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It’s All Due to …Language: How Subtle Symptoms Can Cause Serious Academic Deficits

Scenario: Len is a 7-2-year-old, 2nd-grade student who struggles with reading and writing in the classroom. He is very bright and has a high average IQ, yet when he is speaking he frequently can’t get his point across to others due to excessive linguistic reformulations and word-finding difficulties. The problem is that Len passed all the typical educational and language testing with flying colors, receiving average scores across the board on various tests including the Woodcock-Johnson Fourth Edition (WJ-IV) and the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals-5 (CELF-5). Stranger still is the fact that he aced Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing, Second Edition (CTOPP-2), with flying colors, so he is not even eligible for a “dyslexia” diagnosis. Len is clearly struggling in the classroom with coherently expressing self, telling stories, understanding what he is reading, as well as putting his thoughts on paper. His parents have compiled impressively huge folders containing examples of his struggles. Yet because of his performance on the basic standardized assessment batteries, Len does not qualify for any functional assistance in the school setting, despite being virtually functionally illiterate in second grade.

The truth is that Len is quite a familiar figure to many SLPs, who at one time or another have encountered such a student and asked for guidance regarding the appropriate accommodations and services for him on various SLP-geared social media forums. But what makes Len such an enigma, one may inquire? Surely if the child had tangible deficits, wouldn’t standardized testing at least partially reveal them?

Well, it all depends really, on what type of testing was administered to Len in the first place. A few years ago I wrote a post entitled: “What Research Shows About the Functional Relevance of Standardized Language Tests“.  What researchers found is that there is a “lack of a correlation between frequency of test use and test accuracy, measured both in terms of sensitivity/specificity and mean difference scores” (Betz et al, 2012, 141). Furthermore, they also found that the most frequently used tests were the comprehensive assessments including the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals and the Preschool Language Scale as well as one-word vocabulary tests such as the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test”. Most damaging finding was the fact that: “frequently SLPs did not follow up the comprehensive standardized testing with domain-specific assessments (critical thinking, social communication, etc.) but instead used the vocabulary testing as a second measure”.(Betz et al, 2012, 140)

In other words, many SLPs only use the tests at hand rather than the RIGHT tests aimed at identifying the student’s specific deficits. But the problem doesn’t actually stop there. Due to the variation in psychometric properties of various tests, many children with language impairment are overlooked by standardized tests by receiving scores within the average range or not receiving low enough scores to qualify for services.

Thus, “the clinical consequence is that a child who truly has a language impairment has a roughly equal chance of being correctly or incorrectly identified, depending on the test that he or she is given.” Furthermore, “even if a child is diagnosed accurately as language impaired at one point in time, future diagnoses may lead to the false perception that the child has recovered, depending on the test(s) that he or she has been given (Spaulding, Plante & Farinella, 2006, 69).”

There’s of course yet another factor affecting our hypothetical client and that is his relatively young age. This is especially evident with many educational and language testing for children in the 5-7 age group. Because the bar is set so low, concept-wise for these age-groups, many children with moderate language and literacy deficits can pass these tests with flying colors, only to be flagged by them literally two years later and be identified with deficits, far too late in the game.  Coupled with the fact that many SLPs do not utilize non-standardized measures to supplement their assessments, Len is in a pretty serious predicament.

But what if there was a do-over? What could we do differently for Len to rectify this situation? For starters, we need to pay careful attention to his deficits profile in order to choose appropriate tests to evaluate his areas of needs. The above can be accomplished via a number of ways. The SLP can interview Len’s teacher and his caregiver/s in order to obtain a summary of his pressing deficits. Depending on the extent of the reported deficits the SLP can also provide them with a referral checklist to mark off the most significant areas of need.

In Len’s case, we already have a pretty good idea regarding what’s going on. We know that he passed basic language and educational testing, so in the words of Dr. Geraldine Wallach, we need to keep “peeling the onion” via the administration of more sensitive tests to tap into Len’s reported areas of deficits which include: word-retrieval, narrative production, as well as reading and writing.

For that purpose, Len is a good candidate for the administration of the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy (TILLS), which was developed to identify language and literacy disorders, has good psychometric properties, and contains subtests for assessment of relevant skills such as reading fluency, reading comprehension, phonological awareness,  spelling, as well as writing  in school-age children.

