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Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Site Searching Tips

Related imageOver the years this blog has amassed many posts on a variety of topics pertaining to the assessment and treatment in speech-language pathology. With over 300 posts and over 130 search categories it’s no wonder that some of you have reached out to ask about effective ways of finding relevant information quickly. As such, in addition to the existing categories pertaining to specific topics (e.g., writing, social communication, etc.) I have created two specific categories which were asked about by numerous blog subscribers in recent emails. Continue reading Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Site Searching Tips

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Analyzing Discourse Abilities of Adolescents via Peer Conflict Resolution (PCR) Tasks

A substantial portion of my caseload is comprised of adolescent learners. Since standardized assessments possess significant limitations for that age group (as well as in general), I am frequently on the lookout for qualitative clinical measures that can accurately capture their abilities in the areas of discourse, critical thinking, and social communication.

One type of an assessment that I find particularly valuable for this age group is a set of two Peer Conflict Resolution Tasks. First described in a 2007 article by Dr. Marylin Nippold and her colleagues, they assess expository discourse of adolescent learners. Continue reading Analyzing Discourse Abilities of Adolescents via Peer Conflict Resolution (PCR) Tasks

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Identifying Word Finding Deficits in Narrative Retelling of School-Aged Children

Image result for word-finding In the past, I have written several posts on the topic of word finding difficulties (HERE and HERE) as well as narrative assessments (HERE and HERE) of school-aged children. Today I am combining these posts  together by offering suggestions on how SLPs can identify word finding difficulties in narrative samples of school-aged children. Continue reading Identifying Word Finding Deficits in Narrative Retelling of School-Aged Children

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Analyzing Narratives of School-Aged Children

Related imageIn the past, I have written about why narrative assessments should be an integral part of all language evaluations.  Today, I’d like to share how I conduct my narrative assessments for comprehensive language testing purposes.

As mentioned previously, for elicitation purposes, I frequently use the books recommended by the SALT Software website, which include: ‘Frog Where Are You?’ by Mercer Mayer, ‘Pookins Gets Her Way‘ and ‘A Porcupine Named Fluffy‘ by  Helen Lester, as well as ‘Dr. DeSoto‘ by William Steig. Continue reading Analyzing Narratives of School-Aged Children

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Social Communication and Describing Skills: What is the Connection?

When it comes to the identification of social communication deficits, SLPs are in a perpetual search for quick and reliable strategies that can assist us in our quest of valid and reliable confirmation of social communication difficulties. The problem is that in some situations, it is not always functional to conduct a standardized assessment, while in others a standardized assessment may have limited value (e.g., if the test doesn’t assess or limitedly assesses social communication abilities).

So what type of tasks are sensitive to social communication deficits? Quite a few, actually. For starters, various types of narratives are quite sensitive to social communication impairment. From fictional to expository, narrative analysis can go a long way in determining whether the student presents with appropriate sequencing skills, adequate working memory, age-level grammar, and syntax, adequate vocabulary, pragmatics, perspective taking abilities, critical thinking skills, etc. But what if one doesn’t have the time to record and transcribe a narrative retelling, what then? Actually, a modified version of a narrative assessment task can still reveal a great deal about the student’s social communication abilities.

For the purpose of this particular task, I like to use photos depicting complex social communication scenarios. Then I simply ask the student: “Please describe  what is happening in this photo.”  Wait a second you may say: “That’s it? This is way too simple! You can’t possibly determine if someone has social communication deficits based on a single photo description!”

I beg to differ. Here’s an interesting fact about students with social communication deficits. Even the ones with FSIQ in the superior range of functioning (>130) with exceptionally large lexicons, still present with massive deficits when it comes to providing coherent and cohesive descriptions and summaries.

Here are just a few reasons why this happens. Research indicates that students with social communication difficulties present with Gestalt Processing deficits or difficulty “seeing/grasping the big picture”(Happe & Frith, 2006). Rather than focusing on the main idea, they tend to focus on isolated details due to which they have a tendency to provide an incomplete/partial information about visual scenes, books, passages, stories, or movies. As such, despite possessing an impressive lexicon, such students may say about the above picture: “She is drawing” or “They are outside” and omit a number of relevant to the picture details.

Research also confirms that another difficulty that students with impaired social communication abilities present with is assuming perspectives of others (e.g., relating to others, understanding/interpreting their beliefs, thoughts, feelings, etc.) (Kaland et al, 2007). As such they may miss relevant visual clues pertaining to how the boy and girl are feeling, what they are thinking, etc.

