13. SLP Dismissal / Exits

Briefcase on the counter at the old man's bar in Paris

The “progress-in-the-general-curriculum” eligibility criterion has been in effect since the 1970s but it is never critically reviewed in its application. “In 1980, ASHA [ American Speech-Language Hearing Association ] sought and received clarification on this policy interpretation from the US Department of Education” (Kathleen Whitmire, 2002). Can a stutterer with good academic achievement be denied eligibility? The 1980 answer was no:

” … an interpretation which denies needed service to speech [or language] impaired children who have no problem in academic performance is unreasonably restrictive in effect and inconsistent with the intent of the Act and regulations…The extent of a child’s mastery of the basic skill of effective oral communications is clearly includable within the standard of “educational performance” set by the regulations. Therefore, a speech [or language] impairment necessarily adversely affects educational performance when the communication disorder is judged sufficiently severe to require the provision of speech [-language] pathology services to the child.”

This early interpretation did not anticipate many developments within the IDEA framework. It turned out that special education personnel were over-identifying at-risk children, including non-disabled children. SLPs placed non-disabled minority children with weak language skills. The stigma of placement and the need to dismiss children from special education did not receive much attention in 1980. Something closer to the “strict interpretation” was needed to balance the eligibility process. The “strict interpretation” was liberal with respect to over-placing at-risk children.

Sidewalk artist, Montmartre, Paris.

Liberal use of the impaired-communication criterion actually worked against SLPs. One speculates they stayed too close to clinical criteria and helped over-identify non-disabled children, thereby increasing their caseloads and “burnout.” It also filled in for the lack of general education pre-service programs where some speech-impaired children could receive support without stigmatization.

Educational speech-language pathology can be strengthened by clear understandings of how communication problems impact curriculum performance. Response To Intervention invites SLPs to make more decisions about prevention of academic failure from the point of view of speech and language development.

Advocated here is a broader approach to eligibility management. Each SLP should strive to minimize misidentifications and to exit children promptly. All criteria should be considered in proper balance to prevent needless placements in special education.

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