Today I am writing my last installment in the five-part early intervention assessment series. My previous posts on this topic included:
- General speech and language assessments of children under 3 years of age.
- Assessments of toddlers with suspected motor speech disorders
- Assessments of children ~16-18 months of age
- 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 entitled: Developmental 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
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
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
Eats lumpy, mashed food
Finger feeding for easily dissolvable solids
Chewing includes rotary jaw action
|12–18||Refining all gross and fine motor skills
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
|Swallowing with lip closure
Chewing broad range of food
Up–down tongue movements precise
Jumping in place
|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.
Spoon 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.
Cup 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?
To date, I have written 3 posts on speech and language assessments of children under 3 years of age. My first post offered suggestions on what information to include in general speech-language assessments for this age group, my second post specifically discussed assessments of toddlers with suspected motor speech disorders and my third post described what information I tend to include in reports for children ~16-18 months of age.
Today, I’d like to offer some suggestions on the assessment of social emotional functioning and pragmatics of children, ages 3 and under.
For starters, below is the information I found compiled by a number of researchers on select social pragmatic milestones for the 0-3 age group:
- Peters, Kimberly (2013) Hierarchy of Social/Pragmatic Skills as Related to the Development of Executive Function
- Hutchins & Prelock, (2016) Select Social Cognitive Milestones from the Theory of Mind Atlas
3. Development of Theory of Mind (Westby, 2014)
In my social pragmatic assessments of the 0-3 population, in addition, to the child’s adaptive behavior during the assessment, I also describe the child’s joint attention, social emotional reciprocity, as well as social referencing abilities.
Joint attention is the shared focus of two individuals on an object. Responding to joint attention refers to the child’s ability to follow the direction of the gaze and gestures of others in order to share a common point of reference. Initiating joint attention involves child’s use of gestures and eye contact to direct others’ attention to objects, to events, and to themselves. The function of initiating joint attention is to show or spontaneously seek to share interests or pleasurable experience with others. (Mundy, et al, 2007)
Social emotional reciprocity involves being aware of the emotional and interpersonal cues of others, appropriately interpreting those cues, responding appropriately to what is interpreted as well as being motivated to engage in social interactions with others (LaRocque and Leach,2009).
Social referencing refers to a child’s ability to look at a caregiver’s cues such as facial expressions, body language and tone of voice in an ambiguous situation in order to obtain clarifying information. (Walden & Ogan, 1988)
Here’s a brief excerpt from an evaluation of a child ~18 months of age:
“RA’s joint attention skills, social emotional reciprocity as well as social referencing were judged to be appropriate for his age. For example, when Ms. N let in the family dog from the deck into the assessment room, RA immediately noted that the dog wanted to exit the room and go into the hallway. However, the door leading to the hallway was closed. RA came up to the closed door and attempted to reach the doorknob. When RA realized that he cannot reach to the doorknob to let the dog out, he excitedly vocalized to get Ms. N’s attention, and then indicated to her in gestures that the dog wanted to leave the room.”
If I happen to know that a child is highly verbal, I may actually include a narrative assessment, when evaluating toddlers in the 2-3 age group. Now, of course, true narratives do not develop in children until they are bit older. However, it is possible to limitedly assess the narrative abilities of verbal children in this age group. According to Hedberg & Westby (1993) typically developing 2-year-old children are at the Heaps Stage of narrative development characterized by
- Storytelling in the form of a collection of unrelated ideas which consist of labeling and describing events
- Frequent switch of topic is evident with lack of central theme and cohesive devices
- The sentences are usually simple declarations which contain repetitive syntax and use of present or present progressive tenses
- In this stage, children possess limited understanding that the character on the next page is still same as on the previous page
In contrast, though typically developing children between 2-3 years of age in the Sequences Stage of narrative development still arbitrarily link story elements together without transitions, they can:
- Label and describe events about a central theme with stories that may contain a central character, topic, or setting
To illustrate, below is a narrative sample from a typically developing 2-year-old child based on the Mercer Mayer’s classic wordless picture book: “Frog Where Are You?”
- He put a froggy in there
- He’s sleeping
- Froggy came out
- Where did did froggy go?
- Now the dog fell out
- Then he got him
- You are a silly dog
- And then
- where did froggy go?
- In in there
- Up up into the tree
- Up there an owl
- A reindeer caught him
- Then he dropped him
- Then he went into snow
- And then he cleaned up that
- Then stopped right there and see what wha wha wha what he found
- He found two froggies
- They lived happily ever after
Of course, a play assessment for this age group is a must. Since, in my first post, I offered a play skills excerpt from one of my early intervention assessments and in my third blog post, I included a link to the Revised Westby Play Scale (Westby, 2000), I will now move on to the description of a few formal instruments I find very useful for this age group.
While some criterion-referenced instruments such as the Rossetti, contain sections on Interaction-Attachment and Pragmatics, there are other assessments which I prefer for evaluating social cognition and pragmatic abilities of toddlers.
For toddlers 18+months of age, I like using the Language Use Inventory (LUI) (O’Neill, 2009) which is administered in the form of a parental questionnaire that can be completed in approximately 20 minutes. Aimed at identifying children with delay/impairment in pragmatic language development it contains 180 questions and divided into 3 parts and 14 subscales including:
- Communication w/t gestures
- Communication w/t words
- Longer sentences
Therapists can utilize the Automated Score Calculator, which accompanies the LUI in order to generate several pages write up or summarize the main points of the LUI’s findings in their evaluation reports.
Below is an example of a summary I wrote for one of my past clients, 35 months of age.
AN’s ability to use language was assessed via the administration of the Language Use Inventory (LUI). The LUI is a standardized parental questionnaire for children ages 18-47 months aimed at identifying children with delay/impairment in pragmatic language development. Composed of 3 parts and 14 subscales it focuses on how the child communicates with gestures, words and longer sentences.
On the LUI, AN obtained a raw score of 53 and a percentile rank of <1, indicating profoundly impaired performance in the area of language use. While AN scored in the average range in the area of varied word use, deficits were noted with requesting help, word usage for notice, lack of questions and comments regarding self and others, lack of reciprocal word usage in activities with others, humor relatedness, adapting to conversations to others, as well as difficulties with building longer sentences and stories.
Based on above results AN presents with significant social pragmatic language weaknesses characterized by impaired ability to use language for a variety of language functions (initiate, comment, request, etc), lack of reciprocal word usage in activities with others, humor relatedness, lack of conversational abilities, as well as difficulty with spontaneous sentence and story formulation as is appropriate for a child his age. Therapeutic intervention is strongly recommended to improve AN’s social pragmatic abilities.
In addition to the LUI, I recently discovered the Theory of Mind Inventory-2. The ToMI-2 was developed on a normative sample of children ages 2 – 13 years. For children between 2-3 years of age, it offers a 14 question Toddler Screen (shared here with author’s permission). While due to the recency of my discovery, I have yet to use it on an actual client, I did have fun creating a report with it on a fake client.
First, I filled out the online version of the 14 question Toddler Screen (paper version embedded in the link above for illustration purposes). Typically the parents are asked to place slashes on the form in relevant areas, however, the online version requested that I use numerals to rate skill acquisition, which is what I had done. After I had entered the data, the system generated a relevant report for my imaginary client. In addition to the demographic section, the report generated the following information (below):
- A bar graph of the client’s skills breakdown in the developed, undecided and undeveloped ranges of the early ToM development scale.
- Percentile scores of how the client did in the each of the 14 early ToM measures
- Median percentiles of scores
- Table for treatment planning broken down into strengths and challenges
I find the information provided to me by the Toddler Screen highly useful for assessment and treatment planning purposes and definitely have plans on using this portion of the TOM-2 Inventory as part of my future toddler evaluations.
Of course, the above instruments are only two of many, aimed at assessing social pragmatic abilities of children under 3 years of age, so I’d like to hear from you! What formal and informal instruments are you using to assess social pragmatic abilities of children under 3 years of age? Do you have a favorite one, and if so, why do you like it?
- Hedberg, N.L., & Westby, C.E. (1993). Analyzing story-telling skills: Theory to practice. AZ: Communication Skill Builders.
- Mundy P, Block J, Delgado C, Pomares Y, Vaughan Van Hecke A, Parlade MV. (2007) Individual Differences and the Development of Joint Attention in Infancy. Child Development. 78:938–954
- LaRocque, M., & Leach, D. (2009). Increasing social reciprocity in young children with Autism. Intervention in School and Clinic, 10(5), 1-7.
- O’Neill, D. (2009). Language Use Inventory: An assessment of young children’s pragmatic language development for 18- to 47-month-old children [Manual]. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada Knowledge in Development
- Tomasello, M. (1995). Joint attention as social cognition. In C. Moore, & P. J. Dunham (Eds.), Joint attention: It’s origins and role in development (pp. 103–130). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Walden, T., & Ogan, T. (1988). The development of social referencing. Child Development, 59, 1230-1240.
- Westby, C. & Robinson, L. (2014). A developmental perspective for promoting theory of mind. Topics in
Language Disorders, 34(4), 362-383.
In this post, I am continuing my series of articles on speech and language assessments of children under 3 years of age. My first installment in this series offered suggestions regarding what information to include in general speech-language assessments for this age group, while my second post specifically discussed assessments of toddlers with suspected motor speech disorders.
Today, I’d like to describe what information I tend to include in reports for children ~16-18 months of age. As I mentioned in my previous posts, the bulk of children I assess under the age of 3, are typically aged 30 months or older. However, a relatively small number of children are brought in for an assessment around an 18-month mark, which is the age group that I would like to discuss today.
Typically, these children are brought in due to a lack of or minimal speech-language production. Interestingly enough, based on the feedback of colleagues, this group is surprisingly hard to report on. While all SLPs will readily state that 18-month-old children are expected to have a verbal vocabulary of at least 50 words and begin to combine them into two-word utterances (e.g., ‘daddy eat’). When prompted: “Well, what else should my child be capable of?” many SLPs draw a blank regarding what else to say to parents on the spot.
As mentioned in my previous post on assessment of children under 3, the following sections should be an integral part of every early intervention speech-language assessment:
- Background History
- Language Development and Use (Free Questionnaires)
- Adaptive Behavior
- Play Assessment (Westby, 2000) (Westby Play Scale-Revised Link)
- Auditory Function
- Oral Motor Exam
- Feeding and Swallowing
- Vocal Parameters
- Fluency and Resonance
- Articulation and Phonology
- Phonetic inventory
- Phonotactic Repertoire
- Speech intelligibility
- Phonological Processes Analysis (Independent and Relational)
- Receptive Language
- Expressive Language
- Social Emotional Development
- Pragmatic Language
- Suggested Therapy Goals
- References (if pertinent to a particular report)
In my two previous posts, I’ve also offered examples of select section write-ups (e.g., receptive, expressive phonology, etc.). Below a would like to offer a few more for this age group. Below is an example of a write-up on an 18-month-old bilingual child with a very limited verbal output.