Students with social communication deficits also present with anaphoric referencing difficulties.  Rather than referring to individuals in books and pictures by name or gender, they may nonspecifically utilize personal pronouns ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’ to refer to them. Consequently, they may describe the individuals in the above photo as follows: “She is drawing and the boy is looking”; or “They are sitting at the table outside.”

Finally, students with social communication deficits may produce poorly constructed run-on (exceedingly verbose) or fragmented utterances (very brief) lacking in coherence and cohesion to describe the main idea in the above scenario (Frith, 1989).

Of course, by now many of you want to know regarding what constitutes as pragmatically appropriate descriptions for students of varying ages. For that, you can visit a thread in the SLPs for Evidence-Based Practice Group on Facebook entitled: GIANT POST WITH FREE LINKS AND RESOURCES ON THE TOPIC OF TYPICAL SPEECH AND LANGUAGE MILESTONES OF CHILDREN 0-21 YEARS OF AGE  to locate the relevant milestones by age.

Interested in seeing these assessment strategies in action? Download a FREEBIE HERE and see for yourselves.


  • Frith, U., (1989). Autism: Explaining the Enigma. Blackwell, Oxford.
  • Happe, F. & Frith, U. (2006). The weak coherence account: Detail-focused cognitive style in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36 (1), 5-25.
  • Kaland, N., Callesen, K., Moller-Nielsen, A., Mortensen, E. L., & Smith, L. (2007). Performance of children and adolescents with Asperger Syndrome or High-functioning Autism on advanced theory of mind tasks. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 38, 1112-1123.


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Clinical Assessment of Elementary-Aged Students Writing Abilities : Suggestions for SLPs

Image result for child writingRecently I wrote a blog post regarding how SLPs can qualitatively assess writing abilities of adolescent learners. Today due to popular demand, I am offering suggestions regarding how SLPs can assess writing abilities of early-elementary-aged students with suspected learning and literacy deficits. For the purpose of this post, I will focus on assessing writing of second-grade students since by second-grade students are expected to begin producing simple written compositions several sentences in length (CCSS).

So how can we analyze the writing samples of young learners? For starters, it is important to know what the typical writing expectations look like for 2nd-grade students. Here’s is a sampling of typical expectations for second graders as per several sources (e.g., CCSS, Reading Rockets, Time4Writing, etc.)

  • With respect to penmanship, students are expected to write legibly.
  • With respect to grammar, students are expected to identify and correctly use basic parts of speech such as nouns and verbs.
  • With respect to sentence structure students are expected to distinguish between complete and incomplete sentences as well as use correct subject/verb/noun/pronoun agreements and correct verb tenses in simple and compound sentences.
  • With respect to punctuation, students are expected to use periods correctly at the end of sentences. They are expected to use commas in sentences with dates and items in a series.
  • With respect to capitalization, students are expected to capitalize proper nouns, words at the beginning of sentences, letter salutations, months and days of the week, as well as titles and initials of people.
  • With respect to spelling, students are expected to spell CVC (e.g., tap), CVCe (e.g., tape), as well as CCVC words (e.g., trap), high frequency regular and irregular spelled words (e.g., were, said, why, etc),  basic inflectional endings (e.g., –ed, -ing, -s, etc), as well as to recognize select orthographic patterns and rules (e.g., when to spell /k/ or /c/ in CVC and CVCe word, how to drop one vowel (e.g., /y/) and replace it with another /i/, etc.)

Now let’s apply the above expectations to a writing sample of a 2nd-grade student whose parents are concerned with her writing abilities in addition to other language and learning concerns. This student was provided with a  typical second grade writing prompt: “Imagine you are going to the North Pole. How are you going to get there? What would you bring with you? You have 15 minutes to write your story. Please make your story at least 4 sentences long.

The following is the transcribed story produced by her. “I am going in the north pole. I am going to bring food my mom toy’s stoft (stuffed) animals. I am so icsited (excited). So we are going in a box. We are going to go done (down) the stars (stairs) with the box and wate (wait) intile (until) the male (mail) is hear (here).”

