SLI Definition for Eligibility

IDEA 2004 says SLPs are supposed to ensure at-risk children are properly placed in special education. “Proper” involves accurately following statutory criteria for “speech and language impairment” (SLI). Otherwise, there can be under-, over- and misidentification of SLI students and this works against their FAPE rights.

Here is an example of how inconsistency can come into play.

ARIZONA CASE

1984: School SLPs used the widely quoted definition of speech disorder authored by Dr. Charles Van Riper (Sevier County): “Speech is abnormal when it deviates so far from the speech of other people that it calls attention to itself, interferes with communication, or causes the speaker or his/her listeners to be distressed” (Sevier County).

1997: IDEA established links with with the general curriculum: “a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or voice impairment which ADVERSELY AFFECTS EDUCATIONAL PERFORMANCE” (my emphasis, Sevier County).

2003: Arizona followed a modified Van Riper definition: “Speech/Language impairment means a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, severe language skills, or a voice impairment… to the extent that it calls attention to itself, it interferes with communication or causes a child to be maladjusted.” There is no mention of IDEA 1997 ADVERSELY AFFECTS EDUCATIONAL PERFORMANCE.

(ARS 15-761, 34, Management Information Systems; http:/www. ade.state.az.us/ess/ChildFind/CfStateEligibility.asp)

2004: IDEA retained SLI links with the general curriculum:

2007: IDEA-2004 regulations: “Speech or language impairment means a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that ADVERSELY AFFECTS A CHILD’S EDUCATIONAL PERFORMANCE” (Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, Education: 34 Code of Federal Regulations, Section 300.8, Oct. 30, 2007).

Main road in Lakeside, Arizona, in the White Mountains

2008: The Arizona State Legislature aligned SLI with IDEA 2004: “For a child who has reached the required age for kindergarten, means a speech or language impairment as defined in 34 Code of Federal Regulations section 300.8″ (Section 15-761, 34, Arizona Legislature).

2008: The Arizona House of Representatives aligned SLI with IDEA 2004: “Speech/language impairment” means a speech or language impairment as DEFINED in 34 Code of Federal Regulations section 300.8.2″ (HOUSE BILL 2278, amending 15-761).

(www.azleg.gov/legtext/48leg/2r/bills/hb2278h.pdf)

(Again IDEA 2004: “Speech or language impairment means a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that ADVERSELY AFFECTS A CHILD’S EDUCATIONAL PERFORMANCE.”)

2009: The Arizona Department of Education (“Evaluation and Eligibility, Processes and Procedures From Referral to Determination of Eligibility”) used the 2003 definition: “The student has a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, severe disorders of syntax, semantics or vocabulary, functional language skills, or voice impairment to the extent that it calls attention to itself and interferes with communication or causes the child to be maladjusted.” There is no reference to ADVERSELY AFFECTS A CHILD’S EDUCATIONAL PERFORMANCE.

(http://www.azed.gov/ess/publications/AZ-TASEvaluation.pdf.)

2010: Arizona Exceptional Services uses the 2003 definition: “The student has a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, severe disorders of syntax, semantics or vocabulary, functional language skills, or voice impairment to the extent that it calls attention to itself and interferes with communication or causes the child to be maladjusted” (Arizona Exceptional). There is no reference to ADVERSELY AFFECTS A CHILD’S EDUCATIONAL PERFORMANCE

(https://www.ade.state.az.us/ESS/ChildFind/CfHome.asp)

2010: Apache Junction Schools uses the 2003 definition: “a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, severe disorders of syntax or vocabulary or functional language skills,
or a voice impairment, as determined by evaluation, to the extent that it calls attention to itself, interferes with communication or causes the child to be maladjusted” (Apache Unified). There is no reference to ADVERSELY AFFECTS A CHILD’S EDUCATIONAL PERFORMANCE.

2010: With reference to IDEA, The State of Texas defines SLI this way: “A communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment that ADVERSELY AFFECTS A STUDENT’S EDUCATIONAL PERFORMANCE  (Texas Report).

LESSON

Dual use of disability and academic performance criteria is a powerful tool for school SLPs managing special education eligibility to reduce over-identification. Assessment based on the traditional medical model brings forth a rich history of research and best practice. Assessment based on an academic performance brings forth the learning implications. A hybrid assessment model creates a valid framework for disability assessment in schools for the prevention of over-identification.

Speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and psychologists should verify the eligibility criteria used in their states to make sure they are clerically accurate and consistent.

Post Script

You may have noticed that the phrase “adversely affects educational performance” appears in most of the disability definitions. This does not mean, however, that a child must be failing in school to receive special education and related services. According to IDEA, states must make a free appropriate public education available to “any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even if the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade, and is advancing from grade to grade.” [§300.101(c)(1)]  National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities

This statement shows school SLPs must make judgment the heart of all placement decisions.  All criteria and IDEA law must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

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