Creatively known as How many ways can we fail a student?
Alternately known as Let’s describe Educational Impact.
Otherwise known as What do you mean it’s my fault he can’t get a job?
Hmmm. Did that last one get your attention?
One topic of conversation that’s popped up here, on Facebook, on the ASHA forums, etc. has been eligibility requirements for schools based services. Many SLPs have the understanding that children with only one or two speech errors are not eligible for services because they are not “severe” enough. I have been told that some schools do not do ‘articulation’ therapy at all as it’s not educationally impacting. Or the students were dismissed because of “time constraints.” I realize it’s not the SLPs that are doing this, it’s administration…but wow. What a way to fail our students.
A month or so ago, I was contacted by one of the instructors at a nearby university. I was asked if I’d consider taking on an adult client. Apparently this client; whom I’ll call P, had an articulation problem that went untreated until recently. P, an education student, went for the mandatory speech-language screening at the university only to fail the screening. P was informed that without remediation of the problem, P would not graduate with an education degree. Needless to say…P was a bit…desperate.
Now, normally I don’t see adults. I’m not set up for private practice and I’m plenty busy between consulting work, blogging, creating apps, and my own school position. But I was intrigued by the story so I agreed to meet with P.
After talking with P, I was outraged at the system, at the excuses that were offered (yes, I mean excuses), and the way that we failed to protect those who need it most. P grew up in a different state, went to elementary school, and received speech therapy. Apparently P had several ear infections as a child and was extremely hard to understand (sound familiar? I thought it might). P received therapy up until middle school (5th grade I believe). At the middle-school transition, P was dismissed from services. Not because P had mastered all the sounds, but because there was no ‘time’ for therapy. (hmmm…this can’t be good)
For those of you that don’t work in the schools, middle-school is…challenging. Anything that is out of the ‘norm’ is considered fair game for ridicule, bullying, and general disgust. If you forget to wear your hair a certain way…fair game. Wear the wrong kind of shirt…fair game. If you talk just a bit different…definitely fair game. Middle school is dangerous and very much a kill or be killed scenario, figuratively of course (actually in hindsight, I should have paid more attention to this it might have prepared me for the world of academics but that’s an entirely different rant).
Needless to say with P’s speech errors, middle school was a less than ideal place. P started to refuse to speak at school, refused to participate in classes, and refused to have anything to do with peers. In short, P refused to speak outside of family members. Fast forward several years and imagine P’s distress to discover that the articulation error that was not worth treating was actually career hampering.
Now…P’s speech errors are more than just /r/. P says ‘wif’ for ‘with’, ‘de’ for ‘the’ and vowelizes /l/. P is understandable, but the articulation errors definitely stand out. P’s education is definitely impacted as evidenced by the “fix it or don’t graduate in your chosen field” thought process. Needless to say, I couldn’t turn away this challenge. Not only the challenge…but the opportunity to correct the incredible disservice done so many years ago. One or two more years of speech therapy may have had an incredible life-changing impact for this child.
Which brings me to my rant…(you knew there would be one, right?)
I totally understand the situation for many school-based SLPs. High caseloads, not enough time for every student, can only take those who will actually progress, etc. I do… I get that. (Frankly, the fear of high-caseloads is one of the driving reasons I’m still at the school I’m at – well that and awesome admins, even if the weather is less than ideal.) But, in my opinion (which I’ll readily admit is highly biased today), what happened to P is nothing less than criminal.
We, as a profession, failed P miserably by not advocating for services.
The education system failed P by not ensuring a student was ready to be prepared for the work force or higher education.
P’s family failed P by not advocating for P’s needs in the school. Although to be fair, they may not have been told they could…they may have been under the impression that the professionals knew it all.
Now, as you know by now, my mantra is “be a part of the solution” because if there is a problem you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution…and frankly, being a part of the problem is demoralizing and not very awe-inspiring…even if it is easy.
So…my part of being the solution is two-fold. First, I’m seeing my first adult client. P and I are working on the speech errors and doing what we can. Second, I’m writing this post.
We, as a profession, MUST advocate for ourselves and our clients. We can NOT do effective therapy in groups of 5-10. Truly, I think 2-3 is the limit, although I also have groups of 4 some days. Please know, this is not a slur against any SLP…even superheros have limits.
We can NOT be effective therapists with caseloads as high as 80-120. I’d go out on a limb and say we can’t be truly effective with caseloads over 60. If the children we saw were able to learn in large groups, they wouldn’t be on our caseloads.
We must advocate for what makes a student eligible for services. To hear someone say “it’s only an artic problem – it’s not educationally impacting” makes me furious. The purpose of education is to make a student ready to be a successful, self-supporting adult ready to interact with the world. Having an articulation disorder, even if it’s just one sound, hampers that ability. It impacts how the world interacts with that individual.
If two people who are equal in skills apply for a job – the one without a speech error is the one who will get hired (I’m fairly sure). In P’s situation, I’m fairly certain P would not be hired by any school district because of the errors. For P, it’s not even the job…it’s the basic right to finish a college degree of choice.
Now, articulation errors that would have been challenging to correct as a child, have become extremely challenging as an adult. Thank goodness P is highly motivated.
My final solution to the problem, is to do my level best to make sure NONE of my students is ever in this position.
How will you advocate for your students? Does your school district require “educational impacting?” Can you argue that it will impact their life? Social skills? Something? More importantly…will you? Or will you be grateful that it’s one less kid on a caseload that is far too large already? If that’s the case (and I’m not judging), will you advocate for lower caseloads? What will YOU do to help the Ps in your community? I can’t wait to hear…drop me a note.
Until then…Adventure on!