Given Len’s reported history of narrative production deficits, Len is also a good candidate for the administration of the Social Language Development Test Elementary (SLDTE). Here’s why. Research indicates that narrative weaknesses significantly correlate with social communication deficits (Norbury, Gemmell & Paul, 2014). As such, it’s not just children with Autism Spectrum Disorders who present with impaired narrative abilities. Many children with developmental language impairment (DLD) (#devlangdis) can present with significant narrative deficits affecting their social and academic functioning, which means that their social communication abilities need to be tested to confirm/rule out presence of these difficulties.

However, standardized tests are not enough, since even the best-standardized tests have significant limitations. As such, several non-standardized assessments in the areas of narrative production, reading, and writing, may be recommended for Len to meaningfully supplement his testing.

Let’s begin with an informal narrative assessment which provides detailed information regarding microstructural and macrostructural aspects of storytelling as well as child’s thought processes and socio-emotional functioning. My nonstandardized narrative assessments are based on the book elicitation recommendations from the SALT website. For 2nd graders, I use the book by Helen Lester entitled Pookins Gets Her Way. I first read the story to the child, then cover up the words and ask the child to retell the story based on pictures. I read the story first because: “the model narrative presents the events, plot structure, and words that the narrator is to retell, which allows more reliable scoring than a generated story that can go in many directions” (Allen et al, 2012, p. 207).

As the child is retelling his story I digitally record him using the Voice Memos application on my iPhone, for a later transcription and thorough analysis.  During storytelling, I only use the prompts: ‘What else can you tell me?’ and ‘Can you tell me more?’ to elicit additional information. I try not to prompt the child excessively since I am interested in cataloging all of his narrative-based deficits. After I transcribe the sample, I analyze it and make sure that I include the transcription and a detailed write-up in the body of my report, so parents and professionals can see and understand the nature of the child’s errors/weaknesses.

Now we are ready to move on to a brief nonstandardized reading assessment. For this purpose, I often use the books from the Continental Press series entitled: Reading for Comprehension, which contains books for grades 1-8.  After I confirm with either the parent or the child’s teacher that the selected passage is reflective of the complexity of work presented in the classroom for his grade level, I ask the child to read the text.  As the child is reading, I calculate the correct number of words he reads per minute as well as what type of errors the child is exhibiting during reading.  Then I ask the child to state the main idea of the text, summarize its key points as well as define select text embedded vocabulary words and answer a few, verbally presented reading comprehension questions. After that, I provide the child with accompanying 5 multiple choice question worksheet and ask the child to complete it. I analyze my results in order to determine whether I have accurately captured the child’s reading profile.

Finally, if any additional information is needed, I administer a nonstandardized writing assessment, which I base on the Common Core State Standards for 2nd grade. For this task, I provide a student with a writing prompt common for second grade and give him a period of 15-20 minutes to generate a writing sample. I then analyze the writing sample with respect to contextual conventions (punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and syntax) as well as story composition (overall coherence and cohesion of the written sample).

The above relatively short assessment battery (2 standardized tests and 3 informal assessment tasks) which takes approximately 2-2.5 hours to administer, allows me to create a comprehensive profile of the child’s language and literacy strengths and needs. It also allows me to generate targeted goals in order to begin effective and meaningful remediation of the child’s deficits.

Children like Len will, unfortunately, remain unidentified unless they are administered more sensitive tasks to better understand their subtle pattern of deficits. Consequently, to ensure that they do not fall through the cracks of our educational system due to misguided overreliance on a limited number of standardized assessments, it is very important that professionals select the right assessments, rather than the assessments at hand, in order to accurately determine the child’s areas of needs.


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Making Our Interventions Count or What’s Research Got To Do With It?

Two years ago I wrote a blog post entitled: “What’s Memes Got To Do With It?” which summarized key points of Dr. Alan G. Kamhi’s 2004 article: “A Meme’s Eye View of Speech-Language Pathology“. It delved into answering the following question: “Why do some terms, labels, ideas, and constructs [in our field] prevail whereas others fail to gain acceptance?”.

Today I would like to reference another article by Dr. Kamhi written in 2014, entitled “Improving Clinical Practices for Children With Language and Learning Disorders“.

This article was written to address the gaps between research and clinical practice with respect to the implementation of EBP for intervention purposes.

