13. The History of School Speech Pathology

Progress in the General Curriculum

A problem growing out of the mental retardation rights movement promoted by The ARC and other groups was to find a way to make sure handicapped children were protected from curriculum neglect.  Before 1975 special education teachers often in isolated rooms taught silly things, like beads, blocks and colors.  And they continued doing so for long periods of time, even years. SLPs taught nouns likewise. The assumption seemed to be that mentally retarded pupils could not learn about Henry Ford and the assembly of automobiles.

Gradually, the “progress-in-the-general-curriculum” standard evolved to its current place in IDEA 2004.  Curriculum was eventually broadly conceived to include all the learning activities non-disabled children experience in a typical day.  Socializing in the cafeteria was included. Segregating handicapped from the lunchroom was no longer automatic.

 SLP Impact

The curriculum standard in one fell swoop forever changed the nature of speech-language pathology in schools, at the very least at the level of theories of learning and functionality, whether clinical supervisors at the university realized it or not, or whether written about in clinical textbooks.  Created was a hybrid model of clinical assessment and intervention.  Added to clinical criteria were questions of how handicapped school children processed knowledge.

Reading Example

A current example concerns whether SLPs should teach reading.  The simple analysis below reveals the underlying phonological and orthographic processing are almost one and the same:

Cognitive-linguistic relations:

Teacher-pupil discourse –Question/Answer–  Orthographic content

SLP-client discourse –Question/Answer– Phonological content 

Processing requirements are the same and one would expect linguistic generalization of learning between domains.  Phonological intervention is inherently a part of reading instruction.  SLPs can address the two-fold problem of clinical learning + academic learning in parallel and together.  And in fact they must, according to IDEA.

Board of Education v. Rowley

The question of knowledge processing was  brought out in the Rowley case. The Supreme Court disagreed with lower courts saying Amy Rowley did not need sign language interpretation to access the curriculum, and that a hearing an aid was enough (Karl Boettner,  University of Puget Sound Law Review, Vol. 7:183) :

“Amy Rowley was a highly motivated, intelligent, eight year old deaf girl. The district drafted Amy’s IEP, as the EHA requires, in the fall of her first grade. Her parents participated but were not satisfied with the results. The district’s Committee on the Handicapped” (COH) began Amy’s IEP process by developing a recommendation for Amy’s school. Although Amy’s parents had presented expert testimony that Amy needed a sign language interpreter, the COH’s recommendation did not include an interpreter. The COH did, however, recommend that Amy’s IEP include a hearing aid, a tutor and a speech therapist.”

Therefore, the speech therapists alone was not able to make the decision solely on the basis of clinical judgment and observations.  The speech therapist and the team had to also consider whether Amy would understand classroom instruction without sign language.  Again, this situation illustrates two-fold assessment. SLPs can’t fall back only on the “Everything-I-learned-in-Graduate-School” clinical standard.  The school setting requires more, particularly, an account of knowledge processing in addition to speech and language deficiencies.


“Saturday Night Fever is a 1977 drama film starring John Travolta as Tony Manero, an immature young man whose weekends are spent visiting a local Brooklyn discothèqueKaren Lynn Gorney as his dance partner and eventual friend (they never do date in the film and the film closes with their agreement to be friends), and Donna Pescow as Tony’s former dance partner and would-be girlfriend. While in the disco, Tony is the king.”  Wiki

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