Analysis: The student’s written composition content (thought formulation and elaboration) was judged to be impaired for her grade level.  According to the CCSS, 2d grade students are expected to ‘”write narratives in which recount a well-elaborated event or short sequence of events, include details to describe actions, thoughts, and feelings, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide a sense of closure.” However, the above narrative sample by no means satisfies this requirement.  The student’s writing was excessively misspelled, as well as lacked organization and clarity of message.  While portions of her narrative appropriately addressed the question with respect to whom and what she was going to bring on her travels, her narrative quickly lost coherence by her 4th sentence, when she wrote: “So we are going in a box” with further elaborations regarding what she meant by that sentence.  Second-grade students are expected to engage in basic editing and revision of their work. This student only took four minutes to compose the above-written sample and as such had more than adequate amount of time to review the question as well as her response for spelling and punctuation errors as well as for clarity of message, which she did not do. Furthermore, despite being provided with a written prompt which contained the correct capitalization of a place: “North Pole”, the student was not observed to capitalize it in her writing, which indicates ongoing executive function difficulties with the respect to proofreading and attention to details.  

Impressions: Clinical assessment of the student’s writing revealed difficulties in the areas of spelling, capitalization, message clarity as well as lack of basic proofreading and editing, which require therapeutic intervention.   

Now let us select a few writing goals for this student.

Long-Term Goals:  Student will improve her writing abilities for academic purposes.

  • Short-Term Goals
  1. Student will label parts of speech (e.g., adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, etc.)  in compound sentences.
  2. Student will use declarative and interrogative sentence types for story composition purposes
  3. Student will correctly use past, present, and future verb tenses during writing tasks.
  4. Student will use basic punctuation at the sentence level (e.g., commas, periods, and apostrophes in singular possessives, etc.).
  5. Student will use basic capitalization at the sentence level (e.g., capitalize proper nouns, words at the beginning of sentences, months and days of the week, etc.).
  6. Student will proofread her work via reading aloud for clarity
  7. Student will edit her work for correct grammar, punctuation, and capitalization

Notice the above does not contain any spelling goals. That is because given the complexity of her spelling profile I prefer to tackle her spelling needs in a separate post, which discusses spelling development, assessment, as well as intervention recommendations for students with spelling deficits.

There you have it. A quick and easy qualitative writing assessment for elementary-aged students which can help determine the extent of the student’s writing difficulties as well as establish a few writing remediation targets for intervention purposes.

Using a different type of writing assessment with your students? Please share the details below so we can all benefit from each others knowledge of assessment strategies.



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Components of Qualitative Writing Assessments: What Exactly are We Trying to Measure?

Writing! The one assessment area that challenges many SLPs on daily basis! If one polls 10 SLPs on the topic of writing, one will get 10 completely different responses ranging from agreement and rejection to the diverse opinions regarding what should actually be assessed and how exactly it should be accomplished.

Consequently, today I wanted to focus on the basics involved in the assessment of adolescent writing. Why adolescents you may ask? Well, frankly because many SLPs (myself included) are far more likely to assess the writing abilities of adolescents rather than elementary-aged children.

Often, when the students are younger and their literacy abilities are weaker, the SLPs may not get to the assessment of writing abilities due to the students presenting with so many other deficits which require precedence intervention-wise. However, as the students get older and the academic requirements increase exponentially, SLPs may be more frequently asked to assess the students’ writing abilities because difficulties in this area significantly affect them in a variety of classes on a variety of subjects.

So what can we assess when it comes to writing? In the words of Helen Lester’s character ‘Pookins’: “Lots!”  There are various types of writing that can be assessed, the most common of which include: expository, persuasive, and fictional. Each of these can be used for assessment purposes in a variety of ways.

To illustrate, if we chose to analyze the student’s written production of fictional narratives then we may broadly choose to analyze the following aspects of the student’s writing: contextual conventions and writing composition.

The former looks at such writing aspects as the use of correct spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, paragraph formation, etc.

The latter looks at the nitty-gritty elements involved in plot development. These include effective use of literate vocabulary, plotline twists, character development,  use of dialogue, etc.

Perhaps we want to analyze the student’s persuasive writing abilities. After all, high school students are expected to utilize this type of writing frequently for essay writing purposes.  Actually, persuasive writing is a complex genre which is particularly difficult for students with language-learning difficulties who struggle to produce essays that are clear, logical, convincing, appropriately sequenced, and take into consideration opposing points of view. It is exactly for that reason that persuasive writing tasks are perfect for assessment purposes.

But what exactly are we looking for analysis wise? What should a typical 15 year old’s persuasive essays contain?

With respect to syntax, a typical student that age is expected to write complex sentences possessing nominal, adverbial, as well as relative clauses.