L’s receptive language skills were solid at 8 months of age (as per clinical observations and REEL-3 findings) which is significantly below age-expectancy for a child her age (18 months). During the assessment L received credit for appropriately reacting to prohibitive verbalizations (e.g., “No”, “Stop”), attending to speaker when her name was spoken, performing a routine activity upon request (when combined with gestures), looking at familiar object when named, finding the aforementioned familiar object when not in sight, as well as pointing to select body parts on Mrs. L and self (though identification on self was limited). L is also reported to be able to respond to yes/no questions by head nods and shakes.
However, during the assessment L was unable to consistently follow 1 and 2 step directions without gestural cues, understand and perform simple actions per clinician’s request, select objects from a group of 3-5 items given a verbal command, select familiar puzzle pieces from a visual field of 2 choices, understand simple ‘wh questions (e.g., “what?”, “where?”), point to objects or pictures when named, identify simple pictures of objects in book, or display the knowledge and understanding of age appropriate content, function and early concept words (in either Russian or English) as is appropriate for a child her age.
EXPRESSIVE LANGUAGE and ARTICULATION
L’s expressive language skills were judged to be solid at 7 months of age (as per clinical observations and REEL-3 findings), which is significantly below age-expectancy for a child her age (18 months). L was observed to spontaneously use proto-imperative gestures (eye gaze, reaching, and leading [by hand]), vocalizations, as well waving for the following language functions: requesting, rejecting, regulating own environment as well as providing closure (waving goodbye).
L’s spontaneous vocalizations consisted primarily of reduplicated babbling (with a limited range of phonemes) which is significantly below age-expectancy for a child her age (see below for developmental norms). During the assessment, L was observed to frequently vocalize “da-da-da”. However, it was unclear whether she was vocalizing to request objects (in Russian “dai” means “give”) due to the fact that she was not observed to consistently vocalize the above solely when requesting items. Additionally, L was not observed to engage in reciprocal babbling or syllable/word imitation during today’s assessment, which is a concern for a child her age. When the examiner attempted to engage L in structured imitation tasks by offering and subsequently denying a toy of interest until L attempted to imitate the desired sound, L became easily frustrated and initiated tantrum behavior. During the assessment, L was not observed to imitate any new sounds trialed with her by the examiner.
During today’s assessment, L’s primary means of communication consisted of eye gaze, reaching, crying, gestures, as well as sound and syllable vocalizations. L’s phonetic inventory consisted of the following consonant sounds: plosives (/p/, /b/ as reported by Mrs. L), alveolars (/t/, /d/ as reported and observed), fricative (/v/ as observed), velar (/g/ as observed), as well as nasal (/n/, and /m/ as observed). L was also observed to produce two vowels /a/ and a pharyngeal /u/. L’s phonotactic repertoire was primarily restricted to reported CV(C-consonant; V-vowel) and VCV syllable shapes, which is significantly reduced for a child her age.
According to developmental norms, a child of L’s age (18 months) is expected to produce a wide variety of consonants (e.g., [b, d, m, n, h, w] in initial and [t, h, s] in final position of words) as well as most vowels. (Robb, & Bleile,(1994); Selby, Robb & Gilbert, 2000). During this time the child’s vocabulary size increases to 50+ words at which point children begin to combine these words to produce simple phrases and sentences (as per Russian and English developmental norms). Additionally, an, 18 months old child is expected to begin monitoring and repairing own utterances, adjusting speech to different listeners, as well as practicing sounds, words, and early sentences. (Clark, adapted by Owens, 2015)
Based on the above guidelines L’s receptive and expressive language, as well as articulation abilities, are judged to be significantly below age expectancy at this time. Speech and language therapy is strongly recommended in order to improve L’s speech and language skills.
Typically when the assessed young children exhibit very limited comprehension and expression, I tend to provide their caregivers with a list of developmental expectations for that specific age group (given the range of a few months) along with recommendations of communication facilitation. Below is an example of such a list, pulled a variety of resources.
Developmental Milestones expected of a 16-18 months old toddler:
- Make frequent spontaneous eye contact with adults during interactions
- Turn head to look towards the new voice, when another person begins to talk
- Make 3-point gaze shifts by 1. looking at a toy in hand, 2. then at an adult, 3. then back to the toy
- Make 4-point gaze shifts if more than one person is in the room – by looking from a toy in hand to one person, then the other person, then back to the toy,
- Spontaneously attend to book, activity for 2-3+ minutes without redirection
Reaching and Gestures:
- Show objects in hand to an adult (without actually giving them)
- Push away items that aren’t wanted
- Engage in give and take games when holding objects with an adult
- Imitate simple gestures such as clapping hands or waving bye-bye
- Hand an object to an adult to ask for help with it
- Shake head “no?”
- Attempt to actively explore toys (e.g., push or spin parts of toys, turn toys over, roll them back and forth)
- Repeat interesting actions with toys (e.g., make a toy produce an unusual noise, then attempt to make the noise again)
- Imitate simple play activities (adult bangs two blocks together, then child imitates)
- Use objects on daily basis (e.g., when given a spoon or cup the child attempts to feed himself. When putting on clothes the child begins to lift his arms in anticipation of a shirt going on.)
Receptive (Listening Skills):
- Consistently follow 1 and 2 step directions without gestural cues
- Understand and perform simple actions per request (“sit down” or “come here”) without gestures
- Select objects from a group of 3 items given a verbal command
- Select familiar puzzle pieces from a visual field of 2 choices
- Understand simple ‘wh questions (e.g., “what?”, “where?”)
- Point to objects or pictures when named
- Spontaneously and consistently identify simple pictures of objects in book
- Stop momentarily what he is doing if an adult says “no” in a firm voice
- Identify 2-3 common everyday objects or body parts when asked
Expressive (Speaking Skills):
- Produce a wide variety of consonants (e.g., [b, d, m, n, h, w] in initial and [t, h, s] in final position of words) as well as most vowels. (Robb, & Bleile,(1994); Selby, Robb & Gilbert, 2000).
- Have a vocabulary size nearing 50 words (e.g., 35-40)
- Imitate adult words or vocalizations
- Attempt to practice sounds and words (Clark, adapted by Owens, 2015)
- Appropriately label familiar objects (foods, toys, animals)
Materials to use with the child to promote language and play:
- Cause and effect toys
- Toys with a variety of textures (soft toys, plastic toys, cardboard blocks, ridged balls)
- Toys with multiple actions
- Toys with special effects: lights, sounds, movement (push and go vehicles)
- Building and linking toys
- Toys with multiple parts
- Balls, cars and trucks, animals, dolls
- Pop-up picture books
- Toys the child demonstrates an interest in (parents should advise)
- Reduce distractions (noise, clutter etc)
- Provide one on one interaction in a structured space (e.g., sitting at the play table or sitting on parent’s lap) to improve attention
- Offer favorite activities and toys of interest initially before branching out to new materials
- Offer favorite foods/toys as reinforcers to continue working
- Offer choices of two toys, then remove one toy and focus interaction with one toy of interest
- Try to prolong attention to toy for several minutes at a time
- Change activities frequently, HOWEVER, repeat same activities in cycles over and over again during home practice in order to solidify skills
- Label objects and actions in the child’s immediate environment
- Use brief but loud utterances (2-3 words not more) to gain attention and understanding
- Frequently repeat words in order to ensure understanding of what is said/expected of child
- Use combination of gestures, signs, words, and pictures to teach new concepts
- Do not force child to speak if he doesn’t want to rather attempt to facilitate production of gestures/sounds (e.g., use “hand over hand” to show child the desired gesture such as pointing/waving/motioning in order to reduce his/her frustration
- Use play activities as much as possible to improve child’s ability to follow directions and comprehend language
- Doll House (with Little People)
- Farm, etc
Core vocabulary categories for listening and speaking:
- Favorite and familiar toys and objects
- Names of people in the child’s life as well as his own name
- Favorite or familiar foods
- Body parts
- Names of daily activities and actions (go, fall, drink, eat, walk, wash, open)
- Recurrence (more)
- Names of places (bed, outside)
- Safety words (hot, no, stop, dangerous, hurt, don’t touch, yuck, wait)
- Condition words (boo-boo, sick/hurt, mad, happy)
- Early pronouns (me, mine)
- Social words (hi, bye, please, sorry)
- Early concepts: in, off, on, out, big, hot, one, up, down, yucky, wet, all done)
- Owens, R. E. (2015). Language development: An introduction (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
- Rescorla, L. (1989). The Language Development Survey: A screening tool for delayed language in toddlers. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 54, 587–599.
- Rescorla, L., Hadicke-Wiley, M., & Escarce, E. (1993). Epidemiological investigation of expressive language delay
at age two. First Language, 13, 5–22.
- Robb, M. P., & Bleile, K. M. (1994). Consonant inventories of young children from 8 to 25 months. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, 8, 295-320.
- Selby, J. C., Robb, M. P., & Gilbert, H. R. (2000). Normal vowel articulations between 15 and 36 months of age. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, 14, 255-266.
Stay Tuned for the next installment in this series:
- Early Intervention Evaluations PART V: Assessing Feeding and Swallowing in Children Under Two
In my previous post on this topic, I brought up concerns regarding the paucity of useful information in EI SLP reports for children under 3 years of age and made some constructive suggestions of how that could be rectified. In 2013, I had written about another significant concern, which involved neurodevelopmental pediatricians (rather than SLPs), diagnosing Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), without the adequate level of training and knowledge regarding motor speech disorders. Today, I wanted to combine both topics and delve deeper into another area of EI SLP evaluations, namely, assessments of toddlers with suspected motor speech disorders.
Firstly, it is important to note that CAS is disturbingly overdiagnosed. A cursory review of both parent and professional social media forums quickly reveals that this diagnosis is doled out like candy by both SLPs and medical professionals alike, often without much training and knowledge regarding the disorder in question. The child is under 3, has a limited verbal output coupled with a number of phonological processes, and the next thing you know, s/he is labeled as having Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS). But is this diagnosis truly that straightforward?
