For parents of children on the Autism spectrum who are in the mainstream classroom environment, the question of having highly qualified professionals on your child’s team is an important one. Although most parents want their high-functioning child to be in the mainstream, what they don’t realize is that they are giving up the potential of having specialists who really understand their child, in exchange for time in the mainstream with neurotypical peers. The highly qualified clause of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act, sadly, does not give parents the right to demand a specialist who is qualified in inclusion, social communication, and other key aspects of your child’s learning style. Nor does it require that your child’s specialist have a particular passion for incorporating cutting edge technology and strategies to maximize your child’s success. When you have specialists on your child’s team who don’t understand these key components, your child is at risk for social isolation, exclusion, bullying, behavioral challenges and falling below grade level. Read the rest of this entry →
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Proper diagnosis of a language concern is crucial to effective and appropriate treatment. Childhood apraxia of speech (aka developmental apraxia of speech/dyspraxia/verbal apraxia) is frequently both over, and under-diagnosed. Ineffective and inefficient treatment can result.
Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) is a difficulty coordinating and planning out the production of sounds. It is a disorder of motor planning. The child knows what he or she wants to say, but can’t get his or her mouth to do what the brain wants.
Specific signs of CAS include, but are not limited to: Read the rest of this entry →
My daughter was an early talker, but through a series of medical issues which included many bouts of otitis media, she completely stopped speaking. This would be a distressing event for any mother, but it was mind altering for me, a Speech-Language Pathologist. I had been a public school Speech Therapist and Resource Specialist, professions in which I tried to rely on evidence-based practices for both oral and written language problems, but it was only after she was born that I began the journey to tie these areas together. At the time so were researchers, therefore I read everything in the exploration for ways to help. Her oral language did come back, but with typical language disorder markers such as problems with irregular past tense verbs, simplistic sentence formation and irregular sequencing. Her abilities to relate what happened at school, explain what I had just read to her (even when shown the pictures), or to tell something she really wanted to explain were all lost in a sea of confusion. To be sure, her articulation was clear and it seemed she had enough words, but her oral language was off kilter, mixed up and difficult to follow. Then, later in school she had enormous difficulty learning to read and write. My journey with her and the many students I worked with agreed with the researchers.
The good news is that today she is a psychologist with a deep understanding of her many clients. The sad news is that even after years of continuous solid research in literacy, my own rewarding private practice utilizing that research, and then reentering the public schools as a Speech-Language Pathology supervisor, I am finding that there is still this crazy separation between oral and written language services. To be sure, it is not the case everywhere, but is typical. In special education, this division is usually fostered by a predictable pattern of a state’s educational code which dictates the type of assessment a particular professional does, then to service delivery, programs and expenditures. Many special education teams do not understand or even collaborate on what all their combined testing results mean, how together they form a picture of a student’s learning profile or how that profile should guide particular remediation strategies or programs.
The usual suspect is a child who is first referred in preschool for speech or language problems, who then follows the typical story of entering kindergarten and having difficulty learning to read. This trouble prompts a second referral to the school study team where a variety of ideas might be tried. For example, some type of after school tutoring might be advised or the student might receive Response to Intervention services. The young learner goes off to be drilled in reading/writing from an instructor or assistant, with most of them having little or no training in language development. Rarely do the Speech-Language Pathologist and instructor/assistant collaborate. Most times the designated service provider never sees the Speech-Language Pathologist, let alone reads the speech report. I have to be honest here and admit that really there is just so much time available, caseloads are highly impacted, and to make matters very complicated, we have a nation of bilingual learners. However, after trying this tutoring approach and finding the child still struggling, further testing usually reveals a learning problem requiring a Resource Specialist. Again, this professional is frequently not trained in language development, has a one-size fits all reading program that may or may not be relevant to each student, and typically does not work closely with the Speech-Language Pathologist. Everyone is really busy with many students, tons of paperwork and numerous meetings.
