SLP Corner: What Does Nonacademic Adverse Effect Mean?

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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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8 Responses to SLP Corner: What Does Nonacademic Adverse Effect Mean?

  1. Shira Reiss says:

    Yes, you just wrote about a dilemma that we have in the schools. If you look at the Colorado Dept of Education Speech/language Severity Scales, we are required to give points for all of these areas and quite a few points go to academics. If a student’s score falls in the mild range, he/she doesn’t qualify. We are only supposed to work with the moderate/severe range level of students. Someone once suggested that we just create an RtI articulation group and work with these kids. But with 60 kids to see, where do we put them in our schedule??

  2. Kristen Miller says:

    Great article Anna ! Thanks so much for the very useful handouts…..

  3. Denise Parks says:

    Thanks for the great article and checklist for teachers! I will definitely use it to justify why I am santing to provide services to so many kids on my campus!!

  4. Denise Parks says:

    * wanting to provide services

  5. Cynthia Harbeson says:

    Very well written, Anna. I completely agree.

  6. Susan Edwards says:

    I do understand what you mean. I worked in the public schools for years as a school psychologist, and am now in private practice. When parents call me to inquire about an evaluation I first ask them if they have talked to the people at the school. The evaluation they could get there would be at no cost to them, and would be more comprehensive because it would include other components such as speech and hearing. What I am hearing back from the parents is that the schools have turned down their request for testing because the child is not perceived as having academic problems. Yet, the parents sense that things are not going well for the child, and wonder if some intervention is needed. There was a time when, as a school employee, we tested just about child referred to us by a parent. I think that limited resources may be at the root of this change, rather than a lack of inbterest on the part of school personnel. There is such a demand for testing now, and the schools cannot meet the need for “nonacademic adverse effect” requests. This is the first time I’ve heard that phrase, by the way. Thank you for putting a label on that issue for me.

  7. If severity scales or any other eligibility measures are more restrictive than IDEA regulations, it should be questioned. On ASHA’s website, Stan Dublinske states: “If your state and/or local education agency requires you to show that there is a discrepancy in age/grade performance in academic subject-matter areas before you can determine that a child with a speech or language impairment has a disability and is eligible for special education and related services, they are violating the law.” Some suggested actions to be taken are listed at SLP/schools/prof-consult/adverselyaffects/

    As far as the issue of time, Perry Flynn ( offers great suggestions for flexible scheduling, seeing language kids in the classroom (co-teaching with teachers), and other ideas to optimize time. Many SLPs are also incorporating “Communication Labs” in their service models, where students can come in for 10-15 min. 3-4 times weekly during a designated hour for therapy, where they cycle through stations, including one-on-one time with the SLP (this time involves high-repetition drill activities), as opposed to traditional models. Labs are of course more effective for students who are stimulable and no longer need significant prompting for correct and consistent productions. This option allows SLPs and teachers more flexibility. 🙂

  8. Kristin Polk says:

    Thank you for your very thorough evaluation of the problem. I was quite surprised by the attitudes of some SLP’s in various states that had accepted the notion that speech services must directly affect grades or classroom performance. In my school district, I work with preschoolers, grades 3-5 and high school. I am able to see the spectrum of services required as the children prepare for the adult world. I can tell you after working with high schoolers preparing to look for jobs; their articulation skills are extremely important. As you stated, articulation errors can make them appear less intelligent. In this job market, if the students don’t have good articulation skills, the kids have a major strike against them. We sometimes get so busy with the myriad of responsibilities, we forget the ultimate goal is to prepare this child for adulthood. Our services DO make a difference in helping them become ready for the “real” world. I love my profession for this very reason. Let’s keep our eye on the ultimate goal.