Dr. Kamhi begins the article by posing 10 True or False questions for his readers:

  1. Learning is easier than generalization.
  2. Instruction that is constant and predictable is more effective than instruction that varies the conditions of learning and practice.
  3. Focused stimulation (massed practice) is a more effective teaching strategy than varied stimulation (distributed practice).
  4. The more feedback, the better.
  5. Repeated reading of passages is the best way to learn text information.
  6. More therapy is always better.
  7. The most effective language and literacy interventions target processing limitations rather than knowledge deficits.
  8. Telegraphic utterances (e.g., push ball, mommy sock) should not be provided as input for children with limited language.
  9. Appropriate language goals include increasing levels of mean length of utterance (MLU) and targeting Brown’s (1973) 14 grammatical morphemes.
  10. Sequencing is an important skill for narrative competence.

Guess what? Only statement 8 of the above quiz is True! Every other statement from the above is FALSE!

Now, let’s talk about why that is!

First up is the concept of learning vs. generalization. Here Dr. Kamhi discusses that some clinicians still possess an “outdated behavioral view of learning” in our field, which is not theoretically and clinically useful. He explains that when we are talking about generalization – what children truly have a difficulty with is “transferring narrow limited rules to new situations“. “Children with language and learning problems will have difficulty acquiring broad-based rules and modifying these rules once acquired, and they also will be more vulnerable to performance demands on speech production and comprehension (Kamhi, 1988)” (93). After all, it is not “reasonable to expect children to use language targets consistently after a brief period of intervention” and while we hope that “language intervention [is] designed to lead children with language disorders to acquire broad-based language rules” it is a hugely difficult task to undertake and execute.

Next, Dr. Kamhi addresses the issue of instructional factors, specifically the importance of “varying conditions of instruction and practice“.  Here, he addresses the fact that while contextualized instruction is highly beneficial to learners unless we inject variability and modify various aspects of instruction including context, composition, duration, etc., we ran the risk of limiting our students’ long-term outcomes.

After that, Dr. Kamhi addresses the concept of distributed practice (spacing of intervention) and how important it is for teaching children with language disorders. He points out that a number of recent studies have found that “spacing and distribution of teaching episodes have more of an impact on treatment outcomes than treatment intensity” (94).

He also advocates reducing evaluative feedback to learners to “enhance long-term retention and generalization of motor skills“. While he cites research from studies pertaining to speech production, he adds that language learning could also benefit from this practice as it would reduce conversational disruptions and tunning out on the part of the student.

From there he addresses the limitations of repetition for specific tasks (e.g., text rereading). He emphasizes how important it is for students to recall and retrieve text rather than repeatedly reread it (even without correction), as the latter results in a lack of comprehension/retention of read information.

After that, he discusses treatment intensity. Here he emphasizes the fact that higher dose of instruction will not necessarily result in better therapy outcomes due to the research on the effects of “learning plateaus and threshold effects in language and literacy” (95). We have seen research on this with respect to joint book reading, vocabulary words exposure, etc. As such, at a certain point in time increased intensity may actually result in decreased treatment benefits.

His next point against processing interventions is very near and dear to my heart. Those of you familiar with my blog know that I have devoted a substantial number of posts pertaining to the lack of validity of CAPD diagnosis (as a standalone entity) and urged clinicians to provide language based vs. specific auditory interventions which lack treatment utility. Here, Dr. Kamhi makes a great point that: “Interventions that target processing skills are particularly appealing because they offer the promise of improving language and learning deficits without having to directly target the specific knowledge and skills required to be a proficient speaker, listener, reader, and writer.” (95) The problem is that we have numerous studies on the topic of improvement of isolated skills (e.g., auditory skills, working memory, slow processing, etc.) which clearly indicate lack of effectiveness of these interventions.  As such, “practitioners should be highly skeptical of interventions that promise quick fixes for language and learning disabilities” (96).

Now let us move on to language and particularly the models we provide to our clients to encourage greater verbal output. Research indicates that when clinicians are attempting to expand children’s utterances, they need to provide well-formed language models. Studies show that children select strong input when its surrounded by weaker input (the surrounding weaker syllables make stronger syllables stand out).  As such, clinicians should expand upon/comment on what clients are saying with grammatically complete models vs. telegraphic productions.