The US Department of Education Statistics in 2011 showed learning disabilities accounted for half of all documented disabilities, with speech-language disorders a close second. But, the initial, first referred language problem does not just go away. It just changes its name to learning disability. Therefore, the student’s oral speech and language skills can outwardly seem to improve, as did my daughter’s, but the underlying cognitive language deficit remains, spreading its mighty limbs into written language. There many students stay, lodged amongst professionals, none of whom understands their vital reliance on each other, even though oral and written language skills are as intertwined as brain tendrils.
In 1998, a report titled “What Reading Does for the Brain” (Cunningham, A. and Standovich, Keith, American Educator) discussed the relationship between verbal growth and reading. Research has documented a reciprocal connection between reading and oral language. We learn to read, talk about what we learn, write about it and discuss it in class or with family and friends. Reading increases vocabulary knowledge and cognitive skills. The typical classroom is linguistically based and language driven. The artificial delineation of oral and written language in special education hampers the very reason children are qualified for services.
More than 30 years ago, McCarthy wrote: The most important decision you will make is that of definition- because that definition will dictate for you the terminology to be used in your program, the prevalence figure, your selection criteria, the characteristics of your population and the appropriate remediation procedures.
A student’s oral narrative production provides an integrated picture of several language skills at the same time, thus allowing a comparison of words, sentences, and narrative structure (Liles, 1993; Liles, Duffy, Merritt, & Purcell, 1995; Miller, 1981; Miller & Chapman, 1981; Miller, Heilmann, Nockerts, Iglesias, Fabiano, & Francis, 2006). Studies have demonstrated that the oral narratives produced by learning disabled children are likely to be shorter in length (Leadholm & Miller, 1995), use fewer different words (Miller, 1991) have less complex syntax (Gillam & Johnson, 1992), and lack a cohesive structure (Catts, 1993; Catts, Fey Tomblin, & Zhang, 2002). A study in 2007 by Foley, Wasik and Justice on children’s oral narratives and connections to reading comprehension showed that high passage comprehenders as compared to low passage comprehenders scored higher on number of words, number of different words, number of propositions, number of nouns, number of episodic events, and reference cohesion at the sentence level. In a comprehensive assessment, these language skills may be further contrasted with non-verbal cognitive skills, memory, processing, reading and writing scores.
Oral narratives are integral to literacy development and are contained within the continuum of state grade level standards starting as early as preschool. Take, for example, the following excerpt from the CA Language Arts Content Standards in Reading for Kindergarten-
- Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
- With prompting and support, retell familiar stories, including key details.
- With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.
In order to ask and answer key questions about a story read in class, a student must have a fundamental knowledge of stories in general. In order to retell a familiar story, whether fictional or a real life experience, a student must be able to sequence events, use a variety of words and be able to tie all of the parts of the story together. Shared assessments among team members and the subsequent program goals within the area of narrative discourse would help eliminate the division among professional assessments, provide a framework for close collaboration and direct therapeutic strategies. The chart below shows the development of literacy as it moves through the grades.
Oral and written narrative ability is embedded in all languages and cultures, uses all of the components of language and is part of every state’s curriculum standards at every grade level, whether for English language learners or English only learners. It has been demonstrated to be crucial for overall reading comprehension. By working together, understanding what all the assessment means and striving for narrative goals, we are achieving collaboration and are focused on developing the student’s language skills within the framework of the content standards. We are devising a likely story of success for every learner.
Catts, H. W., Fey, M. E., Tomblin, J. B., & Zhang, X. A Longitudinal Investigation of Reading Outcomes in Children with Language Impairments, Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, Vol. 45, 2002.
Foley, Joan, Wasik, Barbara, and Justice, Laura M. Barbara A. Wasik, & Laura M. Justice. Children’s Oral Narratives: Are There Connections to Reading Achievement, Presented at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Annual Convention, 2007.
Gillam, R. B., & Johnston, J. Spoken and Written Language Relationships in Language/Learning-Impaired and Normally Achieving School-Age Children. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, Vol. 35, 1992.
