents should be reading to their children daily for at least a half-hour, taking time to point out the words as they read them. She is in the process of extending the test to encompass children as young as age 3 and all the way through the third grade. Visit www.csd.ufl.edu/speech.html for more information on the UF Reading Clinic or to schedule an appointment.
— Buffy Lockette
Photograph by Jane Dominguez