As school based SLPs, our roles and responsibilities as experts in language make use integral in planning and providing services across academic areas. But how can we fit this into our already packed schedules? At SL3, we believe school SLPs need to step back and evaluate who they are treating and why.
ASHA's position statement on school based Speech-Language Pathology states the following:
"Ensuring Educational Relevance — The litmus test for roles assumed by SLPs with students with disabilities is whether the disorder has an impact on the education of students. Therefore, SLPs address personal, social/emotional, academic, and vocational needs that have an impact on attainment of educational goals."
Many classroom teachers still refer children for speech services due to mis-articulation of minor speech sounds, including /s/, /l/, and /r/. Before we treat these students in the school, we must ask ourselves and the educational team, "What is the educational impact of these minor misarticulations?" Often, the answer is - there is none.
As educators, we often fall into the trap of believing that perfection is the goal. Any deviation from what is considered "normal" can be looked at as a disability that needs remediation. However, if a child is a confident speaker who is able to express himself, even with minor articulation deviations, where is the disability? What is the educational impact?
According to ASHA's Do and Don'ts for School Based SLPs:
"The SLP’s caseload primarily includes students with a variety of language disorders and a smaller percentage of students who have moderate/severe articulation disorders, and fluency, voice, and swallowing problems that affect educational performance."
Missing in the school policy statement is a requirement for treating minor articulation. At SL3, we believe school based SLPs should spend limited time treating minor articulation mistakes without an educational impact. In our experience, we have found that the following model works best as a balance, and keeps in mind that a educational based impact can also be social:
1. Students with minor articulation needs are identified through teacher referral. Teachers are given information at the beginning of each school year reminding them of age expectations for sound acquisition.
2. Students may be picked up in 1st grade for /s/ and /l/, and in 2nd grade for /r/.
3. Students are seen for no more than 30 minutes/week, in groups of 3-4 students.
4. Students may be seen until the end of 3rd grade, at which point a student will be dismissed whether or not the sound has been remediated, unless there is a significant school based impact.
Parents are always welcome to seek private speech therapy if they feel that improved articulation is key for their child to succeed in life. As always, if the student continues to present with a school based impact - social interaction included - the student can continue to receive services. As school based therapists, we need to keep our focus on children whose disabilities impact school performance or have some social-emotional impact.
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