Speech and Language Therapy in a School Setting

By Leah Hamilton, M.A. CCC-SLP

Teachers and parents share many concerns about children at school.  My child has difficulty following directions.  John can’t seem to clearly explain his ideas.  Most people have trouble understanding Lydia’s speech.  Charles stutters.  Angela doesn’t know how to communicate in social situations and misinterprets social cues.  Grace struggles with vocabulary.  Jacob doesn’t understand abstract language including jokes.  Alex’s grammar is poor.

How a Speech and Language Pathologist Can Help

What all these children may have in common is a communication disorder and may benefit from seeing a Speech/Language Pathologist in the school setting.  Parents or teachers who have concerns about their child’s speech and language abilities should contact their school’s Speech/Language Pathologist (SLP).  A SLP’s responsibility is to determine whether a disability exists and work with parents, teachers, and other specialists to create an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) to meet that child’s needs.

Not all students who receive speech and language services in a private setting meet criteria for services in the schools.  To meet criteria, an SLP has to determine that a deficit in speech and/ or language skills is impacting the student’s educational progress.

A student may meet criteria for Speech and Language Impairment by having a:

  • speech disorder: difficulty with articulation of speech sounds
  • fluency disorder: e.g. repetition or prolongation of sounds, syllables or words
  • voice disorder: abnormal voice quality, pitch, loudness, resonance, duration
  • language disorder: impairment in receptive (what a child understands) and/or expressive language (how a child uses language)

Speech and Language Therapy as a Related Service

Students with another primary disability such as Learning Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or Developmental Cognitive Delay, to name a few, may receive speech and language services as a related service.  Receiving speech and language as a “related service” means that a student receives services because the communication impairment is related to the primary disability.  An example that first comes to mind is social skills training for children with Autism or other disorders.

Differences Between Indirect and Direct Services

Services may be provided directly and/or indirectly.  In a direct service model students may be seen individually, in a small group, or in the classroom.  In a small group or individual session, students could be pulled out of the classroom.  An SLP could see a student one on one when intensive service is needed, or may choose to group students working on similar goals.  Sometimes, it is appropriate for a student to receive services in the classroom.  The SLP may work in close proximity with that student in class or may teach speech, language or social skills concepts to an entire classroom of students who need that instruction.

In an indirect service model an SLP monitors skills and provides support to those working directly with students.  It may include providing the classroom teacher or paraprofessional with strategies for helping specific students with speech or language skills in the classroom.  Indirect time can also be spent monitoring students in a variety of settings to see how speech, language or social skills are used in more natural contexts. This would help the SLP determine the appropriate supports and goals necessary to help students, and also helps measure whether skills learned in a pull out situation are generalizing to natural contexts.

Parents Work Together with the IEP Team

An important role for Speech Language Pathologists in a school setting is to gain a full understanding of a student’s abilities by working with a team of people, especially the classroom teacher(s) and parents.  Parents should feel comfortable being a part of a team and sharing their joys and concerns regarding their child.  If you have questions about whether your child qualifies for speech and language services, don’t hesitate to contact your local school, you will find an SLP more than happy to help!

Leah Hamilton, M.A. CCC-SLP is a Speech and Language Pathologist for Stillwater Area Schools at Stillwater Junior High.