Let us begin with the fact that all reputable organizations involved in the dissemination of information on the topic of CAS (e.g., ASHA, CASANA, etc.), strongly discourage the diagnosis of CAS in children under three years of age with limited verbal output, and limited time spent in EBP therapy specifically targeting the remediation of motor speech disorders.
Assessment of motor speech disorders in young children requires solid knowledge and expertise. That is because CAS has a number of overlapping symptoms with other speech sound disorders (e.g., severe phonological disorder, dysarthria, etc). Furthermore, symptoms which may initially appear as CAS may change during the course of intervention by the time the child is older (e.g., 3 years of age) which is why diagnosing toddlers under 3 years of age is very problematic and the use of “suspected” or “working” diagnosis is recommended (Davis & Velleman, 2000) in order to avoid misdiagnosis. Finally, the diagnosis of CAS is also problematic due to the fact that there are still to this day no valid or reliable standardized assessments sensitive to CAS detection (McCauley & Strand, 2008).
In March 2017, Dr. Edythe Strand wrote an excellent article for the ASHA Leader entitled: “Appraising Apraxia“, in which she used a case study of a 3-year-old boy to describe how a differential diagnosis for CAS can be performed. She reviewed CAS characteristics, informal assessment protocols, aspects of diagnosis and treatment, and even included ‘Examples of Diagnostic Statements for CAS’ (which illustrate how clinicians can formulate their impressions regarding the child’s strengths and needs without explicitly labeling the child’s diagnosis as CAS).
Today, I’d like to share what information I tend to include in speech-language reports geared towards the assessing motor speech disorders in children under 3 years of age. I have a specific former client in mind for whom a differential diagnosis was particularly needed. Here’s why.
This particular 30-month client, TQ, (I did mention that I get quite a few clients for assessment around that age), was brought in due to parental concerns over her significantly reduced speech and expressive language abilities characterized by unintelligible “babbling-like” utterances and lack of expressive language. All of TQ’s developmental milestones with the exception of speech and language had been achieved grossly at age expectancy. She began limitedly producing word approximations at ~16 months of age but at 30 months of age, her verbal output was still very restricted. She mainly communicated via gestures, pointing, word approximations, and a handful of signs.
Interestingly, as an infant, she had a restricted lingual frenulum. However, since it did not affect her ability to feed, no surgical intervention was needed. Indeed, TQ presented with an adequate lingual movement for both feeding and speech sound production, so her ankyloglossia (or anterior tongue tie) was definitely not the culprit which caused her to have limited speech production.
Prior to being reevaluated by me, TQ underwent an early intervention assessment at ~26 months of age. She was diagnosed with CAS by an evaluating SLP and was found to be eligible for speech-language services, which she began receiving shortly thereafter. However, Mrs. Q noted that TQ was making very few gains in therapy and her treating SLP was uncertain regarding why her progress in therapy was so limited. Mrs. Q was also rather uncertain that TQ’s diagnosis of CAS was indeed a correct one, which was another reason why she sought a second opinion.
Assessment of TQ’s social-emotional functioning, play skills, and receptive language (via a combination of Westby, 1980, REEL-3, & PLS-5) quickly revealed that she was a very bright little girl who was developing on target in all of the tested areas. Assessment of TQ’s expressive language (via REEL-3, PLS-5 & LUI*), revealed profoundly impaired, expressive language abilities. But due to which cause?
Despite lacking verbal speech, TQ’s communicative frequency (how often she attempted to spontaneously and appropriately initiate interactions with others), as well as her communicative intent (e.g., gaining attention, making requests, indicating protests, etc), were judged to be appropriate for her age. She was highly receptive to language stimulation given tangible reinforcements and as the assessment progressed she was observed to significantly increase the number and variety of vocalizations and word approximations including delayed imitation of words and sounds containing bilabial and alveolar nasal phonemes.
For the purpose of TQ’s speech assessment, I was interested in gaining knowledge regarding the following:
- Automatic vs. volitional control
- Simple vs. complex speech production
- Consistency of productions on repetitions of the same words/word approximations
- Vowel Productions
- Imitation abilities
- Phonetic inventory
- Phonotactic Constraints
TQ’s oral peripheral examination yielded no difficulties with oral movements during non-speaking as well as speaking tasks. She was able to blow bubbles, stick out tongue, smile, etc as well as spontaneously vocalize without any difficulties. Her voice quality, pitch, loudness, and resonance during vocalizations and approximated utterances were judged to be appropriate for age and gender. Her prosody and fluency could not be determined due to lack of spontaneously produced continuous verbal output.
- Phonetic inventory of all the sounds TQ produced during the assessment is as follows:
- Consonants: plosive nasals (/m/) and alveolars (/t/, /d/, n), as well as a glide (/w/)
- Vowels: (/a/, /e/, /i/, /o/)
- TQ’s phonotactic repertoire was primarily comprised of word approximations restricted to specific sounds and consisted of CV (e.g., ne), VCV (e.g., ada), CVC (e.g., nyam), CVCV (e.g., nada), VCVC (e.g., adat), CVCVCV (nadadi), VCVCV(e.g., adada) syllable shapes
- TQ’s speech intelligibility in known and unknown contexts was profoundly reduced to unfamiliar listeners. However, her word approximations were consistent across all productions.
- Due to the above I could not perform an in-depth phonological processes analysis
However, by this time I had already formulated a working hypothesis regarding TQ’s speech production difficulties. Based on her speech sound assessment TQ presented with severe phonological disorder characterized by restricted sound inventory, simplification of sound sequences, as well as patterns of sound use errors (e.g., predominance of alveolar /d/ and nasal /n/ sounds when attempting to produce most word approximations) in speech (Stoel-Gammon, 1987).
TQ’s difficulties were not consistent with the diagnosis Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) at that time due to the following:
- Adequate and varied production of vowels
- Lack of restricted use of syllables during verbalizations (TQ was observed to make verbalizations up to 3 syllables in length)
- Lack of disruptions in rate, rhythm, and stress of speech
- Frequent and spontaneous use of consistently produced verbalizations
- Lack of verbal groping behaviors when producing word-approximations
- Good control of pitch, loudness and vocal quality during vocalizations
I felt that the diagnosis of CAS was not applicable because TQ lacked a verbal lexicon and no specific phonological intervention techniques had been trialed with her during the course of her brief therapy (~4 months) to elicit word productions (Davis & Velleman, 2000; Strand, 2003). While her EI speech therapist documented that therapy has primarily focused on ‘oral motor activities to increase TQ’s awareness of her articulators and to increase imitation of oral motor movements’, I knew that until a variety of phonological/motor-speech specific interventions had been trialed over a period of time (at least ~6 months as per Davis & Velleman, 2000) the diagnosis of CAS could not be reliably made.
I still, however, wanted to be cautious as there were a few red flags I had noted which may have potentially indicative of a non-CAS motor speech involvement, due to which I wanted to include some recommendations pertaining to motor speech remediation.
Now it is possible that after 6 months of intensive application of EBP phonological and motor speech approaches TQ would have turned 3 and still presented with highly restricted speech sound inventory and profoundly impaired speech production, making her eligible for the diagnosis of CAS in earnest. However, at the time of my assessment, making such diagnosis in view of all the available evidence would have been both clinically inappropriate and unethical.
So what were my recommendations you may ask? Well, I provisionally diagnosed TQ with a severe phonological disorder and recommended that among a variety of phonologically-based approaches to trial, an EBP approach to the treatment of motor speech disorders be also used with her for a period of 6 months to determine if it would expedite speech gains.
*For those of you who are interested in the latest EBP treatment for motor speech disorders, current evidence supports the use of the Rapid Syllable Transition Treatment (ReST). ReST is a free EBP treatment developed by the SLPs at the University of Sydney, which uses nonsense words, designed to help children coordinate movements across syllables in long words and phrases as well as helps them learn new speech movements. It is, however, important to note for young children with highly restricted sound inventories, characterized by a lack of syllable production, ReST will not be applicable. For them, the Integral Stimulation/Dynamic Temporal and Tactile Cueing (DTTC) approaches do have some limited empirical support.
I also made sure to make a note in my report regarding the inappropriate use of non-speech oral motor exercises (NSOMEs) in therapy, indicating that there is NO research to support the use of NSOMEs to stimulate speech production (Lof, 2010).
In addition to the trialing of phonological and motor based approaches I also emphasized the need to establish consistent lexicon via development of functional words needed in daily communication and listed a number of examples across several categories. I made recommendations regarding select approaches and treatment techniques to trial in therapy, as well as suggestions for expansion of sounds and structures. Finally, I made suggestions for long and short term therapy goals for a period of 6 months to trial with TQ in therapy and provided relevant references to support the claims I’ve made in my report.
You may be interested in knowing that nowadays TQ is doing quite well, and at this juncture, she is still, ineligible for the diagnosis CAS (although she needs careful ongoing monitoring with respect to the development of reading difficulties when she is older).
Now I know that some clinicians will be quick to ask me: “What’s the harm in overdiagnosing CAS if the child’s speech production will still be treated via the application of motor speech production principles?” Well, aside from the fact that it’s obviously unethical and can result in terrifying the parents into obtaining all sorts of questionable and even downright harmful bunk treatments for their children, the treatment may only be limitedly appropriate, and may not result in the best possible outcomes for a particular child. To illustrate, TQ never presented with CAS and as such, while she may have initially limitedly benefited from the application of motor speech principles to address her speech production, shortly thereafter, the application of the principles of the dynamic systems theory is what brought about significant changes in her phonological repertoire.
That is why the correct diagnosis is so important for young children under 3 years of age. But before it can be made, extensive (reputable and evidence supported) training and education are needed by evaluating SLPs on the assessment and treatment of motor speech disorders in young children.
- Davis, B & Velleman, S (2000). Differential diagnosis and treatment of developmental apraxia of speech in infants and toddlers”. The Transdisciplinary Journal. 10 (3): 177 – 192.
- Lof, G., & Watson, M. (2010). Five reasons why nonspeech oral-motor exercises do not work. Perspectives on School-Based Issues, 11.109-117.
- McCauley RJ, Strand EA. (2008). A Review of Standardized Tests of Nonverbal Oral and Speech Motor Performance in Children. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 17,81-91.
- McCauley R.J., Strand E., Lof, G.L., Schooling T. & Frymark, T. (2009). Evidence-Based Systematic Review: Effects of Nonspeech Oral Motor Exercises on Speech, American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 18, 343-360.
- Murray, E., McCabe, P. & Ballard, K.J. (2015). A Randomized Control Trial of Treatments for Childhood Apraxia of Speech. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 58 (3) 669-686.
- Stoel-Gammon, C. (1987). Phonological skills of 2-year-olds. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 18, 323-329.
- Strand, E (2003). Childhood apraxia of speech: suggested diagnostic markers for the young child. In Shriberg, L & Campbell, T (Eds) Proceedings of the 2002 childhood apraxia of speech research symposium. Carlsbad, CA: Hendrix Foundation.
- Strand, E, McCauley, R, Weigand, S, Stoeckel, R & Baas, B (2013) A Motor Speech Assessment for Children with Severe Speech Disorders: Reliability and Validity Evidence. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, vol 56; 505-520.
Today, I’d like to talk about speech and language assessments of children under three years of age. Namely, the quality of these assessments. Let me be frank, I am not happy with what I am seeing. Often times, when I receive a speech-language report on a child under three years of age, I am struck by how little functional information it contains about the child’s linguistic strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, conversations with parents often reveal that at best the examiner spent no more than half an hour or so playing with the child and performed very limited functional testing of their actual abilities. Instead, they interviewed the parent and based their report on parental feedback alone. Consequently, parents often end up with a report of very limited value, which does not contain any helpful information on how delayed is the child as compared to peers their age.
So today I like to talk about what information should such speech-language reports should contain. For the purpose of this particular post, I will choose a particular developmental age at which children at risk of language delay are often assessed by speech-language pathologists. Below you will find what information I typically like to include in these reports as well as developmental milestones for children 30 months or 2.5 years of age.
Why 30 months, you may ask? Well, there isn’t really any hard science to it. It’s just that I noticed that a significant percentage of parents who were already worried about their children’s speech-language abilities when they were younger, begin to act upon those worries as the child is nearing 3 years of age and their abilities are not improving or are not commensurate with other peers their age.
So here is the information I include in such reports (after I’ve gathered pertinent background information in the form of relevant intakes and questionnaires, of course). Naturally, detailed BACKGROUND HISTORY section is a must! Prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal development should be prominently featured there. All pertinent medical history needs to get documented as well as all of the child’s developmental milestones in the areas of cognition, emotional development, fine and gross motor function, and of course speech and language. Here, I also include a family history of red flags: international or domestic adoption of the child (if relevant) as well as familial speech and language difficulties, intellectual impairment, psychiatric disorders, special education placements, or documented deficits in the areas of literacy (e.g., reading, writing, and spelling). After all, if any of the above issues are present in isolation or in combination, the risk for language and literacy deficits increases exponentially, and services are strongly merited for the child in question.
For bilingual children, the next section will cover LANGUAGE BACKGROUND AND USE. Here, I describe how many and which languages are spoken in the home and how well does the child understand and speak any or all of these languages (as per parental report based on questionnaires).
After that, I move on to describe the child’s ADAPTIVE BEHAVIOR during the assessment. In this section, I cover emotional relatedness, joint attention, social referencing, attention skills, communicative frequency, communicative intent, communicative functions, as well as any and all unusual behaviors noted during the therapy session (e.g., refusal, tantrums, perseverations, echolalia, etc.) Then I move on to PLAY SKILLS. For the purpose of play assessment, I use the Westby Playscale (1980). In this section, I describe where the child is presently with respect to play skills, and where they actually need to be developmentally (excerpt below).
“During today’s assessment, LS’s play skills were judged to be significantly reduced for his age. A child of LS’s age (30 months) is expected to engage in a number of isolated pretend play activities with realistic props to represent daily experiences (playing house) as well as less frequently experienced events (e.g., reenacting a doctor’s visit, etc.) (corresponds to Stage VI on the Westby Play Scale, Westby, 1980). Contrastingly, LS presented with limited repertoire routines, which were characterized primarily by exploration of toys, such as operating simple cause and effect toys (given modeling) or taking out and then putting back in playhouse toys. LS’s parents confirmed that the above play schemas were representative of play interactions at home as well. Today’s LS’s play skills were judged to be approximately at Stage II (13 – 17 months) on the Westby Play Scale, (Westby, 1980) which is significantly reduced for a child of LS’s age, since it is almost approximately ±15 months behind his peers. Thus, based on today’s play assessment, LS’s play skills require therapeutic intervention. “
Sections on AUDITORY FUNCTION, PERIPHERAL ORAL MOTOR EXAM, VOCAL PARAMETERS, FLUENCY AND RESONANCE (and if pertinent FEEDING and SWALLOWING follow) (more on that in another post).
Now, it’s finally time to get to the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the report ARTICULATION AND PHONOLOGY as well as RECEPTIVE and EXPRESSIVE LANGUAGE (more on PRAGMATIC ASSESSMENT in another post).
First, here’s what I include in the ARTICULATION AND PHONOLOGY section of the report.
- Phonetic inventory: all the sounds the child is currently producing including (short excerpt below):
- Consonants: plosive (/p/, /b/, /m/), alveolar (/t/, /d/), velar (/k/, /g/), glide (/w/), nasal (/n/, /m/) glottal (/h/)
- Vowels and diphthongs: ( /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/, /ou/, /ai/)
- Phonotactic repertoire: What type of words comprised of how many syllables and which consonant-vowel variations the child is producing (excerpt below)
- LS primarily produced one syllable words consisting of CV (e.g., ke, di), CVC (e.g., boom), VCV (e.g., apo) syllable shapes, which is reduced for a child his age.
- Speech intelligibility in known and unknown contexts
- Phonological processes analysis
Now that I have described what the child is capable of speech-wise, I discuss where the child needs to be developmentally:
“A child of LS’s age (30 months) is expected to produce additional consonants in initial word position (k, l, s, h), some consonants (t, d, m, n, s, z) in final word position (Watson & Scukanec, 1997b), several consonant clusters (pw, bw, -nd, -ts) (Stoel-Gammon, 1987) as well as evidence a more sophisticated syllable shape structure (e.g., CVCVC) Furthermore, a 30 month old child is expected to begin monitoring and repairing own utterances, adjusting speech to different listeners, as well as practicing sounds, words, and early sentences (Clark, adapted by Owens, 1996, p. 386) all of which LS is not performing at this time. Based on above developmental norms, LS’s phonological abilities are judged to be significantly below age-expectancy at this time. Therapy is recommended in order to improve LS’s phonological skills.”
At this point, I am ready to move on to the language portion of the assessment. Here it is important to note that a number of assessments for toddlers under 3 years of age contain numerous limitations. Some such as REEL-3 or Rosetti (a criterion-referenced vs. normed-referenced instrument) are observational or limitedly interactive in nature, while others such as PLS-5, have a tendency to over inflate scores, resulting in a significant number of children not qualifying for rightfully deserved speech-language therapy services. This is exactly why it’s so important that SLPs have a firm knowledge of developmental milestones! After all, after they finish describing what the child is capable of, they then need to describe what the developmental expectations are for a child this age (excerpts below).
“LS’s receptive language abilities were judged to be scattered between 11-17 months of age (as per clinical observations as well as informal PLS-5 and REEL-3 findings), which is also consistent with his play skills abilities (see above). During the assessment LS was able to appropriately understand prohibitive verbalizations (e.g., “No”, “Stop”), follow simple 1 part directions (when repeated and combined with gestures), selectively attend to speaker when his name was spoken (behavioral), perform a routine activity upon request (when combined with gestures), retrieve familiar objects from nearby (when provided with gestures), identify several major body parts (with prompting) on a doll only, select a familiar object when named given repeated prompting, point to pictures of familiar objects in books when named by adult, as well as respond to yes/no questions by using head shakes and head nods. This is significantly below age-expectancy.
A typically developing child 30 months of age is expected to spontaneously follow (without gestures, cues or prompts) 2+ step directives, follow select commands that require getting objects out of sight, answer simple “wh” questions (what, where, who), understand select spatial concepts, (in, off, out of, etc), understand select pronouns (e.g., me, my, your), identify action words in pictures, understand concept sizes (‘big’, ‘little’), identify simple objects according to their function, identify select clothing items such as shoes, shirt, pants, hat (on self or caregiver) as well as understand names of farm animals, everyday foods, and toys. Therapeutic intervention is recommended in order to increase LS’s receptive language abilities.
“During today’s assessment, LS’s expressive language skills were judged to be scattered between 10-15 months of age (as per clinical observations as well as informal PLS-5 and REEL-3 findings). LS was observed to communicate primarily via proto-imperative gestures (requesting and object via eye gaze, reaching) as well as proto-declarative gestures (showing an object via eye gaze, reaching, and pointing). Additionally, LS communicated via vocalizations, head nods, and head shakes. According to parental report, at this time LS’s speaking vocabulary consists of approximately 15-20 words (see word lists below). During the assessment LS was observed to spontaneously produce a number of these words when looking at a picture book, playing with toys, and participating in action based play activities with Mrs. S and clinician. LS was also observed to produce a number of animal sounds when looking at select picture books and puzzles. For therapy planning purposes, it is important to note that LS was observed to imitate more sounds and words, when they were supported by action based play activities (when words and sounds were accompanied by a movement initiated by clinician and then imitated by LS). Today LS was observed to primarily communicate via a very limited number of imitated and spontaneous one word utterances that labeled basic objects and pictures in his environment, which is significantly reduced for his age.
A typically developing child of LS’s chronological age (30 months) is expected to possess a minimum vocabulary of 200+ words (Rescorla, 1989), produce 2-4 word utterance combinations (e.g., noun + verb, verb + noun + location, verb + noun + adjective, etc), in addition to asking 2-3 word questions as well as maintaining a topic for 2+ conversational turns. Therapeutic intervention is recommended in order to increase LS’s expressive language abilities.”
Here you have a few speech-language evaluation excerpts which describe not just what the child is capable of but where the child needs to be developmentally. Now it’s just a matter of summarizing my IMPRESSIONS (child’s strengths and needs), RECOMMENDATIONS as well as SUGGESTED (long and short term) THERAPY GOALS. Now the parents have some understanding regarding their child’s strengths and needs. From here, they can also track their child’s progress in therapy as they now have some idea to what it can be compared to.
Now I know that many of you will tell me, that this is a ‘perfect world’ evaluation conducted by a private therapist with an unlimited amount of time on her hands. And to some extent, many of you will be right! Yes, such an evaluation was a result of more than 30 minutes spent face-to-face with the child. All in all, it took probably closer to 90 minutes of face to face time to complete it and a few hours to write. And yes, this is a luxury only a few possess and many therapists in the early intervention system lack. But in the long run, such evaluations pay dividends not only, obviously, to your clients but to SLPs who perform them. They enhance and grow your reputation as an evaluating therapist. They even make sense from a business perspective. If you are well-known and highly sought after due to your evaluating expertise, you can expect to be compensated for your time, accordingly. This means that if you decide that your time and expertise are worth private pay only (due to poor insurance reimbursement or low EI rates), you can be sure that parents will learn to appreciate your thoroughness and will choose you over other providers.
So, how about it? Can you give it a try? Trust me, it’s worth it!
- Owens, R. E. (1996). Language development: An introduction (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
- Rescorla, L. (1989). The Language Development Survey: A screening tool for delayed language in toddlers. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 54, 587–599.
- Selby, J. C., Robb, M. P., & Gilbert, H. R. (2000). Normal vowel articulations between 15 and 36 months of age. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, 14, 255-266.
- Stoel-Gammon, C. (1987). Phonological skills of 2-year-olds. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 18, 323-329.
- Watson, M. M., & Scukanec, G. P. (1997b). Profiling the phonological abilities of 2-year-olds: A longitudinal investigation. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 13, 3-14.
For more information on EI Assessments click on any of the below posts:
- Part II: Early Intervention Evaluations PART II: Assessing Suspected Motor Speech Disorders in Children Under 3
- Part III: Early Intervention Evaluations PART III: Assessing Children Under 2 Years of Age
- Part IV: Early Intervention Evaluations PART IV:Assessing Social Pragmatic Abilities of Children Under 3
Today it is my pleasure and privilege to interview 3 Australian lactation consultations: Lois Wattis, Renee Kam, and Pamela Douglas, the authors of a March 2017 article in the Breastfeeding Review: “Three experienced lactation consultants reflect upon the oral tie phenomenon” (which can be found HERE).
Tatyana Elleseff: Colleagues, as you very well know, the subject of ankyloglossia or tongue tie affecting breastfeeding and speech production has risen into significant prominence in the past several years. Numerous journal articles, blog posts, as well as social media forums have been discussing this phenomenon with rather conflicting recommendations. Many health professionals and parents are convinced that “releasing the tie” or performing either a frenotomy or frenectomy will lead to significant improvements in speech and feeding.
Presently, systematic reviews1-3 demonstrate there is insufficient evidence for the above. However, when many professionals including myself, cite reputable research explaining the lack of support of surgical intervention for tongue tie, there has been a pushback on the part of a number of other health professionals including lactation consultants, nurses, dentists, as well as speech-language pathologists stating that in their clinical experience surgical intervention does resolve issues with tongue tie as related to speech and feeding.
So today, given your 33 combined years of practice as lactation consultants I would love to ask your some questions regarding the tongue tie phenomena.
I would like to begin our discussion with a description of normal breastfeeding and what can interfere with it from an anatomical and physiological standpoint for mothers and babies.
Now, many of this blog’s readers already know that a tongue tie occurs when the connective tissue under the tongue known as a lingual frenulum restricts tongue movement to some degree and adversely affects its function. But many may not realize that children can present with a normal anatomical variant of “ties” which can be completely asymptomatic. Can you please address that?
Lois Wattis: “Normal” breastfeeding takes time and skill to achieve. The breastfeeding dyad is multifactorial, influenced by maternal breast and nipple anatomy combined with the infant’s facial and oral structures, all of which are highly variable. Mothers who have successfully breastfed the first baby may encounter problems with subsequent babies due to size (e.g., smaller, larger, etc.), be compromised by birth interventions or drugs during labor, or incur birth injuries – all of which can affect the initiation of breastfeeding and progression to a happy and comfortable feeding relationship. Unfortunately, the overview of each dyad’s story can be lost when tunnel vision of either health provider or parents regarding the baby’s oral anatomy is believed to be the chief influencer of breastfeeding success or failure.
Tatyana Elleseff: Colleagues, what do we know regarding the true prevalence of various ‘tongue ties’? Are there any studies of good quality?
Pamela Douglas: In a literature review in 2005, Hall and Renfrew acknowledged that the true prevalence of ankyloglossia remained unknown, though they estimated 3-4% of newborns.4
After 2005, once the diagnosis of posterior tongue-tie (PTT) had been introduced,5, 6 attempts to quantify incidence of tongue-tie have remained of very poor quality, but estimates currently rest at between 4-10%.7
The problem is that there is a lack of definitional clarity concerning the diagnosis of PTT. Consequently, anterior or classic tongue tie CTT is now often conflated with PTT simply as ‘tongue-tie’ (TT).
Tatyana Elleseff: Thank you for clarifying it. In addition to the anterior and posterior tongue tie labels, many parents and professionals also frequently hear the terms lip tie and buccal ties. Is there’s reputable research behind these terms indicating that these ties can truly impact speech and feeding?
Pamela Douglas: Current definitions of ankyloglossia tend to confuse oral and tongue function (which is affected by multiple variables, and in particular by a fit and hold in breastfeeding) with structure (which is highly anatomically variable for both the tongue length and appearance and lingual and maxillary frenula).
For my own purposes, I define CTT as Type 1 and 2 on the Coryllos-Genna-Watson scale.8 In clinical practice, I also find it useful to rate the anterior membrane by the percentage of the undersurface of the tongue into which the membrane connects, applying the first two categories of the Griffiths Classification System.9
There is a wide spectrum of lingual frenula morphologies and elasticities, and deciding where to draw a line between a normal variant and CTT will depend on the clinical judgment concerning the infant’s capacity for pain-free efficient milk transfer. However, that means we need to have an approach to fit and hold that we are confident does optimize pain-free efficient milk transfer and at the moment, research shows that not only do the old ‘hands on’ approach to fit and hold not work, but that baby-led attachment is also not enough for many women. This is why at the Possums Clinic we’ve been working on developing an approach to fit and hold (gestalt breastfeeding) that builds on baby-led attachment but also integrates the findings of the latest ultrasound studies.
I personally don’t find the diagnoses of posterior tongue tie PTT and upper lip tie ULT helpful, and don’t use them. Lois, Renee and myself find that a wide spectrum of normal anatomic lingual and maxillary frenula variants are currently being misdiagnosed as a PTT and ULT, which has worried us and led Lois to initiate the article with Renee.
Tatyana Elleseff: Segueing from the above question: is there an established criterion based upon which a decision is made by relevant professionals to “release” the tie and if so can you explain how it’s determined?
Lois Wattis: When an anterior frenulum is attached at the tongue tip or nearby and is short enough to cause restriction of lift towards the palate, usually associated with extreme discomfort for the breastfeeding mother, I have no reservations about snipping it to release the tongue to enable optimal function for breastfeeding. If a simple frenotomy is going to assist the baby to breastfeed well it is worth doing, and as soon as possible. What I do encounter in my clinical practice are distressed and disempowered mothers whose baby has been labeled as having a posterior tongue tie and/or upper lip tie which is the cause of current and even future problems. Upon examination, the baby has completely normal oral anatomy and breastfeeding upskilling and confidence building of both mother and baby enables the dyad to go forward with strategies which address all elements of their unique story.
Although the Hazelbaker Assessment Tool for Lingual Frenulum Function (ATLFF) is a pioneering contribution, bringing us our first systematized approach to examination of the infant’s tongue and oral connective tissues, it is unreliable as a tool for decision-making concerning frenotomy.10-12 In practice many of the item criteria are highly subjective. Although one study found moderate inter-rater reliability on the ATLFF’s structural items, the authors did not find inter-rater reliability on most of the functional items.13 In my clinical experience, there is no reliable correlation between what the tongue is observed to do during oral examinations and what occurs during breastfeeding, other than in the case of classic tongue-tie (excluding congenital craniofacial abnormalities from this discussion.
In my practice as a Lactation Consultant in an acute hospital setting I use a combination of the available assessment tools mainly for documentation purposes, however, the most important tools I use are my eyes and my ears. Observing the mother and baby physical combination and interactions, and suggesting adjustments where indicated to the positioning and attachment technique used (which Pam calls fit and hold) can very often resolve difficulties immediately – even if the baby also has an obvious frenulum under his/her tongue. Listening to the mother’s feedback, and observing the baby’s responses are primary indicators of whether further intervention is needed, or not. Watching how the baby achieves and retains the latch is key, then the examination of baby’s mouth to assess tongue mobility and appearance provide final information about whether baby’s ability to breastfeed comfortably is or is not being hindered by a restrictive lingual frenulum.
Tatyana Elleseff: So frenotomy is an incision (cut) of lingual frenum while frenectomy (complete removal) is an excision of lingual frenum. Both can be performed via various methods of “release”. What effects on breastfeeding have you seen with respect to healing?
Lois Wattis: The significant difference between both procedures involves the degree of invasiveness and level of pain experienced during and after the procedures, and the differing time it takes for the resumption and/or improvement in breastfeeding comfort and efficacy.
It is commonplace for a baby who has had a simple incision to breastfeed immediately after the procedure and exhibit no further signs of discomfort or oral aversion. Conversely, the baby who has had laser division(s) may breastfeed soon after the procedure while topical anesthetics are still working. However, many infants demonstrate discomfort, extreme pain responses and reluctance to feed for days or weeks following a laser treatment. Parents are warned to expect delays resuming feeding and the baby is usually also subjected to wound “stretches” for weeks following the laser treatments. Unfortunately, in my clinical practice I see many parents and babies who are very traumatized by this whole process, and in many cases, breastfeeding can be derailed either temporarily or permanently.
Tatyana Elleseff: Thank you! This is highly relevant information for both health professionals and parents alike. I truly appreciate your clinical expertise on this topic. While we are on the topic of restrictive lingual frenulums can we discuss several recent articles published on surgical interventions for the above? For example (Ghaheri, Cole, Fausel, Chuop & Mace, 2016), recently published the result of their study which concluded that: “Surgical release of tongue-tie/lip-tie results in significant improvement in breastfeeding outcomes”. Can you elucidate upon the study design and its findings?
Pamela Douglas: Pre-post surveys, such as Ghaheri et al’s 2016 study, are notoriously methodologically weak and prone to interpretive bias.14
Renee Kam: Research about the efficacy of releasing ULTs to improve breastfeeding outcomes is seriously lacking. There is no reliable assessment tool for upper lip-tie and a lack of evidence to support the efficacy of a frenotomy of labial frenula in breastfed babies. The few studies which have included ULT release have either included very small numbers of babies having upper lip-tie releases or have included babies having a release upper lip ties and tongue ties at the same time, making it impossible to know if any improvements were due to the tongue-tie release, upper lip-tie release or both. Here, to answer your previous question, to date, no research has looked into the treatment of buccal ties for breastfeeding outcomes.
There are various classification scales for labial frenulums such as the Kotlow scale. The title of this scale is misleading as it contains the word ‘tie’. Hence it can give some people the incorrect assumption that a class III or IV labial frenulum is somehow a problem. What this scale actually shows is the normal range of insertion sites for a labial frenulum. And, in normal cases, the vast majority of babies’ labial frenulums insert low down on the upper gum (class III) or even wrap around it (class IV). It’s important to note that, for effective breastfeeding, the upper lip does not have to flange out in order to create a seal. It just has to rest in a neutral position — not flanged out, not tucked in.
Lois Wattis: I entirely agree with Renee’s view about the neutrality of the upper lip, including the labial frenulum, in relation to latch for breastfeeding. Even babies with asymmetrical facial features, cleft lips and other permanent and temporary anomalies only need to achieve a seal with the upper lip to breastfeed successfully.
Tatyana Elleseff: Thank you for that. In addition to studies on tongue tie revisions and breastfeeding outcomes, there has been an increase in studies, specifically Kotlow (2016) and Siegel (2016), which claimed that surgical intervention improves outcomes for acid reflux and aerophagia in babies”. Can you discuss these studies design and findings?
Renee Kam: The AIR hypothesis has led to reflux being used as another reason to diagnose the oral anatomic abnormalities in infants in the presence of breastfeeding problems. More research with objective indicators and less vested interest is needed in this area. A thorough understanding of normal infant behavior and feeding problems which aren’t tie related are also imperative before any conclusions about AIR can be reached.
Tatyana Elleseff: One final question, colleagues are you aware of any studies which describe long-term outcomes of surgical interventions for tongue ties?
Pamela Douglas: The systematic reviews note that there is a lack of evidence demonstrating long-term outcomes of surgical interventions.
Tatyana Elleseff: Thank you for such informative discussion, colleagues.
There you have it, readers. Both research and clinical practice align to indicate that:
- There’s significant normal variation when it comes to most anatomical structures including the frenulum
- Just because a child presents with restricted frenulum does not automatically imply adverse feeding as well as speech outcomes and immediately necessitates a tongue tie release
- When breastfeeding difficulties arise, in the presence of restricted frenulum, it is very important to involve an experienced lactation specialist who will perform a differential diagnosis in order to determine the source of the baby’s true breastfeeding difficulties
Now, I’d like to take a moment and address the myth of tongue ties affecting speech production, which continues to persist among speech-language pathologists despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
For that purpose, I will use excerpts from an excellent ASHA Leader December 2005 article written by an esteemed Dr. Kummer who is certainly well qualified to discuss this issue. According to Dr. Kummer, “there is no empirical evidence in the literature that ankyloglossia typically causes speech defects. On the contrary, several authors, even from decades ago, have disputed the belief that there is a strong causal relationship (Wallace, 1963; Block, 1968; Catlin & De Haan, 1971; Wright, 1995; Agarwal & Raina, 2003).”
Since many children with restricted frenulum do not have any speech production difficulties, Dr Kummer explains why that is the case by discussing the effect of tongue tip positioning for speech production.
“Lingual-alveolar sounds (t, d, n) are produced with the top of the tongue tip and therefore, they can be produced with very little tongue elevation or mobility.
The /s/ and /z/ sounds require the tongue tip to be elevated only slightly but can be produced with little distortion if the tip is down.
The most the tongue tip needs to elevate is to the alveolar ridge for the production of an /l/. However, this sound can actually be produced with the tongue tip down and the dorsum of the tongue up against the alveolar ridge. Even an /r/ sound can be produced with the tongue tip down as long as the back of the tongue is elevated on both sides.
The most the tongue needs to protrude is to the back of the maxillary incisors for the production of /th/. All of these sounds can usually be produced, even with significant tongue tip restriction. This can be tested by producing these sounds with the tongue tip pressed down or against the mandibular gingiva. This results in little, if any, distortion.” (Kummer, 2005, ASHA Leader)
In 2009, Dr. Sharynne McLeod, did research on electropalatography of speech sounds with adults. Her findings (below) which are coronal images of tongue positioning including bracing, lateral contact and groove formation for consonants support the above information provided by Dr. Kummer.
Once again research and clinical practice align to indicate that there’s insufficient evidence to indicate the effect of restricted frenulum on the production of speech sounds.
Finally, I would like to conclude this post with a list of links from recent systematic reviews summarizing the latest research on this topic.
Ankyloglossia/Tongue Tie Systematic Review Summaries to Date (2017):
- A small body of evidence suggests that frenotomy may be associated with mother reported improvements in breastfeeding, and potentially in nipple pain, but with small, short-term studies with inconsistent methodology, the strength of the evidence is low to insufficient.
- In an infant with tongue-tie and feeding difficulties, surgical release of the tongue-tie does not consistently improve infant feeding but is likely to improve maternal nipple pain. Further research is needed to clarify and confirm this effect.
- Data are currently insufficient for assessing the effects of frenotomy on nonbreastfeeding outcomes that may be associated with ankyloglossia
- Given the lack of good-quality studies and limitations in the measurement of outcomes, we considered the strength of the evidence for the effect of surgical interventions to improve speech and articulation to be insufficient.
- Large temporal increases and substantial spatial variations in ankyloglossia and frenotomy rates were observed that may indicate a diagnostic suspicion bias and increasing use of a potentially unnecessary surgical procedure among infants.
- Power R, Murphy J. Tongue-tie and frenotomy in infants with breastfeeding difficulties: achieving a balance. Archives of Disease in Childhood 2015;100:489-494.
- Francis DO, Krishnaswami S, McPheeters M. Treatment of ankyloglossia and breastfeeding outcomes: a systematic review. Pediatrics. 2015;135(6):e1467-e1474.
- O’Shea JE, Foster JP, O’Donnell CPF, Breathnach D, Jacobs SE, Todd DA, et al. Frenotomy for tongue-tie in newborn infants (Review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2017 (3):Art. No.:CD011065.
- Hall D, Renfrew M. Tongue tie. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 2005;90:1211-1215.
- Coryllos E, Watson Genna C, Salloum A. Congenital tongue-tie and its impact on breastfeeding. Breastfeeding: Best for Mother and Baby, American Academy of Pediatrics. 2004 Summer:1-6.
- Coryllos EV, Watson Genna C, LeVan Fram J. Minimally Invasive Treatment for Posterior Tongue-Tie (The Hidden Tongue-Tie). In: Watson Genna C, editor. Supporting Sucking Skills. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning; 2013. p. 243-251.
- National Health and Medical Research Council. Infant feeding guidelines: information for health workers. In: Government A, editor. 2012. p. https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/n56.
- Watson Genna C, editor. Supporting sucking skills in breastfeeding infants. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning; 2016.
- Griffiths DM. Do tongue ties affect breastfeeding? . Journal of Human Lactation. 2004;20:411.
- Ricke L, Baker N, Madlon-Kay D. Newborn tongue-tie: prevalence and effect on breastfeeding. Journal of American Board of Family Practice. 2005;8:1-8.
- Madlon-Kay D, Ricke L, Baker N, DeFor TA. Case series of 148 tongue-tied newborn babies evaluated with the assessment tool for lingual function. Midwifery. 2008;24:353-357.
- Ballard JL, Auer CE, Khoury JC. Ankyloglossia: assessment, incidence, and effect of frenuloplasty on the breastfeeding dyad. Pediatrics. 2002;110:e63.
- Amir L, James JP, Donath SM. Reliability of the Hazelbaker Assessment Tool for Lingual Frenulum Function. International Breastfeeding Journal. 2006;1:3.
- Douglas PS. Conclusions of Ghaheri’s study that laser surgery for posterior tongue and lip ties improve breastfeeding are not substantiated. Breastfeeding Medicine. 2017;12(3):DOI: 10.1089/bfm.2017.0008.
Author Bios (in alphabetical order):
Dr. Pamela Douglas is the founder of a charitable organization, the Possums Clinic, a general practitioner since 1987, an IBCLC (1994-2004; 2012-Present) and researcher. She is an Associate Professor (Adjunct) with the Centre for Health Practice Innovation, Griffith University, and a Senior Lecturer with the Discipline of General Practice, The University of Queensland. Pam enjoys working clinically with families across the spectrum of challenges in early life, many complex (including breastfeeding difficulty) unsettled infant behaviors, reflux, allergies, tongue-tie/oral connective tissue problems, and gut problems. She is author of The discontented little baby book: all you need to know about feeds, sleep and crying (UQP) www.possumsonline.com; www.pameladouglas.com.au
Renee Kam qualified with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy from the University of Melbourne in 2000. She then worked as a physiotherapist for 6 years, predominantly in the areas of women’s health, pediatric and musculoskeletal physiotherapy. She became an Australian Breastfeeding Association Breastfeeding (ABA) counselor in 2010 and obtained the credential of International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in 2012. In 2013, Renee’s book, The Newborn Baby Manual, was published which covers the topics that Renee is passionate about; breastfeeding, baby sleep and baby behavior. These days, Renee spends most of her time being a mother to her two young daughters, writing breastfeeding content for BellyBelly.com.au, fulfilling her role as national breastfeeding information manager with ABA and working as an IBCLC in private practice and at a private hospital in Melbourne, Australia.
Lois Wattis is a Registered Nurse/Midwife, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Fellow of the Australian College of Midwives. Working in both hospital and community settings, Lois has enhanced her midwifery skills and expertise by providing women-centred care to thousands of mothers and babies, including more than 50 women who chose to give birth at home. Lois’ qualifications include Bachelor of Nursing Degree (Edith Cowan University, Perth WA), Post Graduate Diploma in Clinical Nursing, Midwifery (Curtin University, Perth WA), accreditation as Independent Practising Midwife by the Australian College of Midwives in 2002 and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in 2004. Lois was inducted as a Fellow of the Australian College of Midwives (FACM) in 2005 in recognition of her services to women and midwifery in Australia. Lois has authored numerous articles which have been published internationally in parenting and midwifery journals, and shares her broad experience via her creations “New Baby 101” book, smartphone App, on-line videos and Facebook page. www.newbaby101.com.au Lois has worked for the past 10 years in Qld, Australia in a dedicated Lactation Consultant role as well as in private practice www.birthjourney.com
Today I’d like to officially introduce a new parent consultation service which I had originally initiated with a few out-of-state clients through my practice a few years ago.
The idea for this service came after numerous parents contacted me and initiated dialogue via email and phone calls regarding the services/assessments needed for their monolingual/bilingual internationally/domestically adopted or biological children with complex communication needs. Here are some details about it.
Parent consultations is a service provided to clients who live outside Smart Speech Therapy LLC geographical area (e.g., non-new Jersey residents) who are interested in comprehensive specialized in-depth consultations and recommendations regarding what type of follow up speech language services they should be seeking/obtaining in their own geographical area for their children as well as what type of carryover activities they should be doing with their children at home.
Consultations are provided with the focus on the following specialization areas with a focus on comprehensive assessment and intervention recommendations:
- Language and Literacy
- Children with Social Communication (Pragmatic) Disorders
- Bilingual and Multicultural Children
- Post-institutionalized Internationally Adopted Children
- Children with Psychiatric and Emotional Disturbances
- Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
The initial consultation length of this service is 1 hour. Clients are asked to forward their child’s records prior to the consultation for review, fill out several relevant intakes and questionnaires, as well as record a short video (3-5 minutes). The instructions regarding video content will be provided to them following session payment.
Upon purchasing a consultation the client will be immediately emailed the necessary paperwork to fill out as well as potential dates and times for the consultation to take place. Afternoon, Evening and Weekend hours are available for the client’s convenience. In cases of emergencies consultations may be rescheduled at the client’s/Smart Speech Therapy’s mutual convenience.
Refunds are available during a 3 day grace period if a mutually convenient time could not be selected for the consultation. Please note that fees will not be refundable from the time the scheduled consultation begins.
Following the consultation the client has the option of requesting a written detailed consultation report at an additional cost, which is determined based on the therapist’s hourly rate. For further information click HERE. You can also call 917-916-7487 or email [email protected] if you wanted to find out whether this service is right for you.
Below is a past parent consultation testimonial.
International Adoption Consultation Parent Testimonial (11/11/13)
I found Tatyana and Smart Speech Therapy online while searching for information about internationally adopted kids and speech evaluations. We’d already taken our three year old son to a local SLP but were very unsatisfied with her opinion, and we just didn’t know where to turn. Upon finding the articles and blogs written by Tatyana, I felt like I’d finally found someone who understood the language learning process unique to adopted kids, and whose writings could also help me in my meetings with the local school system as I sought special education services for my son.
I could have never predicted then just how much Tatyana and Smart Speech Therapy would help us. I used the online contact form on her website to see if Tatyana could offer us any services or recommendations, even though we are in Virginia and far outside her typical service area. She offered us an in-depth phone consultation that was probably one of the most informative, supportive and helpful phone calls I’ve had in the eight months since adopting my son. Through a series of videos, questionnaires, and emails, she was better able to understand my son’s speech difficulties and background than any of the other sources I’d sought help from. She was able to explain to me, a lay person, exactly what was going on with our son’s speech, comprehension, and learning difficulties in a way that a) added urgency to our situation without causing us to panic, b) provided me with a ton of research-orientated information for our local school system to review, and c) validated all my concerns and gut instincts that had previously been brushed aside by other physicians and professionals who kept telling us to “wait and see”.
After our phone call, we contracted Tatyana to provide us with an in-depth consultation report that we are now using with our local school and child rehab center to get our son the help he needs. Without that report, I don’t think we would have had the access to these services or the backing we needed to get people to seriously listen to us. It’s a terrible place to be in when you think something might be wrong, but you’re not sure and no one around you is listening. Tatyana listened to us, but more importantly, she looked at our son as a specific kid with a specific past and specific needs. We were more than just a number or file to her – and we’ve never even actually met in person! The best move we’ve could’ve made was sending her that email that day. We are so appreciative.
Kristen, P. Charlottesville, VA
Assessment of children with DS syndrome is often complicated due to the wide spectrum of presenting deficits (e.g., significant health issues in conjunction with communication impairment, lack of expressive language, etc) making accurate assessment of their communication a difficult task. In order to provide these children with appropriate therapy services via the design of targeted goals and objectives, we need to create comprehensive assessment procedures that focus on highlighting their communicative strengths and not just their deficits.
Today I’d like to discuss assessment procedures for verbal monolingual and bilingual children with DS 4-9 years of age, since testing instruments as well as assessment procedures for younger as well as older verbal and nonverbal children with DS do differ.
When it comes to dual language use and genetic disorders and developmental disabilities many educational and health care professionals are still under the erroneous assumption that it is better to use one language (English) to communicate with these children at home and at school. However, studies have shown that not only can children with DS become functionally bilingual they can even become functionally trilingual (Vallar & Papagno, 1993; Woll & Grove, 1996). It is important to understand that “bilingualism does not change the general profile of language strengths and weaknesses characteristic of DS—most children with DS will have receptive vocabulary strengths and expressive language weaknesses, regardless of whether they are monolingual or bilingual.” (Kay-Raining Bird, 2009, p. 194)
Furthermore, advising a bilingual family to only speak English with a child will cause a number of negative linguistic and psychosocial implications, such as create social isolation from family members who may not speak English well as well as adversely affect parent-child relationships (Portes & Hao, 1998).
Consequently, when preparing to assess linguistic abilities of children with DS we need to first determine whether these children have single or dual language exposure and design assessment procedures accordingly.
It is very important to conduct a parental interview no matter the setting you are performing the assessment in. One of your goals during the interview will be to establish the functional goals the parents’ desire for the child which may not always coincide with the academic expectations of the program in question.
Begin with a detailed case history and review of current records and obtain information about the child’s prenatal, perinatal and postnatal development, medical history as well as the nature of previous assessments and provided related services. Next, obtain a detailed history of the child’s language use by inquiring what languages are spoken by household members and how much time do these people spend with the child?
Choosing Testing Instruments
A balanced assessment will include a variety of methods, including observations of the child as well as direct interactions in the form of standardized, informal and dynamic assessments. If you will be using standardized assessments (e.g., ROWPVT-4) YOU MUST use descriptive measures vs. standardized scores to describe the child’s functioning. The latter is especially applicable to bilingual children with DS. Consider using the following disclaimer: “The following test/s __________were normed on typically developing English speaking children. Testing materials are not available in standardized form for child’s unique developmental and bilingual/bicultural backgrounds. In accordance with IDEA 2004 (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) [20 U.S.C.¤1414(3)],official use of standard scores for this child would be inaccurate and misleading so the results reported are presented in descriptive form. Raw scores are provided here only for comparison with future performance.”
Selecting Standardized Assessments
Depending on the child’s age and level of abilities a variety of assessment measures may be applicable to test the child in the areas of Content (vocabulary), Form (grammar/syntax), and Use(pragmatic language).
For children over 3 years of age whose linguistic abilities are just emerging you may wish to use a vocabulary inventory such as the MacArthur-Bates (also available in other languages) as well as provide parents with the Developmental Scale for Children with Down Syndrome to fill out. This will allow you to compare where child with DS features in their development as compared to typically developing peers. For older, more verbal children who are using words, phrases, and/or sentences to express themselves, you may want to use or adapt (see above) one of the following standardized language tests:
- Preschool Language Assessment Instrument-2 (PLAI-2)
- Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals-Preschool 2 (CELF-P2)
- Receptive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test-4 (ROWPVT)
- Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test-4 (EOWPVT)
- Test of Auditory Processing Skills-3 (TAPS-3)
- Narrative Assessment Protocol (NAP)
Informal Assessment Procedures
Depending on your setting (hospital vs. school), you may not perform a detailed assessment of the child’s feeding and swallowing skills. However, it is still important to understand that due to low muscle tone, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal disorders and cardiac issues, children with DSoften present with feeding dysfunction which is further exacerbated by concomitant issues such as obesity, GERD, constipation, malnutrition (restricted food group intake lacking in vitamins and minerals), and fatigue. With respect to swallowing, they may experience abnormalities in both the oral and pharyngeal phases of swallow, as well as present with silent aspiration, due to which instrumental assessment (MBS) may be necessary (Frazer & Friedman, 2006).
In contrast to feeding and swallowing the oral-peripheral assessment can be performed in all settings. When performing oral-peripheral exam, you need to carefully describe all structural (anatomical) and functional (physiological) abnormalities (e.g., macroglossia, micrognathia, prognathism, etc). Note any issues with:
- Dentition (e.g., dental overcrowding, occlusion, etc)
- Tongue/jaw disassociation (ability to separate tongue from jaw when speaking)
- Mouth Posture (open/closed) and tongue positioning at rest (protruding/retracted)
- Control of oral secretions
- Lingual and buccal strength, movement (e.g., lingual protrusion, elevation, lateralization, and depression for volitional tasks) and control
- Mandibular (jaw) strength, stability and grading
Take a careful look at the child’s speech. Perform dual speech sampling (if applicable) by considering the child’s phonetic inventory, syllable lengths and shapes as well as articulatory/phonological error patterns. Make sure to factor in the combined effect of the child’s craniofacial anomalies as well as system wide impairment (disturbances in respiration, voice, articulation, resonance, fluency, and prosody) on conversational intelligibility. Impaired intelligibility is a serious concern for individuals with DS, as it tends to persist throughout life for many of them and significantly interferes with social and vocational pursuits (Kent & Vorperian, 2013)
Don’t forget to assess the child’s voice, fluency, prosody, and resonance. Children with DS may have difficulty maintaining constant airstream for vocal production due to which they may occasionally speak with low vocal volume and breathiness (caused by air loss due to vocal fold hypotonicity). This may be directly targeted in treatment sessions and taught how to compensate for. When assessing resonance make sure to screen the child for hypernasality which may be due to velopharyngeal insufficiency secondary to hypotonicity as well as rule out hyponasality which may be due to enlarged adenoids (Kent & Vorperian, 2013). Furthermore, since stuttering and cluttering occur in children with DS at rates of 10 to 45%, compared to about 1% in the general population, a detailed analysis of disfluencies may be necessary(Kent & Vorperian, 2013). Finally, due to limitations with perception, imitation, and spontaneous production of prosodic features secondary to motor difficulties, motor coordination issues, and segmental errors that impede effective speech production across multisyllabic sequences, the prosody of individuals with DS will be impaired and might require a separate intervention. (Kent & Vorperian, 2013)
When it comes to auditory function, formal hearing testing and retesting is mandatory due to the fact that many children with DS have high prevalence of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss (Park et al, 2012). So if the child in question is not receiving regular follow-ups from the audiologist, it is very important to make the appropriate referral. Similarly, it is also very important that the child’s visual perception is assessed as well since children with DS frequently experience difficulties with vision acuity as well as visual processing, consequentially a consultation with developmental optometrist may be recommended/needed.
Describe in detail the child’s adaptive behavior and learning style, including their social strengths and weaknesses. Observe the child’s eye contact, affect, attention to task, level of distractibility, and socialization patterns. Document the number of redirections and negotiations the child needed to participate as well as types and level of reinforcement used during testing.
Perform dual language sampling and look at functional vocabulary knowledge and use, grammar measures, sentence length, as well as the child’s pragmatic functions (what is the child using his/her language for: request, reject, comment, etc.) Perform a dynamic assessment to determine the child’s learnability (e.g., how quickly does the child learns and adapts to being taught new concepts?) since “even a minimal mediation in the form of ‘focusing’ improves the receptive language performance of children with DS” (Alony & Kozulin, 2007, p 323)
After all the above sections are completed, it is time to move on to the impressions section of the report. While it is important to document the weaknesses exposed by the assessment, it is even more important to document the child’s strengths or all the things the child did well, since this will help you to determine the starting treatment point and allow you to formulate relevant treatment goals.
When making recommendations for treatment, especially for bilingual children with DS, make sure to provide a strong rationale for the provision of services in both languages (if applicable) as well as specify the importance of continued support of the first language in the home.
Finally, make sure to provide targeted and measurable [suggested] treatment goals by breaking the targets into measurable parts:
Given ___time period (1 year, 1 progress reporting period, etc), the student will be able to (insert specific goal) with ___accuracy/trials, given ___ level of, given _____type of prompts.
Assessing communication abilities of children with developmental disabilities may not be easy; however, having the appropriate preparation and training will ensure that you will be well prepared to do the job right! Use multiple tasks and activities to create a balanced assessment, use descriptive measures instead of standard scores to report findings, and most importantly make your assessment functional by making sure that your testing yields relevant diagnostic information which could then be effectively used to provide effective quality treatments for clients with DS!
For comprehensive information on “Comprehensive Assessment of Monolingual and Bilingual Children with Down Syndrome” which discusses how to assess young (birth-early elementary age) verbal and nonverbal monolingual and bilingual children with Down Syndrome (DS) and offers comprehensive examples of write-ups based on real-life clients click HERE.
Other Helpful Resources
Introduction: When it comes to bilingual children who stutter there is still considerable amount of misinformation regarding the best recommendations on assessment and treatment. The aim of this article is to review best practices in assessment and treatment of bilingual children who stutter, to shed some light on this important yet highly misunderstood area in speech-language pathology.
Types of Bilingualism: Young bilingual children can be broadly divided into two categories: those who are learning several languages simultaneously from birth (simultaneous bilingual), and those who begin to learn a second language after two years of age (sequential bilingual) (De Houwer, 2009b). The language milestones for simultaneous bilinguals may be somewhat uneven but they are not that much different from those of monolingual children (De Houwer, 2009a). Namely, first words emerge between 8 and 15 months and early phrase production occurs around +/-20 months of age, with sentence production following thereafter (De Houwer, 2009b). In contrast, sequential bilinguals undergo a number of stages during which they acquire abilities in the second language, which include preproduction, early production, as well as intermediate and advanced proficiency in the second language.
Stuttering and Monolingual Children: With respect to stuttering in the monolingual children we know that there are certain risk factors associated with stuttering. These include family history (family members who stutter), age of onset (children who begin stuttering before the age of three have a greater likelihood of outgrowing stuttering), time since onset (depending on how long the child have been stuttering certain children may outgrow it), gender (research has shown that girls are more likely to outgrow stuttering than boys), presence of other speech/language factors (poor speech intelligibility, advance language skills etc.) (Stuttering Foundation: Risk Factors). We also know that the symptoms of stuttering manifest via sound, syllable and word repetitions, sound prolongations as well as sound and word blocks. In addition to overt stuttering characteristics there could also be secondary characteristics including gaze avoidance, word substitutions, anxiety about speaking, muscle tension in the face, jaw and neck, as well as fist clenching, just to name a few.
Stuttering and Bilingual Children: So what do we currently know regarding the manifestations of stuttering in bilingual children? Here is some information based on existing research. While some researchers believe that stuttering is more common in bilingual versus monolingual individuals, currently there is no data which supports such a hypothesis. The distribution and severity of stuttering tend to differ from language to language and one language is typically affected more than the other (Van Borsel, Maes & Foulon, 2001). Lim and colleagues (2008) found that language dominance influences the severity but not the types of stuttering behaviors. They also found that bilingual stutterers exhibit different stuttering characteristics in both languages such as displaying stuttering on content words in L1 and function words in L2 (less-developed language system). According to Watson & Kayser (1994) key features of ‘true’ stuttering include the presence of stuttering in both languages with accompanying self-awareness as well as secondary behaviors. This is important to understand giving the fact that bilingual children in the process of learning another language may present with pseudo-stuttering characteristics related to word retrieval rather than true stuttering.
Assessment of Bilingual Stutterers: Now let’s talk about aspects of the assessment. Typically assessment should begin with the taking of detailed background history regarding stuttering risk factors, the extent of the child’s exposure and proficiency in each language, age of stuttering onset, the extent of stuttering in each language, as well as presence of any other concomitant concerns regarding the child’s speech and language (e.g., suspicion of language/articulation deficits etc.) Shenker (2013) also recommends the parental use of perceptual rating scales to assess child’s proficiency in each language.
Assessment procedures, especially those for newly referred children (vs. children whose speech and language abilities were previously assessed), should include comprehensive assessments of speech and language in addition to assessment of stuttering in order to rule out any hidden concomitant deficits. It is also important to obtain conversational and narrative samples in each language as well as reading samples when applicable. When analyzing the samples it is very important to understand and make allowance for typical disfluencies (especially when it comes to preschool children) as well as understand the difference between true stuttering and word retrieval deficits (which pertain to linguistic difficulties), which can manifest as fillers, word phrase repetitions, as well as conversational pauses (German, 2005).
When analyzing the child’s conversational speech for dysfluencies it may be helpful to gradually increase linguistic complexity in order to determine at which level (e.g., word, phrase, etc.) dysfluencies take place (Schenker, 2013). To calculate frequency and duration of disfluencies, word-based (vs. syllable-based) counts of stuttering frequency will be more accurate across languages (Bernstein Ratner, 2004).
Finally during the assessment it is also very important to determine the family’s cultural beliefs toward stuttering since stuttering perceptions vary greatly amongst different cultures (Tellis & Tellis, 2003) and may not always be positive. For example, Waheed-Kahn (1998) found that Middle Eastern parents attempted to deal with their children’s stuttering in the following ways: prayed for change, asked them to “speak properly”, completed their sentences, changed their setting by sending them to live with a relative as well as asked them not to talk in public. Gauging familial beliefs toward stuttering will allow clinicians to: understand parental involvement and acceptance of therapy services, select best treatment models for particular clients as well as gain knowledge of how cultural attitudes may impact treatment outcomes (Schenker, 2013).
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Treatment of Bilingual Stutterers: With respect to stuttering treatment delivery for bilingual children, research has found that treatment in one language results in spontaneous improvement in fluency in the untreated language (Rousseau, Packman, & Onslow, 2005). This is helpful for monolingual SLPs who often do not have the option of treating clients in their birth language.
For young preschool children both direct and indirect therapy approaches may be utilized.
For example, the Palin (PCI) approach for children 2-7 years of age uses play-based sessions, video feedback, and facilitated discussions to help parents support and increase their child’s fluency. Its primary focus is to modify parent–child interactions via a facilitative rather than an instructive approach by developing and reinforcing parents’ expertise via use of video feedback to set own targets and reinforce progress. In contrast, the Lidcombe Program for children 2-7 years of age is a behavioral treatment with a focus on stuttering elimination. It is administered by the parents under the supervision of an SLP, who teaches the parents how to control the child’s stuttering with verbal response contingent stimulation (Onslow & Millard, 2012). While the Palin PCI approach still requires further research to determine its use with bilingual children, the Lidcombe Program has been trialed in a number of studies with bilingual children and was found to be effective in both languages (Schenker, 2013).
For bilingual school-age children with persistent stuttering, it is important to focus on stuttering management vs. stuttering elimination (Reardon-Reeves & Yaruss, 2013). Here we are looking to reduce frequency and severity of disfluencies, teach the children to successfully manage stuttering moments, as well as work on the student’s emotional attitude toward stuttering. Use of support groups for children who stutter (e.g., “FRIENDS”: http://www.friendswhostutter.org/), may also be recommended.
Depending on the student’s preferences, desires, and needs, the approaches may involve a combination of fluency shaping and stuttering modification techniques. Fluency shaping intervention focuses on increasing fluent speech through teaching methods that reduce speaking rate such as easy onsets, loose contacts, changing breathing, prolonging sounds or words, pausing, etc. The goal of fluency shaping is to “encourage spontaneous fluency where possible and controlled fluency when it is not” (Ramig & Dodge, 2004). In contrast stuttering modification therapy focuses on modifying the severity of stuttering moments as well as on reduction of fear, anxiety and avoidance behaviors associated with stuttering. Stuttering modification techniques are aimed at assisting the client “to confront the stuttering moment through implementation of pre-block, in-block, and/or post-block corrections, as well as through a change in how they perceive the stuttering experience” (Ramig & Dodge, 2004). While studies on these treatment methods are still very limited it is important to note that each technique as well as a combination of both techniques have been trialed and found successful with bilingual and even trilingual speakers (Conture & Curlee, 2007; Howell & Van Borsel, 2011).
Finally, it is very important for clinicians to account for cultural differences during treatment. This can be accomplished by carefully selecting culturally appropriate stimuli, preparing instructions which account for the parents’ language and culture, attempting to provide audio/video examples in the child’s birth language, as well as finding/creating opportunities for practicing fluency in culturally-relevant contexts and activities (Schenker, 2013).
Conclusion: Presently, no evidence has been found that bilingualism causes stuttering. Furthermore, treatment outcomes for bilingual children appear to be comparable to those of monolingual children. Bilingual SLPs encountering bilingual children who stutter are encouraged to provide stuttering treatment in the language the child is most proficient in. Monolingual SLPs encountering bilingual children are encouraged to provide stuttering treatment in English with the expectation that the treatment will carry over into the child’s birth language. All clinicians are encouraged to involve the children’s families in the stuttering treatment as well as utilize methods and interventions that are in agreement with the family’s cultural beliefs and values, in order to create optimum treatment outcomes for bilingual children who stutter.
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