From there lets us take a look at Dr. Kamhi’s recommendations for grammar and syntax. Grammatical development goes much farther than addressing Brown’s morphemes in therapy and calling it a day. As such, it is important to understand that children with developmental language disorders (DLD) (#DevLang) do not present with difficulty acquiring all morphemes. Rather studies have shown that they have difficulty learning grammatical morphemes that reflect tense and agreement  (e.g., third-person singular, past tense, auxiliaries, copulas, etc.). As, such use of measures developed by (e.g., Tense Marker Total & Productivity Score) can yield helpful information regarding which grammatical structures to target in therapy.

With respect to syntax, Dr. Kamhi notes that many clinicians erroneously believe that complex syntax should be targeted when children are much older. The Common Core State Standards do not help this cause further, since according to the CCSS complex syntax should be targeted 2-3 grades, which is far too late. Typically developing children begin developing complex syntax around 2 years of age and begin readily producing it around 3 years of age. As such, clinicians should begin targeting complex syntax in preschool years and not wait until the children have mastered all morphemes and clauses (97)

Finally, Dr. Kamhi wraps up his article by offering suggestions regarding prioritizing intervention goals. Here, he explains that goal prioritization is affected by

  • clinician experience and competencies
  • the degree of collaboration with other professionals
  • type of service delivery model
  • client/student factors

He provides a hypothetical case scenario in which the teaching responsibilities are divvied up between three professionals, with SLP in charge of targeting narrative discourse. Here, he explains that targeting narratives does not involve targeting sequencing abilities. “The ability to understand and recall events in a story or script depends on conceptual understanding of the topic and attentional/memory abilities, not sequencing ability.”  He emphasizes that sequencing is not a distinct cognitive process that requires isolated treatment. Yet many SLPs “continue to believe that  sequencing is a distinct processing skill that needs to be assessed and treated.” (99)

Dr. Kamhi supports the above point by providing an example of two passages. One, which describes a random order of events, and another which follows a logical order of events. He then points out that the randomly ordered story relies exclusively on attention and memory in terms of “sequencing”, while the second story reduces demands on memory due to its logical flow of events. As such, he points out that retelling deficits seemingly related to sequencing, tend to be actually due to “limitations in attention, working memory, and/or conceptual knowledge“. Hence, instead of targeting sequencing abilities in therapy, SLPs should instead use contextualized language intervention to target aspects of narrative development (macro and microstructural elements).

Furthermore, here it is also important to note that the “sequencing fallacy” affects more than just narratives. It is very prevalent in the intervention process in the form of the ubiquitous “following directions” goal/s. Many clinicians readily create this goal for their clients due to their belief that it will functionally result in therapeutic gains. However, when one really begins to deconstruct this goal, one will realize that it involves a number of discrete abilities including: memory, attention, concept knowledge, inferencing, etc.  Consequently, targeting the above goal will not result in any functional gains for the students (their memory abilities will not magically improve as a result of it). Instead, targeting functional to the students’ goals (e.g., answering questions, producing complex sentences, etc.) and increasing their overall listening comprehension and verbal expression will result in improvements in the areas of attention, memory, and processing, including their ability to follow complex directions.

There you have it! Ten practical suggestions from Dr. Kamhi ready for immediate implementation! And for more information, I highly recommend reading the other articles in the same clinical forum, all of which possess highly practical and relevant ideas for therapeutic implementation. They include:


Kamhi, A. (2014). Improving clinical practices for children with language and learning disorders.  Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 45(2), 92-103

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SLPs for Evidence-Based Practice

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It’s a Fairy Tale (Well, Almost) Therapy!

I’ve always loved fairy tales! Much like Audrey Hepburn “If I’m honest I have to tell you I still read fairy-tales and I like them best of all.” Not to compare myself with Einstein (sadly in any way, sigh) but “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.”

It was the very first genre I’ve read when I’ve learned how to read. In fact, I love fairy tales so much that I actually took a course on fairy tales in college (yes they teach that!) and even wrote some of my own (though they were primarily satirical in nature).

So it was a given that I would use fairy tales as a vehicle to teach speech and language goals to the children on my caseload (and I am not talking only preschoolers either). Continue reading It’s a Fairy Tale (Well, Almost) Therapy!

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The Reign of the Problematic PLS-5 and the Rise of the Hyperintelligent Potato

Image result for potatoThose of us who have administered PLS-5 ever since its release in 2011, know that the test is fraught with significant psychometric problems. Previous reviews of its poor sensitivity, specificity, validity, and reliability, have been extensively discussed HERE and HERE  as well as in numerous SLP groups on Facebook.