With the respect to semantics, effective persuasive essays require the use of literate vocabulary words of low frequency such as later developing connectors (e.g., first of all, next, for this reason, on the other hand, consequently, finally, in conclusion) as well as metalinguistic and metacognitive verbs (“metaverbs”) that refer to acts of speaking (e.g., assert, concede, predict, argue, imply) and thinking (e.g., hypothesize, remember, doubt, assume, infer).

With respect to pragmatics, as students  mature, their sensitivity to the perspectives of others improves, as a result, their persuasive essays increase in length (i.e., total number of words produced) and they are able to offer a greater number of different reasons to support their own opinions (Nippold, Ward-Lonergan, & Fanning, 2005).

Now let’s apply our knowledge by analyzing a writing sample of a 15-year-old with suspected literacy deficits. Below 10th-grade student was provided with a written prompt first described in the Nippold, et al, 2005 study, entitled: “The Circus Controversy”.   “People have different views on animals performing in circuses. For example, some people think it is a great idea because it provides lots of entertainment for the public. Also, it gives parents and children something to do together, and the people who train the animals can make some money. However, other people think having animals in circuses is a bad idea because the animals are often locked in small cages and are not fed well. They also believe it is cruel to force a dog, tiger, or elephant to perform certain tricks that might be dangerous. I am interested in learning what you think about this controversy, and whether or not you think circuses with trained animals should be allowed to perform for the public. I would like you to spend the next 20 minutes writing an essay. Tell me exactly what you think about the controversy. Give me lots of good reasons for your opinion. Please use your best writing style, with correct grammar and spelling. If you aren’t sure how to spell a word, just take a guess.”(Nippold, Ward-Lonergan, & Fanning, 2005)

He produced the following written sample during the allotted 20 minutes.

Analysis: This student was able to generate a short, 3-paragraph, composition containing an introduction and a body without a definitive conclusion. His persuasive essay was judged to be very immature for his grade level due to significant disorganization, limited ability to support his point of view as well as the presence of tangential information in the introduction of his composition, which was significantly compromised by many writing mechanics errors (punctuation, capitalization, as well as spelling) that further impacted the coherence and cohesiveness of his written output.

The student’s introduction began with an inventive dialogue, which was irrelevant to the body of his persuasive essay. He did have three important points relevant to the body of the essay: animal cruelty, danger to the animals, and potential for the animals to harm humans. However, he was unable to adequately develop those points into full paragraphs. The notable absence of proofreading and editing of the composition further contributed to its lack of clarity. The above coupled with a lack of a conclusion was not commensurate grade-level expectations.

Based on the above-written sample, the student’s persuasive composition content (thought formulation and elaboration) was judged to be significantly immature for his grade level and is commensurate with the abilities of a much younger student.  The student’s composition contained several emerging claims that suggested a vague position. However, though the student attempted to back up his opinion and support his position (animals should not be performing in circuses), ultimately he was unable to do so in a coherent and cohesive manner.

Now that we know what the student’s written difficulties look like, the following goals will be applicable with respect to his writing remediation:

Long-Term Goals:  Student will improve his written abilities for academic purposes.

  • Short-Term Goals
  1. Student will appropriately utilize parts of speech (e.g., adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, etc.)  in compound and complex sentences.
  2. Student will use a variety of sentence types for story composition purposes (e.g., declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences).
  3. Student will correctly use past, present, and future verb tenses during writing tasks.
  4. Student will utilize appropriate punctuation at the sentence level (e.g., apostrophes, periods, commas, colons, quotation marks in dialogue, and apostrophes in singular possessives, etc.).
  5. Student will utilize appropriate capitalization at the sentence level (e.g., capitalize proper nouns, holidays, product names, titles with names, initials, geographic locations, historical periods, special events, etc.).
  6. Student will use prewriting techniques to generate writing ideas (e.g., list keywords, state key ideas, etc.).
  7. Student will determine the purpose of his writing and his intended audience in order to establish the tone of his writing as well as outline the main idea of his writing.
  8. Student will generate a draft in which information is organized in chronological order via use of temporal markers (e.g., “meanwhile,” “immediately”) as well as cohesive ties (e.g., ‘but’, ‘yet’, ‘so’, ‘nor’) and cause/effect transitions (e.g., “therefore,” “as a result”).
  9. Student will improve coherence and logical organization of his written output via the use of revision strategies (e.g., modify supporting details, use sentence variety, employ literary devices).
  10. Student will edit his draft for appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.

There you have it. A quick and easy qualitative writing assessment which can assist SLPs to determine the extent of the student’s writing difficulties as well as establish writing remediation targets for intervention purposes.

