School Speech Pathology and Birth to 21

Birth to 21

Where do at-risk children get into special education? And who puts them there? And how do they stay?

There are growing numbers of early intervention children (Part C):

1991: 1.77% population
2001: 1.78% population
2008: 2.52% population

“For example, for fiscal year 1991, 194,363 children were reported to be receiving services as of December 1, 1990. The number represents U.S. and outlying areas” (U. S. Department of Education). Physicians, speech-language pathologists, social workers and psychologists make clinical and eligibility determinations.

Prior to Part C, under-identification of infants and toddlers was the fact, and there was good reason for the U. S. Congress to bring them into the system. “Some argue that alternative early identification (perhaps by kindergarten) and early intensive intervention could prevent a learning disability from developing into a condition requiring special education” (Congress Report).

SLPs increasingly are key decision-makers.

At grade 1, the highest number of special education pupils are classified SLI pupils — 50%. Around grade 7, SLPs start disqualifying SLI pupils, and the numbers go down from there. At grade 1, the learning disability, mental retardation and emotional disturbance categories are relatively small.

By grade 3, learning disability determinations shoot up, passing SLI and rising from there. SLI enrollments drop, returning to baseline. Emotional disturbance increases slightly throughout the grades. Some emotionally disturbed children are misplaced as LD pupils. Mental retardation enrollment remains constant.

LD children are placed late, and do not benefit from early intervention. Early on many are misidentified as SLI pupils. Once LD students are identified, and mixed in with minority and difficult-to-teach children, there is a rush to place. A kind of panic sets in, and this state of flux invites misidentification. Teachers are under pressure to show good scores for No Child Left Behind testing. This is a perfect storm for misplacement.

Along with mental retardation, those disabilities having a biological basis have more stable rates of identification. “This is particularly true considering the category of “other health impairment” including students with visual, hearing, orthopedic, and other physical impairments. These students account for about 4% of the service population at all ages until the last few years of school.”

LD pupils tend to drop out of school later at a higher rate than non-disabled pupils. Some critics say LD children “get lost in the system” and receive less challenging instruction. As LD children grow older, the stigma of special education impairs motivation and social development just at the point where demanding life transitions must be planned. Here is an example of the negative consequences of misplacement.

Once again, we see that SLPs and school psychologists are key to special education misidentifications when they occur. Also they are key to continuing misidentifications.

SLPs are central to placing special education children from birth to age 21. They are potential leaders in reducing misidentifications. Disqualified clients will receive better FAPE protection. Smaller caseloads will result, and remaining clients will receive better treatment and better FAPE protection.

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