Hedberg, N. L., & Westby, C. E. Analyzing Story Skills: Theory to Practice, Tucson, AZ: Communication Skills Builders, 1993.
Leadholm, B. J., & Miller, J. F. Language Sample Analysis: The Wisconsin Guide, Madison: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 1995.
Lilies, Betty Z. Narrative Discourse in Children With Language Disorders and Children with Normal Language, A Critical Review of Literature, Journal of Speech and hearing Research, Vol. 36, 1993.
Liles, Betty Z., Duffy, Robert J., Merritt, Donna D. and Purcell, Sherry. Measurement of Discourse Ability in Children with Language Disorders, Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, Vol. 38, 1995.
Miller, J. F. Assessing Language Production in Children. Baltimore, MD: University Park Press, 1981.
Miller, J., & Chapman, R. The Relation Between Age and Mean Length of Utterance in Morphemes. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, Vol.24, 1981.
Miller, J., Heilmann, J., Nockerts, A., Andriacchi, A., & Iglesias, A. Can Language Sample Analysis Be Standardized?, Presented at the annual meeting for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Miami, FL, November, 2006.
Miller, J., Heilmann, J., Nockerts, A., Iglesias, A., Fabiano, L., & Francis, D. Oral Language and Reading in Bilingual Children. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, Vol. 21, 2006.Carol Murphy, MA, CCC-SLP Board Certified Educational Therapist Licensed and Credentialed Speech-Language Pathologist Learning Disability Consultant www.carolmurphy.org
When you’re new to the world of speech therapy, learning the new terminology can be overwhelming. Always ask your child’s speech-language pathologist (SLP) to rephrase something if you have trouble with it. You can also stop by your local library and pick up some books on speech therapy. Many speech therapy books offer a simple breakdown of the basics. Here’s a quick reference guide to help you get started sorting out the terms. You can also review a previous post on speech therapy acronyms. Read the rest of this entry →
Online speech therapy, or telespeech, is a service model approved by ASHA  that can provide better results than face-to-face speech-language therapy . The student and certified speech-language pathologist meet in a virtual classroom designed specifically as an optimal eLearning environment. For many students, the employment of games, interactive whiteboards, HD video chat, and high fidelity audio catalyzes progress. Read the rest of this entry →
When a parent attends an IEP meeting and the educational experts tell them their child has a learning disability, most times there is confusion. The reason is because the term can seem so broad that it can render itself almost meaningless. Several years ago a study was undertaken with professionals, teachers and parents asked to define the term “learning disabilities”. The results listed nearly 100 different definitions, almost as varied as the people who tried to define the term. Although some parents feel comfortable with finally having a name for their child’s problem, or a teacher might find a diagnosis helpful to at last getting a student help, it might be more useful to fully describe the issues and development, or lack thereof, that most students experience before finally being labeled learning disabled. Read the rest of this entry →
Occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech therapists all provide essential services to help individuals recover or manage their disability. It’s apparent to these professionals, or students specializing in this field, that to be able to give the highest quality of care requires extensive education to enter professions as well as continuing education throughout the subsequent career. But what is the special recipe to maximize your lifelong learning as a therapy professional? Read the rest of this entry →
Tell me about it by Different Roads to Learning, Inc. is a language development app that utilizes the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) framework to teach “the label, category, function, and features of more than 235 language targets over 6 levels of incremental difficulty.” The current price for Tell Me About It in the iTunes app store is $9.99. The app is designed for children with autism or language development delays. According to the Tell Me About It app page, “For students with speech and language delays or for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, learning to simply label an image doesn’t necessarily translate into comprehensive understanding of that word. By breaking down each language target by its category, the function that it serves and its salient features, we offer students the opportunity to fully comprehend and then engage in language. This app is ideal for both home and classroom use.” Read the rest of this entry →
The Social Express by The Language Express, Inc. is impeccably produced from top to bottom. The graphics, animation and sound are all top notch. The content is wonderful and very helpful for children with a social communication disorder, autism or other forms of developmental delays. According to the CEO and Founder of The Language Express, Marc Zimmerman, “The Social Express teaches children how to think about and manage social situations through video modeling. The Social Express targets core deficit areas that stand in the way of school, social, and life success for children and young adults with social learning challenges.”