Using a different type of writing assessment with your students? Please share the details below so we can all benefit from each others knowledge of assessment strategies.


  • Nippold, M., Ward-Lonergan, J., & Fanning, J. (2005). Persuasive writing in children, adolescents, and adults: a study of syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic development. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 36, 125-138.


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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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Early Intervention Part V: Assessing Feeding and Swallowing in Children Under Three

  1. General speech and language assessments of children under 3 years of age.
  2. Assessments of toddlers with suspected motor speech disorders 
  3. Assessments of children ~16-18 months of age
  4. Assessments of Social Pragmatic Abilities of Children Under 3

Today I’d like to talk about the assessment of feeding abilities of children under 3 years of age. Just to be clear, in my post, I am not offering tips on the assessment of medically fragile or neurologically impaired children with complex swallowing and feeding disorders such as severe food selectivity. Rather, I am offering suggestions for routine orofacial and feeding assessments of young children with normal swallowing but slightly immature feeding abilities.

First, let take a look at what the typical feeding development looks like in children 0-3 years of age. For this, I really like to use a resource from Dr. Joan Arvedson entitledDevelopmental milestones and feeding skills birth to 36 months from her article Swallowing and feeding in infants and young children which was published online in 2006

Age (months) Development/posture Feeding/oral sensorimotor
Source: Adapted from Arvedson and Brodsky (pp. 62–67).
Birth to 4–6 Neck and trunk with balanced flexor and extensor tone
Visual fixation and tracking
Learning to control body against gravity
Sitting with support near 6 months
Rolling over
Brings hands to mouth
Nipple feeding, breast, or bottle
Hand on bottle during feeding (2–4 months)
Maintains semiflexed posture during feeding
Promotion of infant–parent interaction
6–9 (transition feeding) Sitting independently for short time
Self-oral stimulation (mouthing hands and toys)
Extended reach with pincer grasp
Visual interest in small objects
Object permanence
Stranger anxiety
Crawling on belly, creeping on all fours
Feeding more upright position
Spoon feeding for thin, smooth puree
Suckle pattern initially Suckle  suck
Both hands to hold bottle
Finger feeding introduced
Vertical munching of easily dissolvable solids
Preference for parents to feed
9–12 Pulling to stand
Cruising along furniture
First steps by 12 months
Assisting with spoon; some become independent
Refining pincer grasp
Cup drinking
Eats lumpy, mashed food
Finger feeding for easily dissolvable solids
Chewing includes rotary jaw action
12–18 Refining all gross and fine motor skills
Walking independently
Climbing stairs
Grasping and releasing with precision
Self-feeding: grasps spoon with whole hand
Holding cup with 2 hands
Drinking with 4–5 consecutive swallows
Holding and tipping bottle
>18–24 Improving equilibrium with refinement of upper extremity coordination.
Increasing attention and persistence in play activities
Parallel or imitative play
Independence from parents
Using tools
Swallowing with lip closure
Self-feeding predominates
Chewing broad range of food
Up–down tongue movements precise
24–36 Refining skills
Jumping in place
Pedaling tricycle
Using scissors
Circulatory jaw rotations
Chewing with lips closed
One-handed cup holding and open cup drinking with no spilling
Using fingers to fill spoon
Eating wide range of solid food
Total self-feeding, using fork

Now, let’s discuss the importance of examining the child’s facial features and oral structures. During these examinations it is important to document anything out of the ordinary noted in the child’s facial features or oral cavity.

Facial dysmorphia, signs of asymmetry indicative of paresis, unusual spots, nodules, openings, growths, etc, all need to be documented.  Note the condition of the child’s mouth. Is there excessive tooth decay? Do you see an unusual absence of teeth? Is there an unusual bite (open, cross, etc.), unusual voice or a cough, in the absence of a documented illness?  Here’s an example from a write up on a 2-8-year-old male toddler, below:

Facial observations revealed dysmorphic features: microcephaly (small head circumference), anteriorly rotated ears (wide set), and medially deviated, inward set eyes. A presence of mild-moderate hypotonicity (low tone) of the face [and trunk] was also noted.  FA presented with mostly closed mouth posture and appropriate oral postural control at rest but moderate drooling (drool fell on clothes vs. touching chin only) was noted during speech tasks and during play.  It’s important to note that the latter might be primarily behavioral in origin since FA was also observed to engage in “drool play” – gathering oral secretions at lip level then slowly and deliberately expelling them in a thin stream from his mouth and onto his shirt.