One of the most significant issues with this test is that its normative sample included a “clinical sample of 169 children aged 2-7;11 diagnosed with a receptive or expressive language disorder”.

The problem with such inclusion is that According to Pena, Spalding, & Plante, (2006) when the purpose of a test is to identify children with language impairment, the inclusion of children with language impairment in the normative sample can reduce the accuracy of identification.

Indeed, upon its implementation, many clinicians began to note that this test significantly under-identified children with language impairments and overinflated their scores. As such, based on its presentation, due to strict district guidelines and qualification criteria, many children who would have qualified for services with the administration of the PLS-4, no longer qualified for services when administered the PLS-5.

For years, SLPs wrote to Pearson airing out their grievances regarding this test with responses ranging from irate to downright humorous as one can see from the below response form (helpfully provided by an anonymous responder).

And now it appears that Pearson is willing to listen. A few days ago, many of us who have purchased this test received the following email: It contains the link to a survey powered by Survey Monkey, asking clinicians their feedback regarding PLS-5 administration and how it can be improved. So if you are one of those clinicians, please go ahead and provide your honest feedback regarding this test, after all, our littlest clients deserve so much better than to be under-identified by this assessment and denied services as a result of its administration.


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What Should be Driving Our Treatment?

Today  I want to talk treatment.  That thing that we need to plan for as we are doing our assessments.   But are we starting our treatments the right way? The answer may surprise you. I often see SLPs phrasing questions regarding treatment the following way: “I have a student diagnosed with ____ (insert disorder here). What is everyone using (program/app/materials) during therapy sessions to address ___ diagnosis?”

Of course, the answer is never that simple. Just because a child has a diagnosis of a social communication disorder, word-finding deficits, or a reading disability does not automatically indicate to the treating clinician, which ‘cookie cutter’ materials and programs are best suited for the child in question. Only a profile of strengths and needs based on a comprehensive language and literacy testing can address this in an adequate and targeted manner.

To illustrate,  reading intervention is a much debated and controversial topic nowadays. Everywhere you turn there’s a barrage of advice for clinicians and parents regarding which program/approach to use. Barton, Wilson, OG… the well-intentioned advice just keeps on coming. The problem is that without knowing the child’s specific deficit areas, the application of the above approaches is quite frankly … pointless.

There could be endless variations of how deficits manifest in poor readers. Is it aspects of phonological awareness, phonics, morphology, etc. What combination of deficits is preventing the child from becoming a good reader?

Let’s a take a look at an example, below. It’s the CTOPP-2 results of a 7-6-year-old female with a documented history of extensive reading difficulties and a significant family history of reading disabilities in the family.

Results of the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing-2 (CTOPP-2)

Subtests Scaled Scores Percentile Ranks Description
Elision (EL) 7 16 Below Average
Blending Words (BW) 13 84 Above Average
Phoneme Isolation (PI) 6 9 Below Average
Memory for Digits (MD) 8 25 Average
Nonword Repetition (NR) 8 25 Average
Rapid Digit Naming (RD) 10 50 Average
Rapid Letter Naming (RL) 11 63 Average
Blending Nonwords (BN) 8 25 Average
Segmenting Nonwords (SN) 8 25 Average

However, the results of her CTOPP-2 testing clearly indicate that phonological awareness, despite two areas of mild weaknesses, is not really a significant problem for this child.  So let’s look at the student’s reading fluency results.

Reading Fluency: “LG’s reading fluency during this task was judged to be significantly affected by excessive speed, inappropriate pausing, word misreadings, choppy prosody, as well as inefficient word attack skills.  While she was able to limitedly utilize the phonetic spelling of unfamiliar words (e.g., __) provided to her in parenthesis next to the word (which she initially misread as ‘__’), she exhibited limited use of metalinguistic strategies (e.g., pre-scanning sentences to aid text comprehension, self-correcting to ensure that the read words made sense in the context of the sentence, etc.), when reading the provided passage. To illustrate, during the reading of the text, LG was observed to frequently (at least 3 times) lose her place and skip entire lines of text without any attempts at self-correction. At times she was observed to read the same word a number of different ways (e.g., read ‘soup’ as ‘soup’ then as ‘soap’,  ‘roots’ as ‘roofs’ then as ‘roots’, etc.) without attempting to self-correct. LG’s oral reading rate was also observed to be impaired for her age/grade levels. Her prosody was significantly adversely affected due to lack of adequate pausing for punctuation marks (e.g., periods, commas, etc.).  Instead, she paused during text reading only when he could not decode select words in the text.  Though, LG was able to read 70 words per minute, which was judged to be grossly commensurate with grade-level, out of these 70 words she skipped 2 entire lines of text, invented an entire line of text, as well as made 4 decoding errors and 6 inappropriate pauses.”

