Early intervention made the difference

Benjamin started receiving language and literacy therapy when he was four and a half years old. At the time, his parents’ main concern was his speech, which was hard for them to understand at times and very difficult for teachers and other adults to decipher.

Benjamin’s evaluation revealed that his speech abilities were below the first percentile compared to peers. He substituted easier sounds for the harder sounds in words, such as “dumb” for “gum,” and talked very rapidly, often “slurring” his words together. It was also determined that his grammar and language were more than one year behind. Benjamin’s family had a history of dyslexia, and many of his pre-literacy skills were delayed for writing letters, hearing sounds in words, and phonics knowledge. Due to these difficulties, Benjamin received three, forty-five minute sessions of individualized therapy per week to address his speech, language, and literacy skills.

Over the next few months Benjamin’s language skills increased to the high-average range for longer and more complex sentences. He developed more sounds for his speech, but continued to make substitutions and rush as he was talking. His speech-language therapist used a variety of activities to help him to “listen to himself” and to use the right speed of speech. Benjamin particularly enjoyed being “the teacher,” and listening to and correcting the therapist’s speech. He also enjoyed using video feedback on his computer to record and rate his speech on a rating scale. His rating had to correspond with the therapist’s rating. He completed homework assignments using a web camera and video feedback to maximize his practice. He practiced “show and tell” demonstrations with a variety of therapists and staff in the building, so that his speech was understandable to both familiar and unfamiliar listeners. After two years of therapy, Benjamin’s speech errors had resolved, and his speech could be understood by his classroom teacher (in a busy kindergarten class) and by unfamiliar adults.

During his two years of therapy, Benjamin received explicit instruction and homework about how to form written letters and words, since he initially reversed a number of letters and his words appeared to be “floating” on the page. A variety of game-like tasks addressed his ability to hear letter sounds in isolation and in words. Eventually, spelling and reading at the word and phrase level were addressed. Although he initially had a strong aversion to anything related to literacy because it was difficult for him, Benjamin was motivated when he saw his progress and realized that he could read and write himself Just before he was discharged, Benjamin’s kindergarten teacher reported that he was one of the better readers in the class and that he participated in the classroom more often. He was re-tested and obtained scores in the high average and above-average range for language and literacy. Benjamin demonstrated increased confidence in his ability to communicate. He began to write his own simple stories and read books to his new little sister.