Now for my one caveat, with top notch production and content comes a high price. The Social Express costs $90, which is very expensive and will price many families out of the market. Now for the good news, I have learned that until the end of March 2012 you can purchase The Social Express for 50% off. Even better news, for those of you that don’t own an iPad the Social Express is available for your PC and Mac.
According to the website, “The Social Express comes with 16 interactive lessons featuring 30 scenes that are divided into two skill levels. Skill Level 1 targets younger users and/or those who have more difficulty understanding social situations. Skill Level 2 targets users who are aware of social rules but have difficulty using them in real-world settings. Each skill level ends with an interactive review of the Hidden Social Keys that have been learned during the preceding lessons, followed by a congratulatory presentation of a key that unlocks the Clubhouse.”
I took the Social Express out for a test drive with my 11 year old son who receives recreation therapy and speech therapy in school specifically to work on social language goals outlined in his Individualized Education Program (IEP). In his latest standardized Social Language Development test he scored in the 1% for children his age. To say he is delayed in social language is an understatement! We have been incorporating Social Thinking philosophies from Michelle Garcia Winner at home and in school so I was very curious how it would relate to what the Social Express was trying to accomplish. As it turns out the philosophies are very similar.
My son and I had a terrific time playing the Social Express. Each video modeling sequence put you in a different social situation and let the user choose how to react. No matter what your choice it showed the user the ramifications of their actions both good and bad. A few times my son would choose the incorrect answer on purpose just to see what would happen.
During the interaction on the screen the program provided teaching tips for the user to guide them to the correct answer. You can shut these tips off in the set-up screen if you don’t want to see them. After the first few lessons we shut off the teaching tips. If my son didn’t know the answer we would stop and discuss it prior to his selection.
The Social Express also incorporates the concept of a handheld digital problem solver (DPS) to help the user come up with various coping strategies when they are angry or sad.
As the Social Express progressed the concepts being taught went from very basic to much more complicated. Some of the concepts being taught included using your eyes and brain to figure things out and talking about things others like to talk about. This is very similar to the Social Thinking Philosophies of expected & unexpected behaviors and people files. It also had a lesson on idioms, you know those difficult sayings we use in everyday life that have a different meaning then their literal meanings such as, “I’m on top of the world.”
The Social Express also comes with a printable section that allows the user to build on what they learn in the program in everyday life.
As I mentioned earlier the Social Express is a wonderful app that is one of the best produced products on the market. If you are interested in this app make sure you purchase it this month so that you can take advantage of the 50% off pricing at $44.99. There is also a lite version of the Social Express that you can download for free from itunes. I highly recommend downloading the lite version first and testing the app yourself before purchasing the full product. The lite product comes with 2 lessons and is a wonderful way to determine if the full app is worth the purchase.
Studying language development since I first became a Speech-Language Pathologist has become a never ending passion with sometimes surprising twists. New studies emerge almost daily with mind boggling results from MRI research, new computer generated programs and language investigations involving younger and younger children. One such new study, by developmental psychologist David Lewkowicz of Florida Atlantic University, describes recent research wherein scientists found that babies’ language development during the babbling stage, at about 6 months, makes a dramatic change. Their eye gaze begins to shift to the mouth. In other words, babies begin to actually study what the mouth is doing when it its making those funny speech sounds. Another study reported in Live Science in 2009 by Charles Q Choi, noted that French researchers had found that newborns cry with the same melodic pattern as their native language and suggests that infants begin picking up elements of language in the womb! Read the rest of this entry →