So now we know that despite quite decent phonological awareness abilities, this student presents with quite poor sound-letter correspondence skills and will definitely benefit from explicit phonics instruction addressing the above deficit areas. But that is only the beginning!   By looking at the analysis of specific misreadings we next need to determine what other literacy areas need to be addressed. For the sake of brevity, I can specify that further analysis of this child reading abilities revealed that reading comprehension, orthographic knowledge, as well as morphological awareness were definitely areas that also required targeted remediation. The assessment also revealed that the child presented with poor spelling and writing abilities, which also needed to be addressed in the context of therapy.

Now, what if I also told you that this child had already been receiving private, Orton-Gillingham reading instruction for a period of  2 years, 1x per week, at the time the above assessment took place? Would you change your mind about the program in question? 

Well, the answer is again not so simple! OG is a fine program, but as you can see from the above example it has definite limitations and is not an exclusive fit for this child, or for any child for that matter. Furthermore, a solidly-trained in literacy clinician DOES NOT need to rely on just one program to address literacy deficits. They simply need solid knowledge of typical and atypical language and literacy development/milestones and know how to create a targeted treatment hierarchy in order to deliver effective intervention services. But for that, they need to first, thoughtfully, construct assessment-based treatment goals by carefully taking into the consideration the child’s strengths and needs.

So let’s stop asking which approach/program we should use and start asking about the child’s profile of strengths and needs in order to create accurate language and literacy goals based on solid evidence and scientifically-guided treatment practices.

Helpful Resources Pertaining to Reading:


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Professional Development Hours

Image result for professional development

Smart Speech Therapy LLC is excited to present its new professional development service. Now we offer Continuing Maintenance Hours (CMHs) on select purchased text-based products.  These hours fulfill the requirement set forth by the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) for certification maintenance.

Here’s how it works.  Select products from the Smart Speech Therapy LLC online store are eligible for professional development hours.  These products are identified in the online store ONLY under the heading: CMH Quiz.

Customers purchasing particular products from our store can also purchase a text-based quiz for an additional fee. Upon completing a  quiz and attaining 80% accuracy on it, customers will receive a certificate of course completion worth a specific amount of hours (ranging from 1 CMH- 6 CMHs depending on the length of the product).

Each quiz description states the number and type of test questions (typically a combination of multiple choice as well as essay questions) as well as how many continuing maintenance hours the course is eligible for.

All customers who have purchased qualifying products in the past calendar year are eligible for this professional development opportunity upon a provision of proof of purchase after the purchase of the quiz.  Customers who have purchased their products more than a year ago can reach out to us to inquire regarding their eligibility, which would be established for them for a small surcharge to cover the course processing fee.

So get your continuing maintenance hours today!


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Smart Speech Therapy Black Friday Sale!

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Creating a Comprehensive Speech Language Therapy Environment

Image result for comprehensiveSo you’ve completed a thorough evaluation of your student’s speech and language abilities and are in the process of creating goals and objectives to target in sessions. The problem is that many of the students on our caseloads present with pervasive deficits in many areas of language.

While it’s perfectly acceptable to target just a few goals per session in order to collect good data, both research and clinical experience indicate that addressing goals comprehensively and thematically (the whole system or multiple goals at once from the areas of content, form, and use) via contextual language intervention vs. in isolation (small parts such as prepositions, pronouns, etc.) will bring about the quickest change and more permanent results.

So how can that be done? Well, for significantly language impaired students it’s very important to integrate semantic language components as well as verbal reasoning tasks into sessions no matter what type of language activity you are working on (such as listening comprehension, auditory processing, social inferencing and so on). The important part is to make sure that the complexity of the task is commensurate with the student’s level of abilities.

