Speech and Language Support is a therapy offered by the school district. It offers support to students with speech and language impairments. In order to receive speech and language support, your child must have had an evaluation through OASD or another school district in PA. Within 30 days an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) would have been developed that listed speech and language support as a service.
Speech and Language disabilities generally fall into the following categories:
1. Expressive language delays/disorders
This is a complicated way to say that the student has difficulty using language in their everyday life. They may be fine asking for breakfast or playing with friends, but when they have to do more complex tasks, such as explain how something works or write a story, it becomes more difficult for them. Vocabulary is often limited.
2. Receptive language delays/disorders
This is a complicated way of saying that the student has difficulty understanding what others are saying. Again, they can usually understand simple, short sentences, but it is hard for them to process longer sentences and follow multi-step directions. Vocabulary is often limited.
3. Speech Sound delays/disorders
Some students have difficulty using a one or more sounds in language. In third and fourth grade, usually the sound is r or s, sometimes sh or th. It is usually harder for them to say these sounds in conversation than it is for them to say the sounds in individual words.
When some students speak, they repeat sounds and words. They may also have accompanying secondary characteristics such as blinking, frowning, or coughing. We often call lack of fluency stuttering.
5. Pragmatic Language or social communication delays/disorders
Some students have difficulty using their language to communicate socially. They often do not see the 'hidden rules' of social interaction and will speak too quickly, interrupt, be unable to ask questions and/or explain things to others. They often have difficulty making friends and writing longer stories. Some of them may be on the autism spectrum. Students with pragmatic language disorders will also have difficulty telling a story or using their language effectively to get what they want.
When a delay/deficit is determined by the special education department, typically an intervention is undertaken. If a delay/deficit is not documented, generally intervention is not supported by the IEP.
Intervention comes in two forms: specially designed instruction and goals.
Specially designed instruction includes all of the ways that the teachers, therapists, and staff can adapt and modify the student's environment or tasks to help them learn better. It can be as simple as giving them a special pencil or reducing the number of spelling words they learn to receiving pull-out therapy or needing a Personal Care Assistant (PCA).
Goals are tasks that students are expected to improve on over the course of a year. In therapy we work on improving at these tasks, and then data is collected at least once a month to see if the student is doing better with it. For example, a student may say the word 'wed' for red before therapy. After a few months, they may say 'red' when they use individual words, but still use 'wed' when they are talking in class. Eventually, we want them to say 'wed' all of the time. Collecting data lets us see when a student has finally mastered their task, or goal.
What is a Speech Impairment?
What is a Speech Sound Disorder?
A person has a speech sound disorder if they misarticulate speech sounds such as /s/, /r/, and /l/ and they are past the age when most people misarticulate that sound. For a list of common ages when children master speech sounds, click here.
Why do some people misarticulate speech sounds?
Children have difficulty articulating sounds for several reason is that the structure of their mouth does not allow for production of the sound. If your child has missing teeth, he or she may misarticulate the /s/ sound, saying 'thun' for sun. Sometimes students have tongues that are not strong enough or malformations in their skull that make their speech nasal. All of these are usually remediated by addressing structural issues: so waiting for teeth to grow in or strengthening the tongue. Some cannot be remediated easily.
Most children produce inaccurate sounds because they are not developmentally ready to produce more difficult sounds That's why a small child will use babytalk. The first sounds children produce are vowels and easy consonants, such as /m/ /d/ and /b/. The hardest consonants are the ones that children need to produce with their tongue alone (like /r/ and /l/) and the ones which require more than one movement ('j', 'ch'). Most of the time, these sounds will come with age. This is why speech language pathologists will often wait until third grade to work on sounds such as /r/.
Sometimes, however, these easy shortcuts become habitual for children and they do not self correct. That is the third reason children misarticulate sounds. In that case, speech therapy often helps children learn this more adult way of speaking. We practice using our muscles during speech therapy which is why we need to practice a lot. How many times does an NBA player need to practice freeshots in basketball a hoop before they do it correctly 70-80% of the time? Well that's what kids have to do to use their tongues correctly in speech.
Speech Practice at Home
It is important that children practice speech production at home. It takes many many repetitions for a child to train themselves to say something a different way. It also takes awareness of speech. Both are improved if a child practices. It is better to practice more often for a few minutes than rarely for a long time. Just 5-10 minutes a day of practice can really help children change their patterns more quickly.