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Eligibility for Speech in Public School

I wear many hats- one of them happens to be school-based speech language pathologist (SLP.) Many times parents recognize that their child has speech language deficits and will request school-based services. Sometimes this request may be accompanied by a letter or report from a private SLP. Parents are often shocked and sometimes enraged to hear that their child doesn’t qualify for therapy services in school- especially when armed with a referral/ recommendation/ report from a doctor or private SLP.

The American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) outlines “the goal of public school speech-language pathology services is to remediate or improve a student’s communication disorder such that it does not interfere with or deter academic achievement and functional performance.” As a school-based speech language pathologists we must adhere to different guidelines and requirements according to state laws and federal guidelines. Speech therapy is considered a related service in the public school setting and is under the special education umbrella. When a child is referred for speech language services in school, the therapist must first determine whether the child is eligible. This process includes many steps including determining:

  1. Is there a disability?

  2. If the answer is YES, does the disability negatively effect the child’s academic performance?

  3. If the answer is YES, are related services and supports needed to help the student access and make progress in the general education curriculum?

It is the job of the school SLP to answer these questions. But she/he also relies on information from the child’s teacher(s), as well as from the child’s parent(s.) The answer does not lie simply in standardized test results either. The school SLP gathers all the information and must determine whether an impairment exists, and if so, does the impairment adversely affect the child’s ability to access the general school curriculum. What does this mean?

Let’s look at this scenario:

JT is a 6 year old male. He does not produce “r” sounds correctly. He was assessed by a private SLP and diagnosed with an articulation disorder. JT’s mom brings a copy of the repot to his school therapist and requests that he receive services in school. The school SLP takes the referral, accepts the private evaluation report, and begins the initial evaluation process. After reviewing the report, she observes JT in class and confers with his first grade classroom teacher. Ultimately it is determined that despite noticeable errors, JT is not eligible for school based services.

This fictional scenario occurs often. In this example, JT’s teacher reported to the school SLP that she does not have difficulty understanding JT’s speech when he talks in class. Further, the teacher reported that his errors do not effect his reading, spelling, or interaction with his peers. JT is described by his teacher as a good student who is excelling academically. In this scenario, the school-based SLP recognized the presence of an impairment; however, there was no evidence of his impairment having a negative effect on his educational performance. With no adverse impact on JT’s ability to access the general curriculum, he was determined ineligible.

News of your child being found ineligible for school-based speech therapy can be disappointing and even frustrating. Ineligibility for speech in school does not mean that an impairment does not exist. It simply means that the impairment is not causing the child to have difficulty in school. It is still within your ability to get help. Private therapy is always an option. If you feel your child needs help, don’t give up. Although the school SLP may not be the answer, there are other alternatives such as private therapists who can also help your child improve their speech and language skills.

I hope this post helps you better understand how eligibility is determined in public schools. If you have questions, or for more information please contact Having Our Say.

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