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BACK TO SCHOOL: What Parents Should Know About Navigating Speech and Language Services in Schools
Date:8/2/2018

As kids begin heading back to school, some parents may have concerns about their child’s ability to communicate. These may include concerns with speaking, listening, reading, writing, and social interactions. Children may be eligible for treatment in schools by a speech-language pathologist. Here’s what parents should know, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA):

How Speech-Language Pathologists in Schools Help
Speech-language pathologists provide a variety of direct and indirect services, depending on the child’s unique needs. They may work with children alone or in a group setting, inside or outside the classroom. Although most people know that speech-language pathologists work with children on speaking clearly and saying sounds correctly, these clinical professionals also work with children on listening, speaking, reading, writing, social communication, cognitive issues, and feeding and swallowing. Learn more here.

Children Have a Right to Services
All children have a legal right to a free and appropriate education, as designated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA). Speech and language impairments are common in school-aged children, accounting for 20% of the disabilities in children ages 3 to 17 served under IDEA. This is the second most prevalent IDEA disability category, behind specific learning disability.

How to Get Started
Parents who have concerns should talk to their child’s teacher or contact the school’s office. If needed, the school will coordinate an evaluation, which may include formal and informal testing, review of work samples, observations, and parent and teacher report. Communication skills are assessed by a speech-language pathologist; hearing concerns are addressed by an audiologist. Additional experts who may conduct an assessment include specialized instructional support personnel such as occupational and physical therapists, school social workers, and school psychologists. The school staff and the family consider how well a child can take part in and make progress in school activities, both inside and outside the classroom.

How Children Qualify for Services
Once assessments are completed, evaluators provide reports to a team that includes the child’s parents and people from the school or district. This team decides if the child qualifies for services by answering three questions:
(1) Does the child have a disability?
(2) If so, does the disability affect the child’s ability to take part in and make progress in school activities?
(3) Does the child need special education services in order to take part in and make progress in these activities?

If a child does not qualify, parents can take these steps.

How Services Are Provided
A team is formed and creates a plan to help a child who qualifies for services succeed in school. This plan can be an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a 504 plan, or both. For IEPs, the team includes the child’s parents and appropriate school staff, such as the child’s teacher, speech-language pathologist, special education teacher, and the child, depending on age. The IEP contains goals to address a child’s unique needs, can be measured, and can be met within 1 school year. An IEP can evolve as a child progresses. 504 plans provide access to education for children with any disability that interferes with learning in a general education classroom, and may be developed and implemented when a child does not qualify for special education services for the issue at hand. For more information on the distinction between IEPs and 504 plans, refer to this chart.

Why Children Are Treated in Schools
Communication problems can affect a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school. A child may have trouble understanding teachers, following directions, or remembering what was taught in class. They may have difficulty answering questions, organizing their thoughts for written responses, or even understanding and recalling the individual sounds that make up words in order to learn to read. Communication difficulties may also affect a child’s ability to make friends, socialize, and get along with others or work together on projects. All of this can affect their academic achievement.

For more information about school-aged children’s communication development, click here. For a searchable database of certified speech-language pathologists, click here.

About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 198,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems, including swallowing disorders. http://www.asha.org

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