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Childhood & Literacy

Identifying reading problems before they begin

Professor Linda Lombardino and her team of graduate students are able to determine the nature of childrens' emergent literacy difficulties and the type of instructional programs needed to prevent future reading failures
Using a series of fun activities to test skills needed for later reading proficiency, Communication Sciences and Disorders Professor Linda Lombardino and her team of graduate students are able to determine the nature of childrens’ emergent literacy difficulties and the type of instructional programs needed to prevent future reading failures. 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.

This article was originally printed in the March 2006 issue of CLASnotes.

Communication Sciences and Disorders Professor Linda Lombardino has developed a language and literacy test for children ages 4–7 that is 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, 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.”

In response to The American Speech and Language Association’s recently published position paper on the role of speech language pathologists in written language development, the field is now recognizing its integral role in reading. “In order to be a good reader you must have good semantics and syntax and a mastery of the sound system,” says Lombardino. “These are things speech pathologists know well, we just haven’t applied our knowledge to written language up until now.”

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 while dyslexia is one of the most common learning disabilities in the US, she estimates 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 from ages 3 up to the third grade. Visit for more information on the UF Reading Clinic.



Buffy Lockette

Reaching Out to the Community

Gene Usner (far left) and Diana Mackoul (far right) of the Blue Foundation present Judith Wingate, Betsy Partin Vinson and Christine Sapienza with a check for $50,000
Gene Usner (far left) and Diana Mackoul (far
right) of the Blue Foundation present Judith
Wingate, Betsy Partin Vinson and Christine
Sapienza with a check for $50,000.

The UF Speech and Hearing Clinic recently received a $50,000 grant from The Blue Foundation for a Healthy Florida to increase clinic services to adults who live in Alachua County and surrounding areas. Currently, adults on Medicaid or those without health insurance have no access to speech-language pathology services. The UF clinic expects to serve at least 40 to 50 individuals, ages 21 to 64, during the year of grant funding.

“Our ability to communicate using the spoken word has a significant impact on our ability to participate in the workforce and in social interaction,” says Judith Wingate, a clinical assistant professor in the communication sciences and disorders department, who also directs the speech services division of the clinic. “This generous grant from The Blue Foundation will increase our clinical services to adults with speech deficits who otherwise have no access to speech-language therapy services.”
Wingate says the grant will also benefit speech-language pathology and audiology students by providing them access to a greater variety of clients for their clinical training. Additionally, the funding will enable clinical researchers to document the need for speech-language pathology services in the Gainesville area.

“Without rehabilitative therapy, individuals suffering speech and language impairment due to stroke or head injury or those with voice and stuttering problems often experience barriers to independent living—such as employment and social interaction,” explains Wingate. The program also will provide guidance for caregivers to reinforce therapy in the home.

The clinic submitted its first application to the Blue Foundation this year, and is one of nine organizations to receive funding during this cycle. The foundation is Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida’s philanthropic affiliate.



Jane Dominguez

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