Let’s say you are working on a fall themed lesson plans which include topics such as apples and pumpkins. As you are working on targeting different language goals, just throw in  a few extra components to the session and ask the child to make, produce, explain, list, describe, identify, or interpret:

  • Associations (“We just read a book about pumpkin: What goes with a pumpkin?”)
  • Synonyms (“It said the leaves felt rough, what’s another word for rough?”)
  • Antonyms (“what is the opposite of rough?”)
  • Attributes 5+ (category, function, location, appearance, accessory/necessity, composition) (“Pretend I don’t know what a pumpkin is, tell me everything you can think of about a pumpkin”)
  • Multiple Meaning Words (“The word felt has two meanings, it could mean _____ and it could also mean _______”)
  • Definitions (“what is a pumpkin”)
  • Compare and Contrast (“How are pumpkin and apple alike? How are they different?”)
  • Idiomatic expressions (“Do you know what the phrase turn into a pumpkin means?” )

Ask ‘why’ and ‘how questions in order to start teaching the student how to justify, rationalize, evaluate, and make judgments regarding presented information (“Why do you think we plant pumpkins in the spring and not in the fall?”)

Don’t forget the inferencing and predicting questions in order to further develop the client’s verbal reasoning abilities (“What do you think will happen if no one picks up the apples from the ground?)

If possible attempt to integrate components of social language into the session such as ask client to relate to a character in a story, interpret the character’s feelings (“How do you think the girl felt when her sisters made fun of her pumpkin?”), ideas and thoughts, or just read nonverbal social cues such as body language or facial expressions of characters in pictures.

Select materials which are both multipurpose and reusable as well as applicable to a variety of therapy goals. For example, let’s take a simple seasonal word wall such as the (free) —Fall Word Wall  from TPT by Pocketful of Centers. Print it out in color, cut out the word strips and note how many therapy activities you can target for articulation, language, fluency, literacy and phonological awareness, etc.

fall word wall


Practice Categorization skills via convergent and divergent naming activities: Name Fall words, Name Halloween/Thanksgiving Words, How many trees  whose leaves change color can you name?, how many vegetables and fruits do we harvest in the fall? etc.

Practice naming Associations: what goes with a witch (broom), what goes with a squirrel (acorn), etc

Practice providing Attributes via naming category, function, location, parts, size, shape, color, composition, as well as accessory/necessity.  For example, (I see a pumpkin. It’s a fruit/vegetable that you can plant, grow and eat. You find it on a farm. It’s round and orange and is the size of a ball. Inside the pumpkin are seeds. You can carve it and make a jack o lantern out of it).

Practice providing Definitions: Tell me what a skeleton is. Tell me what a scarecrow is.

Practice naming Similarities and Differences among semantically related items: How are pumpkin and apple alike? How are they different?

Practice explaining Multiple Meaning words:   What are some meanings of the word bat, witch, clown, etc?

Practice Complex Sentence Formulation: what happens in the fall? Make up a sentence with the words scarecrow and unless, make up a sentence with the words skeleton and however, etc

Phonological Awareness:

Practice Rhyming words (you can do discrimination and production activities): cat/bat/ trick/leaf/ rake/moon

Practice Syllable and Phoneme Segmentation  (I am going to say a word (e.g., leaf, corn, scarecrow, etc) and I want you to clap one time for each syllable or sound I say)

Practice Isolation of initial, medial, and final phonemes in words ( e.g., What is the beginning/final  sound in apple, hay, pumpkin etc?) What is the middle sound in rake etc?

Practice Initial and Final Syllable and Phoneme Deletion in Words  (Say spider! Now say it without the der, what do you have left? Say witch, now say it without the /ch/ what is left; say corn, now say it without the /n/, what is left?)


Practice production of select sounds/consonant clusters that you are working on or just production at word or sentence levels with those clients who just need a little bit more work in therapy increasing their intelligibility or sentence fluency.

So next time you are targeting your goals, see how you can integrate some of these suggestions into your data collection and let me know whether or not you’ve felt that it has enhanced your therapy sessions.

Happy Speeching! Thankful Clip Art Printable owl card

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Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) for Evidence Based Practice

Last year a new Facebook Group was launched for SLPs interested in evidence-based practice in speech-language pathology. It was created for clinicians to explore and make sense of a myriad of intervention promises and questionable treatments in the fields of health care and education.

The group was established specifically for the purpose of research inquiry.   It has now reached almost 10.5K membership and contains numerous threads on a variety of scientific and pseudoscientific methods, assessments, and interventions for a wide variety of conditions.

Please join us in our efforts of continually improving the quality of services for clients in our care!