The Psycholinguistic approach (Stackhouse and Wells 1997) is a model used by Speech and Language Therapists to investigate the underlying nature of children’s speech, language and or literacy difficulties and target intervention accordingly.

This can include:

  1. Speech development
  2. Word-finding
  3. Phonological awareness
  4. Literacy skills

How does it work?

Whilst traditional speech therapy may consider solely the child’s output of speech and language (e.g. working on the production of correct articulation of speech sounds); this model also takes into consideration the organisation of sounds and words within the child’s linguistic system; for example, has the child stored the word or speech sound correctly? Is the child hearing the difference between certain speech sounds?


For Example

Taking the word ‘cat,’ information about this word will be stored within a person’s vocabulary (lexicon) as follow:

  • Semantic representation – knowing what the word ‘cat’ means (e.g. pet, furry, four legs).
  • Phonological representation –Identifying the word ‘cat’ from auditory (hearing) and visual (e.g. lip reading) cues and discriminating it from similar words such as ‘tat’ or ‘cap.’
  • Motor program – Knowing how to say the word ‘cat’ and not having to think about it every time it is produced.
  • Grammatical representation – Knowing how to use the word ‘cat’ in a sentence (e.g.” I’m going to feed the cat” or “look there are two cats”).
  • Orthographic representation – Knowing how to spell ‘cat’ and can understanding it when it is seen it in written format.

Speech and language therapists working within the psycholinguistic framework will therefore use activities aimed at tapping into specific areas of the child’s linguistic system in order to identify areas of difficulty.  Intervention targets are then set and worked on accordingly, using the child’s existing strengths as a foundation for therapy.

Further information  

Stackhouse J and Wells B (1997)  Children’s Speech and Literacy Difficulties  A psycholinguistic framework   London:  Whurr

Stackhouse J and Wells B (2001)  Children’s Speech and Literacy Difficulties 2  Identification and Intervention  London:  Whurr