Articulatory structures including lips, tongue, hard palate and velum appeared to be unremarkable and are adequate for speech purposes. FA’s dentition was adequate for speech purposes as well.  Oral motor function was appropriate for lingual lateralization, labial retraction, volitional pucker and lingual elevation. Lingual depression was not achieved.  Diadochokinesis for sequential and alternate movements was unremarkable.  Overall, FA’s oral structures and function presented to be adequate for speech production purposes. 

FA’s prosody, pitch, and loudness were within normal limits for age and gender. No clinical dysfluencies were present during the evaluation.  Vocal quality was remarkable for intermittent hoarseness which tended to decrease (clear up) as speech output increased and may be largely due to a cold (he presented with a runny nose during the assessment). Vocal quality should continue to be monitored during therapy sessions for indications of persistent hoarseness in the absence of a cold.

From there I typically segue into a discussion of the child’s feeding and swallowing abilities. Below is an excerpt discussing the strengths and needs of an 18-month-old internationally adopted female.

During the assessment concerns presented regarding AK’s feeding abilities only. No swallowing concerns were reported or observed during the assessment. As per the parental report, at the age of 18 months, AK is still drinking from the bottle and consuming only puréed foods, which is significantly delayed for a child her age. AK’s feeding skills were assessed at snack time via indirect observation and select direct food administration.  The following foods and liquids were presented to AK during the assessment: 2 oz of yogurt, 18 cheerios, 4 banana and 2 apple bites, and 40 ml of water (via cup and straw). AK was observed to accept all of the above foods and liquids readily when offered.

Image result for toddler biting foodSpoon Stripping and Mouth Closure: During the yogurt presentation, AK’s spoon stripping abilities and mouth closure were deemed good (adequate) when fed by a caregiver and fair when AK fed self (incomplete food stripping from the spoon was observed due to only partial mouth closure). According to parental report, AK’s spoon stripping abilities have improved in recent months. Ms. K was observed to present spoon upwardly in AK’s mouth and hold it still until AK placed her lips firmly around the spoon and initiated spoon stripping.  Since this strategy is working adequately for all parties in question no further recommendations regarding spoon feeding are necessary at this time. Skill monitoring is recommended on an ongoing basis for further refinement.  

Biting and Chewing Abilities on Solids and Semi-Solids: AK’s chewing abilities were judged to be immature at this time for both solid (e.g., Cheerios) and semi-solid foods (e.g., banana). AK was observed to feed self Cheerios from a plate (1 at a time). She placed a cheerio laterally on lower right molars and attempted to grind it.  When the cheerio was presented to AK midline she was observed to anteriorly munch it, or mash it against the hard palate.  Notably, when too many cheerios were presented to her, rather than grasping and consuming them AK began to bang on a plate with both hands and throw the cheerios around the room. 

During feeding, the most difficulty was observed with biting and chewing solid and semisolid fruit (e.g., apple and banana pieces). When presented with a banana, AK manifested moderate difficulties biting off an adequately sized piece (she bit off too much). Consequently, due to the fact that she was unable to adequately chew on a piece that large, manual extraction of food from the oral cavity was initiated due to choking concerns.  It is important to note that during all food presentations AK did not display a diagonal rotary chew, which is below age expectancy for a child her age. Feeding strengths noted during today’s assessment included complete mouth closure (including lack of drooling and anterior food loss) during assisted spoon and finger foods feeding.

Image result for toddler drinking from strawCup and Straw Drinking: AK was also observed to drink 40 mls of water from a cup given parental assistance.  Minor anterior spillage was intermittently noted during liquid intake. It is recommended that the parents modify cup presentation by providing AK with a plastic cup with two handles on each side, which would improve her ability to grasp and maintain hold on cup while drinking.

Straw drinking trials were attempted during the assessment as it is a skill which typically emerges between 8-9 months of age and solidifies around 12-13 months of age (Hunt et al, 2000).  When AK was presented with a shortened straw placed in cup, she was initially able to create enough intraoral pressure to suck in a small amount of liquid.  However, AK quickly lost the momentum and began to tentatively chew on the presented straw as which point the trial was discontinued.

Based on the feeding assessment AK presented with mildly decreased abilities in the oral phase of feeding. It is recommended that she receive feeding therapy with a focus on refining her feeding abilities.”  

I follow the above, with a summary of evaluation impressions, recommendations, as well as suggested therapy goals. Finally, I conclude my report with a statement regarding the child’s prognosis (e.g., excellent, good, fair, etc.) as well as list potential maintaining factors affecting the duration of therapy provision.

