by Ana Paula G. Mumy, MS, CCC-SLP
Author’s Note: Though this issue has come to my attention through my current place of employment, the views expressed here are directly mine and not of my employer.
I’ve worked in the schools for the past 13 years, either directly or indirectly as a consultant/contractor, but currently I’m also a private practitioner working primarily with children. In the last month, I’ve had two families come to see me because their children have been denied speech services at school because it’s “not affecting them academically.” Though I’m happy to work with these children, it has prompted me to advocate for them, so I contacted the special education administrators in the respective school districts, and this article stems from our interesting conversations.
As we all know, the question of how articulation disorders adversely affect educational performance is a tricky one. It’s a dilemma that has caused ASHA on multiple occasions to seek guidance from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the U.S. Dept. of Education. The interesting thing is that over a span of 30 years, their responses (dated 1980, 1989, and 2007) have affirmed that whether a speech and language impairment adversely affects a child’s educational performance cannot be strictly based on discrepancies in age or grade performance in academic subject areas.
An excerpt from one response letter states: “The extent of a child’s mastery of the basic skill of effective oral communication is clearly includable within the standard of ‘educational performance’ set by the regulations – that is, academic failure is not a prerequisite for services. It remains the Department’s position that the term ‘educational performance’ is not limited to academic performance. Services cannot be denied as a matter of policy because the adverse effect on educational performance is not reflected in grades or academic achievement.”
Even in light of IDEA regulations and OSEP’s clarifications that clearly guide us in our decision-making, the meaning of adverse effect on educational performance is still misinterpreted, and many local and state policies and administrators still enforce unreasonable restrictions.
So back to my recent conversations with administrators, on one hand, one administrator stated that he totally agreed with OSEP’s explanation that educational performance means more than academic performance (satisfactory grades), and yet on the other hand, he stated that some students are deemed not eligible for services because there is no adverse general educational impact (good behavior, good grades, and teachers being able to understand what students are saying). So in essence he was stating that satisfactory grades and behavior, as well as intelligibility nullify demonstration of need due to no measurable adverse effect. He went as far as asking me what could the educational need of students be if they’re getting good grades and when their teachers are not “concerned” about their speech? But wait…didn’t he just agree that educational performance is more than good grades?!?
So if IDEA regulations and OSEP deem educational performance to mean more than grades, then what else is left that must be considered? We must look at educational needs in terms of functional, developmental, social-emotional, and nonacademic needs of students in addition to academic achievement. For a bright child with articulation errors, the functional, social-emotional, and nonacademic effects of articulation errors that adversely affect educational performance may be:
1. Articulation errors drawing negative and undue attention to the child.
2. The negative social stigma as the bright child sounds less mature and may appear less intelligent than peers.
3. Embarrassment and potential fear of class participation due to articulation errors, and possibly lack of verbal interaction/participation in class, even when intelligible.
4. Reduced confidence in reading aloud in class or in small group settings due to articulation errors.
5. The potential of being bullied or shunned by peers because of sounding “different” than peers.
In addition, in light of the wide acceptance of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in the United States, is there a standard supporting our efforts in giving children the ability to speak clearly? Absolutely! Under the English Language Arts (ELA) standards, under the Listening and Speaking strand, specifically Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas, it states that students should be able to “speak clearly at an understandable pace” and “use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.” In other words, they should be able to demonstrate control of delivery skills using appropriate articulation of sounds. Clear speech is a valid expectation of all students.
Lastly, I would say we must also look to history as our guide. In 1939, Charles Van Riper expressed the notion that a child’s ability to speak correctly was as important as their ability to read and write. He was one of the first to state that the responsibility of speech correction should fall upon public schools (see Pam Marshalla’s excellent article entitled “Articulation Therapy in the Public Schools” available on her website). It wasn’t until about 20 years later, however, that the provision of articulation services in the schools was a common practice. It appears to me that many worked hard and advocated intensely for this shift in practice, so why is there now a push to restrict articulation services? I am not suggesting that all children with articulation delays/disorders belong in special education, however, there should at least be a Response to Intervention (RTI) model in place for students who need assistance, and SLPs must be the ones designing and implementing those RTI opportunities.
I’m currently working with two adult clients who have noticeable articulation problems that were left unremedied. These are not cases where therapy was attempted and yet was unsuccessful. These individuals, now in their 20s, never received any services in school. No one bothered to help. No one took time to advocate for them. So let’s begin today!
In an effort to increase advocacy, I have developed a teacher checklist to help teachers and SLPs ascertain the nonacademic adverse effect of articulation problems in children. I hope this becomes a useful tool for you as you become an avid advocate in addition to being a caring and effective clinician! Download the teacher checklist HERE
About the Author: Ana Paula G. Mumy is a trilingual speech-language pathologist and the author of various continuing education courses, leveled storybooks, and instructional therapy materials for speech/language intervention. She has provided school-based, pediatric home health, and private services for 13 years, and thoroughly enjoys providing resources for SLPs, educators, and parents on The Speech Stop.
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