14. New School Phonology: Wait to Fail!

The President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education (2001) found American schools follow a pattern members called “wait to fail.”  A modern phonology outlook (including articulation) brought forth by school speech-language pathologists can help to solve the wait to fail problem, as summarized by the Commission:

Finding 2: The current system uses an antiquated model that waits for a child to fail, instead of a model based on prevention and intervention. Too little emphasis is put on prevention, early and accurate identification of learning and behavior problems and aggressive intervention using research-based approaches. This means students with disabilities do not get help early when that help can be most effective. Special education should be for those who do not respond to strong and appropriate instruction and methods provided in general education.”

The quote, now 10 years old, should speak to SLPs if they are listening. Prevention is not something they do much of.  It is a pathology-driven field. Phonology is a general model of sounds, entailing language and cognitive principles, and entailing auditory processing, phonological awareness, grammatical expression and speech production. As such children with phonological delay first seen by SLPs are displaying underlying cognitive-linguistic issues that transfer into print processing. Print is mapped onto speech.

Many phonology children should be categorized by SLPs as learning disabled rather than SLI.  Say a five-year old boy has 5 or more articulation errors and falls two standard deviations below the mean on an articulation test.  This is an LD child if placement in special education is required. SLPs are prepared as well as any school employees to place children in the SLD category at the preschool level of linguistic learning and academic prediction.

The problem of phonological delay and disability will limit and predict subsequent language and reading performances before teachers and psychologists can detect problems. There is a good body of research showing “artic cases” morph into language and learning problems later, as well as social and academic success problems later. Fooling around with them as “artic cases” and then dismissing them after sounds are corrected is to abandon these children just as they are entering a critical stage of great academic need.

There is no reason to wait for failure. Prevention is likely if preschool language and literacy programming is started early, a fact long ago pointed out by researchers advocating for early intervention.  The President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education made this point firmly.


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