3. Educational Speech Pathology

In 1997, the authorization of IDEA changed school speech-language pathology fundamentally. It set forth the argument that the proper assessment of speech and language impairments should entail components of academic performance: “The 1997 law required that the individualized education program of each child with a disability relate programming for the child to achievement in the general education curriculum” (IDEA Committee).

Prior, a kind of parallel universe existed between education and speech-language pathology as a “related service.” Now a merger of models took place, engendered initially by public policy rather than science.

Up 1997, the medical model prevailed in the preservice education of SLPs. At the heart of assessment was the classic definition of Charles Van Riper: “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). Not only was the quality of communication involved but also speakers’ emotional adjustment to their abnormal speech. The definition was generic in that it could apply to any setting including schools.

IDEA 1997 linked disability to “progress in the general curriculum.” The SLI definition became: “a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or voice impairment which ADVERSELY AFFECTS EDUCATIONAL PERFORMANCE” (my emphasis, Sevier County). Thus a hybrid model of speech and language evaluation was created with no fanfare at all. We say:

“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” ( cf. SLI Definition for Eligibility).

Let’s look at an example, dyslexia. It is a well known medical condition that says a lot about how young disabled school children might process print material. The same for dysgraphia. However, not all dyslexic children have the same literacy problems learning to read and write, if at all, and not every dyslexic child should be automatically placed in special education as a learning-disabled child. Some types of instruction might forestall the onset of symptoms. The orthography of a particular language (e.g. Italian) can block or minimize the manifestation of an underlying abnormal brain condition.

Hence in dyslexia there is a relationship between medical conditions and education, the nature of which defines the disability. Assessment is a relational judgment in the final analysis. The same can be said for SLI, where the “syntax gene” affects learning influenced by education.

Another example is generalization of learning. It is believed by SLP researchers that phonological intervention should generalize to classroom literacy but no hypotheses are stated about the reverse. When formal literacy instruction starts up, phonological performance in the therapy room should improve as a result.

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