So what about you? How do you assess the feeding and swallowing of abilities of children under 3 on your caseload? What foods, tasks, and procedures do you use?



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Adolescent Assessments in Action: Informal Reading Evaluation

Image result for adolescentsIn the past several years, due to an influx of adolescent students with language and learning difficulties on my caseload, I have begun to research in depth aspects of adolescent language development, assessment, and intervention.

While a number of standardized assessments are available to test various components of adolescent language from syntax and semantics to problem-solving and social communication, etc. in my experience with this age group, frequently, the informal assessments (vs. the standardized tests)which do a far better job of teasing out language difficulties in adolescents.

Today I wanted to write about the importance of performing an informal reading assessment as part of select* adolescent language and literacy evaluations.

There are a number of standardized tests on the market, which presently assess reading. However, not all of them by far are as functional as many clinicians would like them to be. To illustrate, one popular reading assessment is the Gray Oral Reading Tests-5 (GORT-5).  It assesses the student’s rate, accuracy, fluency, and comprehension abilities. While it’s a useful test to possess in one’s assessment toolbox, it is not without its limitations. In my experience assessing adolescent students with literacy deficits, many can pass this test with average scores, yet still present with pervasive reading comprehension difficulties in the school setting. As such, as part of the assessment process, I like to administer informal reading assessments to students who pass the standardized reading tests (e.g., GORT-5),  in order to ensure that the student does not possess any reading deficits at the grade  text level.

So how do I informally assess reading abilities of struggling adolescent learners?

First, I select one-page long grade level/below grade level text. I ask the student in question to read that text, and time the first minute of their reading in order to analyze the oral reading fluency or words correctly read per minute (wcpm).

Content Reading: ScienceFor this purpose, I often use the books from the Continental Press series entitled: Reading Comprehension for Social Studies & Science.   Texts for grades 5 – 7 of the series are perfect for assessment of struggling adolescent readers. In some cases using a below grade level text allows me to starkly illustrate the extent of the student’s reading difficulties. Below is an example of one of such informal rading assessments in action.


Content Reading: Social ScienceAn informal reading assessment was administered to TS, a 15-5-year-old male, on a supplementary basis in order to further analyze his reading abilities. Given the fact that TS was reported to present with grade-level reading difficulties, the examiner gave TS a 7th-grade text by Continental Press. TS was asked to read aloud the 7 paragraph long text, and then answer factual and inferential questions, summarize the presented information, define select context embedded vocabulary words as well as draw conclusions based on the presented text. (Please note that in order to protect the client’s privacy some portions of the below assessment questions and responses were changed to be deliberately vague).

Image result for reading fluency componentsReading Fluency: TS’s reading fluency (automaticity, prosody, accuracy and speed, expression, intonation, and phrasing) during the reading task was marked by monotone vocal quality, awkward word stress, imprecise articulatory contacts, false-starts, self–revisions, awkward mid-sentential pauses, limited pausing for punctuation, as well as  misreadings and word substitutions, all of which resulted in an impaired reading prosody.

With respect to specific errors, TS was observed to occasionally add word fillers to text (e.g., and, a, etc.), change morphological endings of select words (e.g., read /elasticity/ as /elastic/, etc.) as well as substitute similar looking words (e.g., from/for; those/these, etc.) during reading.  He occasionally placed stress on the first vs. second syllable in disyllabic words, which resulted in distorted word productions (e.g., products, residual, upward, etc.), as well as inserted extra words into text (e.g., read: “until pressure inside the earth starts to build again” as “until pressure inside the earth starts to build up again”). He also began reading a number of his sentences with false starts (e.g., started reading the word “drinking” as ‘drunk’, etc.) and as a result was observed to make a number of self-corrections during reading.

During reading TS demonstrated adequate tracking movements for text scanning as well as use of context to aid his decoding.  For example, TS was observed to read the phonetic spelling of select unfamiliar words in parenthesis (e.g., equilibrium) and then read them correctly in subsequent sentences. However, he exhibited limited use of metalinguistic strategies and did not always self-correct misread words; dispute the fact that they did not always make sense in the context of the read sentences.

