Reading Intervention Helps Children Overcome Speech Problems

November 24, 1997

ATHENS, Ohio -- Children with speech problems can significantly improve their language skills simply by hearing their parents read to them every day, according to a new study at Ohio University.

While many parents are aware that reading to young children is beneficial, the research suggests applying certain techniques can make reading intervention a useful tool in helping some children overcome speech and language problems.

Researchers worked with 14 children ages 3 to 5, each of whom had some sort of delay in their ability to speak or understand words, and their parents. Over a six-week period, parents read two books a day, seven days a week, to their children. At the end of the study, researchers saw a marked improvement in all of the children, said Helen Ezell, assistant professor of hearing and speech at Ohio University and author of the study.

"Most speech-language pathologists will recommend that all parents read to their children, but our study suggests that reading intervention can help children with language delays increase their vocabulary skills quickly through a very simple and enjoyable activity at home," Ezell said.

For the study, researchers gave parents two picture books each week. Titles such as "Where's Spot," "The Mitten" and "The Napping House," were among the 12 books used in the study.

The initial goal of the project was to see whether or not placing emphasis on problem words during the reading time would help children develop a better understanding of those words.

Researchers developed a list of "training" words that parents were to emphasize repeatedly when the words appeared in a book; a list of "exposure" words that children would hear without emphasis during the reading sessions; and a list of control words that didn't appear in any of the books.

At the end of the study, researchers tested the children's ability to speak and understand the words in the three word lists and found that children with only mild or moderate language delays benefitted the most from the use of training words.

"While all of the children did improve from the reading intervention, it seems that the method of using added emphasis on a list of training words may be more useful for children who have a mild or moderate delay," Ezell said.

All of the children who participated in the study were identified as having a speech or language problem by a speech-language pathologist in the local school system. Since most language delays are also classified by their degree of severity, Ezell said it would be possible for speech-language pathologists to recommend the training method she used in the study to higher-functioning children.

"Knowing the child's ability level would be key to whether this type of training program would benefit the child," she said. "But we can say that reading intervention -- regardless of the child's ability -- seems to have a positive impact."

Just how often parents should read to their children is not known, Ezell said, adding that the time element is something she hopes to investigate in the future.

The research was supported by a $40,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education and was presented at the annual meeting of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association held Nov. 20-23 in Boston.

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Contact: Kelli Whitlock, 614-593-0383;

Ohio University

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