Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Rose Sevcik

Second Advisor

MaryAnn Romski

Third Advisor

Robin Morris

Fourth Advisor

Chris Henrich


Reading skills are critically important for a child’s development and continued growth in school. The home and school literacy experiences of children who have developmental disabilities have been found to be qualitatively different from the experiences of their same age peers without disabilities. In addition to access to instruction, a number of intrinsic factors including cognitive ability, receptive language and expressive speech skills have been suggested as factors that may place children with developmental disabilities at a greater risk for limited development of reading skills. Currently, little is understood about how children who have developmental disabilities and may have limitations in productive speech learn to read. This study identifies key intrinsic and extrinsic factors that are related to the development of phonological awareness in 42 children between 4 years and 5 years 9 months of age with developmental disabilities and a range of speech abilities. Aims of this project were to 1- systematically assess children’s intrinsic factors of speech ability, receptive and expressive language and vocabulary, cognitive skills and phonological awareness to determine key intrinsic factors related to phonological awareness and 2- describe the extrinsic factors of home literacy experience and preschool literacy instruction provided to children. Children were found to have frequent and positive home literacy experiences. No significant correlations between speech ability and frequency of shared reading experiences were found. Parents reported low levels of preschool literacy instruction. Significant correlations were found between instruction in decoding and word recognition and children’s sound-symbol awareness. Correlations were found between the use of technology and media and Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and children’s speech ability. Positive, significant relationships were found between phonological awareness and all direct assessment measures of developmental skill, speech ability and early reading skills but were not found between phonological awareness and home or school literacy experiences. Speech ability did not predict a significant amount of variance in phonological awareness skill beyond what would be expected by cognitive development, receptive language and orthographic knowledge. This study provides important implications for practitioners and researchers alike concerning the factors related to early reading development in children with limited speech ability.