TS’s oral reading rate during today’s reading was judged to be reduced for his age/grade levels. An average 8th grader is expected to have an oral reading rate between 145 and 160 words per minute. In contrast, TS was only able to read 114 words per minute. However, it is important to note that recent research on reading fluency has indicated that as early as by 4th grade reading faster than 90 wcpm will not generate increases in comprehension for struggling readers.  Consequently, TS’s current reading rate of off 114 words per minute was judged to be adequate for reading purposes. Furthermore, given the fact that TS’s reading comprehension is already compromised at this rate (see below for further details) rather than making a recommendation to increase his reading rate further, it is instead recommended that intervention focuses on slowing TS’s rate via relevant strategies as well as improving his reading comprehension abilities. Strategies should focus on increasing his opportunities to learn domain knowledge via use of informational texts; purposeful selection of texts to promote knowledge acquisition and gain of expertise in different domains; teaching morphemic as well as semantic feature analyses (to expand upon already robust vocabulary), increasing discourse and critical thinking with respect to informational text, as well as use of graphic organizers to teach text structure and conceptual frameworks.

Verbal Text Summary: TS’s text summary following his reading was very abbreviated, simplified, and confusing. When asked: “What was this text about?” Rather than stating the main idea, TS nonspecifically provided several vague details and was unable to elaborate further. When asked: “Do you think you can summarize this story for me from beginning to the end?” TS produced the two disjointed statements, which did not adequately address the presented question When asked: What is the main idea of this text.” TS vaguely responded: “Science,” which was the broad topic rather than the main idea of the story.

Image result for vocabularyText Vocabulary Comprehension:

After that, TS was asked a number of questions regarding story vocabulary.  The first word presented to him was “equilibrium”.  When asked: “What does ‘equilibrium’ mean?” TS first incorrectly responded: “temperature”. Then when prompted: “Anything else?” TS correctly replied: “balance.” He was then asked to provide some examples of how nature leans towards equilibrium from the story. TS nonspecifically produced: “Ah, gravity.” When asked to explain how gravity contributes to the process of equilibrium TS again nonspecifically replied: “gravity is part of the planet”, and could not elaborate further. TS was then asked to define another word from the text provided to him in a sentence: “Scientists believe that this is residual heat remaining from the beginnings of the solar system.” What is the meaning of the word: “residual?” TS correctly identified: “remaining.” Then the examiner asked him to define the term found in the last paragraph of the text: “What is thermal equilibrium?” TS nonspecifically responded: “a balance of temperature”, and was unable to elaborate further.

Image result for reading comprehensionReading Comprehension (with/out text access):

TS was also asked to respond to a number of factual text questions without the benefit of visual support. However, he presented with significant difficulty recalling text details. TS was asked: When asked, “Why did this story mention ____? What did they have to do with ____?” TS responded nonspecifically, “______.” When prompted to tell more, TS produced a rambling response which did not adequately address the presented question. When asked: “Why did the text talk about bungee jumpers? How are they connected to it?” TS stated, “I am ah, not sure really.” 

Finally, TS was provided with a brief worksheet which accompanied the text and asked to complete it given the benefit of written support. While TS’s performance on this task was better, he still achieved only 66% accuracy and was only able to answer 4 out of 6 questions correctly. On this task, TS presented with difficulty identifying the main idea of the third paragraph, even after being provided with multiple choice answers. He also presented with difficulty correctly responding to the question pertaining to the meaning of the last paragraph.

Image result for impressionsImpressions: Informal below grade-level reading comprehension assessment reading revealed that TS presents with a number of reading related difficulties.   TS’s reading fluency was marked by monotone vocal quality, awkward word stress, imprecise articulatory contacts, false-starts, self–revisions, awkward mid-sentential pauses, limited pausing for punctuation, as well as misreadings and word substitutions, all of which resulted in an impaired reading prosody. TS’s understanding as well as his verbal summary of the presented text was immature for his age and was characterized by impaired gestalt processing of information resulting in an ineffective and confusing summarization.  While TS’s text-based vocabulary knowledge was deemed to be grossly adequate for his age, his reading comprehension abilities were judged to be impaired for his age. Therapeutic intervention is strongly recommended to improve TS’s reading abilities. (See Impressions and Recommendations sections for further details).

There you have it! This is just one of many different types of informal reading assessments, which I occasionally conduct with adolescents who attain average scores on reading fluency and reading comprehension tests such as the GORT-5 or the Test of Reading Comprehension -4 (TORC-4), but still present with pervasive reading difficulties working with grade level text.

You can find more information on the topic of adolescent assessments (including other comprehensive informal write-up examples) in this recently developed product entitled: Assessment of Adolescents with Language and Literacy Impairments in Speech Language Pathology currently available in my online store.

What about you? What type of informal tasks and materials are you using to assess your adolescent students’ reading abilities and why do you like using them?

Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Adolescent Assessment Resources: