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What if Its More Than Just “Misbehaving”?

Frequently,  I see a variation of the following scenario on many speech and language forums.

The SLP is seeing a client with speech and/or language deficits through early intervention,  in the schools, or in private practice, who is having some kind of behavioral issues.

Some issues are described as mild such as calling out, hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattention, while others are more severe and include refusal, noncompliance, or aggression such as kicking, biting,  or punching.

An array of advice from well-meaning professionals immediately follows.  Some behaviors may be labeled as “normal” due to the child’s age (toddler),  others may be “partially excused” due to a DSM-5  diagnosis (e.g., ASD).   Recommendations for reinforcement charts (not grounded in evidence) may be suggested. A call for other professionals to deal with the behaviors is frequently made (“in my setting the ______ (insert relevant professional here) deals with these behaviors and I don’t have to be involved”). Specific judgments on the child may be pronounced: “There is nothing wrong with him/her, they’re just acting out to get what they want.” Some drastic recommendations could be made: “Maybe you should stop therapy until the child’s behaviors are stabilized”.

However, several crucial factors often get overlooked. First, a system to figure out why particular set of behaviors takes place and second, whether these behaviors may be manifestations of non-behaviorally based difficulties such as medical issues, or overt/subtle linguistically based deficits.

So what are some reasons kids may present with behavioral deficits? Obviously, there could be numerous reasons: some benign while others serious, ranging from lack of structure and understanding of expectations to manifestations of psychiatric illnesses and genetic syndromes. Oftentimes the underlying issues are incredibly difficult to recognize without a differential diagnosis. In other words, we cannot claim that the child’s difficulties are “just behavior” if we have not appropriately ruled out other causes which may be contributing to the “behavior”.

Here are some possible steps which can ensure appropriate identification of the source of the child’s behavioral difficulties in cases of hidden underlying language disorders (after of course relevant learning, genetic, medical, and psychiatric issues have been ruled out).

Let’s begin by answering a few simple questions. Was a thorough language evaluation with an emphasis on the child’s social pragmatic language abilities been completed? And by thorough, I am not referring to general language tests but to a variety of formal and informal social pragmatic language testing (read more HERE).

Please note that none of the general language tests such as the Preschool Language Scale-5 (PLS-5), Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language (CASL-2), the Test of Language Development-4 (TOLD-4) or even the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals Tests (CELF-P2)/ (CELF-5) tap into the child’s social language competence because they do NOT directly test the child’s social language skills (e.g., CELF-5 assesses them via a parental/teachers questionnaire).  Thus, many children can attain average scores on these tests yet still present with pervasive social language deficits. That is why it’s very important to thoroughly assess social pragmatic language abilities of all children  (no matter what their age is) presenting with behavioral deficits.

But let’s say that the social pragmatic language abilities have been assessed and the child was found/not found to be eligible for services, meanwhile, their behavioral deficits persist, what do we do now?

The first step in establishing a behavior management system is determining the function of challenging behaviors, since we need to understand why the behavior is occurring and what is triggering it (Chandler & Dahlquist, 2006)

We can begin by performing some basic data collection with a child of any age (even with toddlers) to determine behavior functions or reasons for specific behaviors. Here are just a few limited examples:

  • Seeking Attention/Reward
  • Seeking Sensory Stimulation
  • Seeking Control

Most behavior functions typically tend to be positively, negatively or automatically reinforced (Bobrow, 2002). For example, in cases of positive reinforcement, the child may exhibit challenging behaviors to obtain desirable items such as toys, games, attention, etc. If the parent/teacher inadvertently supplies the child with the desired item, they are reinforcing inappropriate behaviors positively and in a way strengthening the child’s desire to repeat the experience over and over again, since it had positively worked for them before.

In contrast, negative reinforcement takes place when the child exhibits challenging behaviors to escape a negative situation and gets his way. For example, the child is being disruptive in classroom/therapy because the tasks are too challenging and is ‘rewarded’ when therapy is discontinued early or when the classroom teacher asks an aide to take the child for a walk.

Finally, automatic reinforcements occur when certain behaviors such as repetitive movements or self-injury produce an enjoyable sensation for the child, which he then repeats again to recreate the sensation.

In order to determine what reinforces the child’s challenging behaviors, we must perform repeated observations and take data on the following:

  • Antecedent or what triggered the child’s behavior?
    • What was happening immediately before behavior occurred?
  • Behavior
    • What type of challenging behavior/s took place as a result?
  • Response/Consequence
    • How did you respond to behavior when it took place?

Here are just a few antecedent examples:

  • Therapist requested that child work on task
  • Child bored w/t task
  • Favorite task/activity taken away
  • Child could not obtain desired object/activity

In order to figure them out we need to collect data, prior to appropriately addressing them. After the data is collected the goals need to be prioritized based urgency/seriousness.  We can also use modification techniques aimed at managing interfering behaviors.  These techniques include modifications of: physical space, session structure, session materials as well as child’s behavior. As we are implementing these modifications we need to keep in mind the child’s maintaining factors or factors which contribute to the maintenance of the problem (Klein & Moses, 1999). These include: cognitive, sensorimotor, psychosocial and linguistic deficits. 

We also need to choose our reward system wisely, since the most effective systems which facilitate positive change actually utilize intrinsic rewards (pride in self for own accomplishments) (Kohn, 2001).  We need to teach the child positive replacement behaviors  to replace the use of negative ones, with an emphasis on self-talk, critical thinking, as well as talking about the problem vs. acting out behaviorally.

Of course it is very important that we utilize a team based approach and involve all the professionals involved in the child’s care including the child’s parents in order to ensure smooth and consistent carryover across all settings. Consistency is definitely a huge part of all behavior plans as it optimizes intervention results and achieves the desired therapy outcomes.

So the next time the client on your caseload is acting out don’t be so hasty in judging their behavior, when you have no idea regarding the reasons for it. Troubleshoot using appropriate and relevant steps in order to figure out what is REALLY going on and then attempt to change the situation in a team-based, systematic way.

For more detailed information on the topic of social pragmatic language assessment and behavior management in speech pathology see if the following Smart Speech Therapy LLC products could be of use:

 

References: 

  1. Bobrow, A. (2002). Problem behaviors in the classroom: What they mean and how to help. Functional Behavioral Assessment, 7 (2), 1–6.
  2. Chandler, L.K., & Dahlquist, C.M. Functional assessment: strategies to prevent and remediate challenging behavior in school settings (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.
  3. —Klein, H., & Moses, N. (1999). Intervention planning for children with communication disorders: A guide to the clinical practicum and professional practice. (2nd Ed.). Boston, MA.: Allyn & Bacon.
  4. —Kohn, A. (2001, Sept). Five reasons to stop saying “good job!’. Young Children. Retrieved from http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/gj.htm
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Dear Pediatrician: Please Don’t Say That!

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Recently, a new client came in for therapy.  He was a little over three years of age with limited verbal abilities,  and a number of stereotypical behaviors consistent with autism spectrum disorder.  During the course of parental interview, the child’s mother mentioned that he had previously briefly received early intervention services  but  aged out from the early intervention system after only a few months.  As we continued to discuss the case, his mother revealed that she  had significant concerns regarding her son’s language abilities and behavior from a very early age  because it  significantly differed from his older sister’s developmental trajectory. However,  every time she brought it up to her pediatrician  she invariably received the following answers:  “Don’t compare him to his sister, they are different  children”  and   “Don’t  worry,  he will catch up”,  which resulted in the child being referred for early intervention services when he was almost 3 years of age,  and unable to receive consistent  speech therapy services prior to aging out of the program all together.

This is not the first time I heard such a story,  and I’m sure it won’t be the last time as well.  Sadly, myself and other speech language therapists are very familiar with such cases and that is such a shame.  It is a shame, because  a parent was absolutely correct in trusting her instincts but was not validated by a medical professional she trusted the most, her child’s pediatrician.  Please don’t get me wrong,  I am not  playing the blame game  or trying to denigrate members of another profession.   My  aim  today is rather different and that is along with my colleagues to continue increasing awareness among all health professionals  regarding the early identification  of communication disorders  in children in order for them to receive  effective early intervention services  to improve their long-term outcomes.

getty_rf_photo_of_toddler_feeding_teddy_bear

 Whenever one “Googles” the term “Language Milestones In Children”  or “When  do children begin to talk?”   Numerous links pop-up,  describing developmental milestones in children.  Most of them contain  fairly typical information such as: first word emerge at approximately 12 months of age,   2 word combinations emerge when the child has a lexicon of approximately 50 words or more, which corresponds  to  a period between  18 months to 2 years of age,  and sentences emerge when a child is approximately 3 years of age. While most of this information is hopefully common knowledge for many healthcare professionals working with children including pediatricians,  is also important to understand that when the child comes in for a checkup one should not look at these abilities in isolation but  rather  look at the child  holistically.  That means  asking the parents the right questions to compare the child’s cognitive, adaptive,  social emotional, as well as communicative functioning  to that of typically developing peers  or siblings  in order to determine whether anything is amiss.  Thus, rather than to discourage the  parent  from  comparing their child to typically developing children his age, the parents  should actually be routinely asked the variation of the following question: “How  do your child’s abilities  and functioning compare to other typically developing children your child age?”

woman-talking-to-doctorWhenever I ask this question during the process of evaluation or initiation of therapy  services,  90% of the time I receive highly detailed and intuitive responses  from well-informed parents. They immediately begin describing in significant detail the difference in functioning  between their own delayed child  and  his/her  siblings/peers.   That is why in the majority of cases  I find the background information provided by the parent to be almost as valuable  as the evaluation itself.  For example, I recently assessed  a 3-5 year-old child  due to communication concerns.   The pediatrician was very reluctant to refer to the child for services due to the fact that the child was adequately verbal.   However,  the child’s  parents were insistent,  a script for services was written, and the child was brought to me for an evaluation.  Parents reported that while their child was very verbal and outgoing,  most of the time they had significant difficulty  understanding what she was trying to tell them due to poor grammar as well as nonsensical content of her messages.   They also reported that the child had a brother , who was older than her last several years.  However,  they stated that they had never experienced similar difficulties with the child’s brother when he was her age,  which is why they became so concerned with each passing day regarding the child’s language abilities.

Indeed, almost  as soon as the evaluation began, it became apparent that while the child’s verbal output was adequate, the semantic content of those messages  as well as the pragmatic use in conversational exchanges  was significantly impaired. In  other words,  the  child may have been adequately verbose but  the coherence of her discourse left a lot to be desired.   This child was the perfect candidate for therapy but had parents not insisted, the extent of her expressive language difficulties  may have been overlooked until she was old enough to go to kindergarten. By then  many valuable intervention  hours would have been lost  and the extent of the child deficits have been far greater.

So dear pediatrician,  the next time  a concerned parent utters the words: “I think something is wrong…” or “His language is nothing like his brother’s/sister’s when s/he was that age” don’t be so hasty in dismissing their concerns. Listen to them,  understand that while you are the expert in childhood health and diseases,   they are  the expert  in their own child,  and are highly attuned  to their child’s functioning and overall abilities. Encourage them to disclose their worries by asking follow-up questions and validating their concerns.

why_your_doctor_needs_to_know_your_life_story_4461_98044748There are significant benefits  to receiving early targeted  care  beyond the improvement in language abilities.  These include but are not limited to:  reduced chances of behavioral deficits or mental illness, reduced chances of reading, writing and learning difficulties  when older,  reduced chances of  impaired socialization abilities and self-esteem,  all of which can affect children with language deficits when appropriate services are delayed or never provided.  So please, err on the side of caution  and refer the children with suspected deficits to speech language pathologists.  Please give us an opportunity to thoroughly assess these children in order to find out  whether there truly is  speech/language disorder/delay.  Because by doing this you truly will be serving the interests of your clients.

Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources:

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What is ND-PAE and how is it Related to FASD?

The DSM-5 was released in May 2013 and with it came a revision of criteria for the diagnosis and classification of many psychiatric disorders.  Among them a new proposed criteria was included relevant to alcohol related deficits in children, which is Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated  With Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE) (DSM-5, pgs 798-801). This proposed criteria was included in order to better serve the complex mental health needs of individuals diagnosed with alcohol related deficits, which the previous diagnosis of 760.71 – Alcohol affecting fetus or newborn via placenta or breast milk was unable to adequately capture.   Continue reading What is ND-PAE and how is it Related to FASD?

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Why Developmental History Matters: On the Importance of Background Information in Speech-Language Assessments

Cute Detective Clip ArtLately I’ve been seeing quite a few speech language therapy reports with minimal information about the child in the background history section of the report. Similarly, I’ve encountered numerous SLPs seeking advice and guidance relevant to the assessment and treatment of difficult cases who were often at a loss when asked about specific aspects of their client’s background family history in order to assist them better. They’ve never delved into it beyond a few surface details! Continue reading Why Developmental History Matters: On the Importance of Background Information in Speech-Language Assessments

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Sunny Articulation Phonology Test Kit Review Update and Giveaway

In February 2013 I did a review of the Sunny Articulation Test by Smarty Apps. At that time I really liked the test but felt that a few enhancements could really make it standout from other available articulation tests and test apps on the market. Recently, the developer, Barbara Fernandes, contacted me again and asked me to take a second look at the new and improved Sunny Articulation and Phonology Kit (SAPT-K), which is what I am doing today. Continue reading Sunny Articulation Phonology Test Kit Review Update and Giveaway

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Comprehensive Assessment of Monolingual and Bilingual Children with Down Syndrome

Image result for down syndromeAssessing speech-language abilities of children with genetic disorders and developmental disabilities is no easy feat. Although developmental and genetic disorders affecting cognition, communication and functioning are increasingly widespread, speech-language assessment procedures for select populations (e.g., Down Syndrome) remain poorly understood by many speech-language professionals, resulting in ineffective or inappropriate service provision. Continue reading Comprehensive Assessment of Monolingual and Bilingual Children with Down Syndrome

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Tips Corner: Creating Opportunities for Spontaneous and Functional Communication

In today’s guest post,  Natalie Romanchukevich advises readers on how to create opportunities to expand children’s spontaneous communication skills.

Helping young children build speech- language skills is an exciting job that both caregivers and educators try to do every second of the day.  We spend so much time giving our children directions to follow, asking them a ton of questions, and modeling words and phrases to shape them into eloquent communicators.

What I find we do NOT do enough, sometimes, is hold back on our never ending “models” of what or how to say things, questions, and directions, instead of allowing our children initiate and engage with us.  Greenspan refers to these initiations as opening circles of communication (Weirder & Greenspan “Engaging Autism”, 2006).

Speech- language development can be thought of as having three interacting and equally important domains- Form ,Content, and Use (Lahey, 1988).

Form refers to the grammatical correctness of our words and sentences (eat vs. eat+ ing).

Content is what the we are essentially communicating- the meaning of our words and sentences.

Use (also known as pragmatics) refers to the function of our words or for what purpose we are using them.

The communicative functions that slowly emerge and characterize communication over the course of language acquisition in vary in typically developing young children.  Children communicate to greet others, comment on objects/actions, request desired objects, request assistance, protest, deny (a statement), ask questions, regulate others (e.g. “blow!”, “open!”), entertain, and narrate events.

In order for children to be able to express these functions, aside from the intent to communicate, there must also be opportunities to express ideas, wants, needs.  For example, why would Timmy request for an object (nonverbally or verbally) if the caregiver hands everything to the child at the slightest sign of a tantrum.  Why ask a “where?” question if every toy or beloved object is comfortably in sight?  Why ask for help if the caregiver readily assists the child with all activities.  The educators describe it as assuming the child’s needs.

Of course we do it out of love and care for the child, and, let’s be honest, sometimes, to save time.  However, it is important with both typical and delayed children to be mindful of what (form, content, use) we model, when (timing is crucial in teaching) we model it, how (facial expression, tone of voice, etc) we model it, and why (is it developmentally important to teach it now?) we model it at this very moment.

Just as it is important for kids to comprehend concepts, follow directions, and understand the different wh- questions, it is also paramount that your child is able to initiate communication.  After all, communication is the ability to express ideas, thoughts, and wants, not just understand those expressed by others.  Answering questions and following commands is not initiating.  Language that is elicited by us- is not spontaneous.

To use language spontaneously, effortlessly and creatively, children need opportunities to practice the skill, to experience taking the lead.  In order for our children to get there, we must first offer models of how to initiate communication and do so appropriately.  We can then create opportunities for the child to speak up.

The most basic strategies you can use to encourage spontaneous initiations (whether nonverbal or verbal) may seem seem initially as counterintuitive.  I mean what is the point to introducing attractive new toys or displaying a yummy snack and then putting it away? Yet it is exactly that action which may very much encourage your child to run after you with gestures or words.  Even then, you may still choose to play “dumb” and be “unsure” as to what it is your child wants.  Does s/he want that bag with new toy or snack “opened?” and “out?”

If the child is nonverbal, his use of gestures to regulate your actions to get the desired item out and open may be the child’s initial step toward sound imitation.  If you are working on getting the child to request help (not just objects), here is your opportunity to model “help” if the child can’t open the item independently.  On a side note, I often hear educators model “help me please!” when the child is clearly at a single word level.  This is not a developmental way of teaching.   Yes, it is nice to hear a full sentence but your child may not be ready for it.

While playing with your child and actively commenting on your joint play, you may find it productive to suddenly become quiet and cease all attempts to ask questions.   This often works beautifully in my therapy sessions; usually, after I have engaged the child into some sort of cooperative and enjoyable play! But it takes a conscious effort and self-control on the part of the adult, since we are so used to engaging in this adult- directed (telling the child what to do as opposed to letting him/her lead and you follow) approach to teaching.

However, once you are able to contain your speech and actions (I promise you it is possible), you may be surprised to hear some immediate or delayed imitations of words/ phrases as well as spontaneous meaningful language.  The language produced, to me, is an indication that the child wants more of the experience- more language enriched play.  Use this opportunity to expand on what s/he is already saying.

Here, timing is really important as you want to imitate back everything your child is doing.  This is another way to communicate with your child.  Build on your child’s language to further describe the objects or people in play without using long sentences.  So, allowing nothing to happen for a few minutes at a time may just be the push to help your child come out with some form of communication.

In addition, stopping a novel activity or toy exploration at the very height of your child’s excitement also works well with many children.  You don’t have to be  confrontational about it, “if you don’t imitate my word/ phrase I just won’t give it back to  you”.  make sure to create these “obstructions”, as Greenspan refers to them, in a friendly, playful and positive manner.  Obstructions or fabricated “problems” are also a big part of social-cognitive and constructivist theories of language learning.

The idea behind these “obstructions” is that the children are forced to problem solve and use resources (language being one of them!) so they can get what they want.  Allowing your child to problem solve is critical to overall cognitive development that affects and shapes speech and language. Presenting your child with developmentally appropriate activities that involve thinking and figuring out of how to get X is an invaluable strategy that I always use with all of my children.

In sum, stop access to items that are already loved, tape up containers, close boxes and jars with favorite snack and toys, give your child all but ONE important item that is needed to complete an activity (glue, scissors), give your child the “wrong” item, or offer the “wrong” solution to the problem.  All of these “problems” will push the kid to think and figure out what to do next.  This, in turn, facilitates spontaneous language use.

Letting go of control and just allowing for things to spill, break, or simply not follow the predictable comfortable routine, too, elicits a ton of speech- language and fun communication.  These are the most teachable moments as our children experience all the new words and concepts first hand.  Perhaps, this is why many children learn “dirty” or “wet” attributes before they learn their colors.  These concepts are more easily learned because they are experiential and bring about relevant words to describe these personally relevant and emotional experiences.  Cleaning up and taking turns arranging things back in place is super educational too as our children need to learn responsibility and helping others.

Moreover, exposing children to objects that are completely novel and foreign (but safe!) may help elicit an attempt to ask a question “what this?” because the child wants to know.  The motivation is there.  Now s/he needs language to get the answer from you.  Some children may use a word with a rising intonation, which too is a question form, just not grammatically mature one.  For example, “Hat?” is as much of a question as “Is that a hat?!”.  If all your child is capable of verbalizing is “wow”, then you can go ahead and model “what IS that?” question a few times.  Of course, you want to pair it up with an exaggerated expression of surprise and excitement in your voice.

To sum up, do not be afraid to experiment, get “messy”, stay silent, entice, intrigue and just wait for a few minutes to see what your child will do.  Yes, we want to teach our children to attend, sit down for a structured activity, and identify objects, shapes, colors, and actions; but these adult- directed activities do not allow for self- expression or spontaneous language use.  You also want to follow your child’s natural interests and inclinations as this is frequently a way into their world.  If you show interest in your friend’s ideas and you let him/her speak, will they not want to bond with you even more? Will they not want to communicate with you?

Creative and talented teachers are those who can use unconventional materials presented in unexpected ways while targeting all the skills that must be learned!  Learning to manipulate the environment to get the most out of your child’s skills can be difficult but indescribably rewarding.

References:

  1. Lahey, M. (1988). Language disorders and Language Development.
  2. Greenspan, S. & Weider, S. (2006). Engaging Autism: Using the Floortime approach to help children related, communicate, and think.
  3. Wetherby, A. & Prizant, B. (1990). Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales. ChicagoIL: Applied Symblix. 

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Natalie Romanchukevich has a MS in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Long Island University (LIU) as well as Bilingual (Russian/English) Certification, which allows her to practice speech- language pathology in both Russian and English. Following graduation, Natalie has been working with both monolingual and bilingual 0- 5 population in New York City, and has been an active advocate for preschoolers with disabilities in her present setting.  Natalie’s clinical interests and experience have been focused on  early childhood speech- language delays and disorders including speech disorders (e.g., Articulation, Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), Pervasive Developmental Disorders, Autistic Spectrum Disorders,  Auditory Processing Disorders, Specific Language Impairment (SLI), as well as Feeding Disorders. Presently she is working on developing her private practice in Brooklyn, NY.

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DI or SP: Why it’s important to know who is treating your child in Early Intervention

Recently on the American Speech Language Hearing Association Early Intervention forum there was a discussion about the shift in several states pertaining to provision of language services to children in the early intervention system.  Latest trend seems to be that a developmental interventionists (DI) or early childhood educators are now taking over in providing language intervention services instead of speech language pathologists.

A number of parents reported to SLPs that they were told by select DIs  that “they work on same goals as speech therapists”.  One parent, whose child received speech therapy privately with me and via EI kept referring to a DI’s as an SLP, during our conversation. This really confused me during my coordination of services phone call with the DI, since I was using terminology the DI was unfamiliar with.

Consequently, since a number of parents have asked me about the difference between DIs and SLPs I decided to write a post on this topic.

So what is the difference between DI and an SLP?

DI or a developmental interventionist is an early childhood education teacher.  In order to provide EI services a DI needs to have an undergraduate bachelor’s degree in a related health, human service, or education field. They also need a certificate in Early Childhood Education OR at least six (6) credits in infant or early childhood development and/or special education coursework.

A DI’s job is to create learning activities that promote the child’s acquisition of skills in a variety of developmental areas. DI therapists do not address one specific area of functioning but instead try to promote all skills including: cognition, language and communication, social-emotional functioning and behavior, gross and fine motor skills as well as self-help skills via play based interactions as well as environmental modifications. In other words a DIs are a bit like a jacks of all trades and they focus on a little bit of everything.

SLP or a Speech Language Pathologist is an ancillary health professional. In order to provide EI services, in the state of NJ for example, an SLP needs to have a Masters Degree in Speech Language Pathology or Communication Disorders as well as a State License (and in most cases a certification from ASHA, our national association).

Unlike DIs, pediatric SLPs focus on and have an in-depth specialization in improving children’s communication skills (e.g., speech, language, alternative augmentative communication, etc.). SLPs undergo rigorous training including multiple internships at both undergraduate (BA) and graduate (MA) levels as well as complete a clinical fellowship year prior to receiving relevant licenses and certifications. SLPs are also required to obtain a certain number of professional education hours every year after graduation in order to maintain their license and certifications.  Many of them undergo highly specialized trainings and take courses on specialized techniques of speech and language elicitation in order to work with children with severe speech language disorders secondary to a variety of complex medical, neurological and/or genetic diagnoses.

As you can see from the above, even though at first glance it may look like DIs and SLPs do similar work, DIs DON’T have nearly the same level of expertise and training possessed by the SLPs, needed to address TRUE speech-language delays and disorders in children.

What does this all mean to parents?

That depends on why parents/caregivers are seeking early intervention services in the first place. If they are concerned about their child’s speech language development then they definitely want to ensure the following:

  1. The child undergoes a speech language assessment with a qualified speech language pathologist and
  2. If speech language therapy is recommended, the child receives it from a qualified speech language pathologist

So if a professional other than an SLP assesses the child than it cannot be called a speech language assessment.

Similarly, if a related professional (e.g., DI) is providing services, they are NOT providing “speech language therapy” services.

They are also NOT providing the ‘SAME‘ level of services as a speech-language pathologist does.

Consequently, if speech language services are recommended for the child and those recommendations are documented in the child’s Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) then these services MUST be provided by a speech language pathologist, otherwise it is a direct violation of the child’s IFSP under the IDEA: Part C.

So how can parents ensure their child receives appropriate services from the get-go?

  • Find out in advance before the assessment who are the professionals (from which disciplines) coming to evaluate your child
    • If you have requested a speech-language evaluation due to concerns over your child’s speech language abilities and the SLP is not scheduled to assess, find out the reason for it and determine whether that reason makes sense to you
  • Ask questions during the assessment regarding the child’s performance/future recommendations
  • Make sure that an IFSP meeting is scheduled 45 days after the initial referral if the child is found eligible
  • Find out in advance which professionals will be attending your child’s IFSP meeting
  • Find out if any reports will be available to you prior to the meeting
    • If yes, carefully review the assessment report to ensure that you understand and agree with the findings
    • If no, make sure you have an adequate period of time to review all documentation prior to signing it and if need to request time to review reports
  • If an SLP assessed your child but therapy services are not recommended find out the reason for services denial in order to determine whether you have grounds for appeal (child’s delay was not substantial enough to merit services. vs. lack of SLP availability to provide intervention services)
  • If speech-language therapy services are recommended ensure that therapy initiation occurs in a timely manner after the initial IFSP meeting and that all missed sessions (by an SLP) are made-up in a timely manner as well

EI Service Provision in the State of New Jersey: DI vs. SLP 

(from  Service Guidelines for Speech Therapy in Early Intervention)   

The following are the circumstances in which a DI will be assigned to work with the child instead of an SLP (vs. in conjunction with) in the state of NJ (rules are similar in many other states)

  • If a child, under 28 months of age, presents with a “late-talker profile” (pg 27)
  • If child with speech-language delays  also has delayed prelinguistic skills (e.g., joint attention, turn-taking, etc), the DI will work with the child first to establish them  (pg 29)
  • If a child under 28 months has expressive language delay only and has intact cognition, receptive language, and motor skills
  • If the child has a cognitive delay commensurate with a receptive and expressive delay (p 30)
  • If a child has a hearing impairment and no other developmental delays, DI services will be provided while  information is being obtained and medical intervention is being provided (pg 31)

Understanding who is providing services and the rationale behind why these services are being provided is the first important step in quality early intervention service provision for young children with language delays and disorders.  So make sure that you know, who is treating your child!

Useful Resources: