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Teaching Metalinguistic Vocabulary for Reading Success

In my therapy sessions I spend a significant amount of time improving literacy skills (reading, spelling, and writing) of language impaired students.  In my work with these students I emphasize goals with a focus on phonics, phonological awareness, encoding (spelling) etc. However, what I have frequently observed in my sessions are significant gaps in the students’ foundational knowledge pertaining to the basics of sound production and letter recognition.  Basic examples of these foundational deficiencies involve students not being able to fluently name the letters of the alphabet, understand the difference between vowels and consonants, or fluently engage in sound/letter correspondence tasks (e.g., name a letter and then quickly and accurately identify which sound it makes).  Consequently, a significant portion of my sessions involves explicit instruction of the above concepts.

This got me thinking regarding my students’ vocabulary knowledge in general.  We, SLPs, spend a significant amount of time on explicit and systematic vocabulary instruction with our students because as compared to typically developing peers, they have immature and limited vocabulary knowledge. But do we teach our students the abstract vocabulary necessary for reading success? Do we explicitly teach them definitions of a letter, a word, a sentence? etc.

A number of my colleagues are skeptical. “Our students already have poor comprehension”, they tell me, “Why should we tax their memory with abstract words of little meaning to them?”  And I agree with them of course, but up to a point.

I agree that our students have working memory and processing speed deficits as a result of which they have a much harder time learning and recalling new words.

However, I believe that not teaching them meanings of select words pertaining to language is a huge disservice to them. Here is why. To be a successful communicator, speaker, reader, and writer, individuals need to possess adequate metalinguistic skills.

In simple terms “metalinguistics” refers to the individual’s ability to actively think about, talk about, and manipulate language. Reading, writing, and spelling require active level awareness and thought about language. Students with poor metalinguistic skills have difficulty learning to read, write, and spell.  They lack awareness that spoken words are made up of individual units of sound, which can be manipulated. They lack awareness that letters form words, words form phrases and sentences, and sentences form paragraphs. They may not understand that letters make sounds or that a word may consist of more letters than sounds (e.g., /ship/). The bottom line is that students with decreased metalinguistic skills cannot effectively use language to talk about concepts like sounds, letters, or words unless they are explicitly taught those abilities.

So I do! Furthermore, I can tell you that explicit instruction of metalinguistic vocabulary does significantly improve my students understanding of the tasks involved in obtaining literacy competence. Even my students with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities significantly benefit from understanding the meanings of: letters, words, sentences, etc.

I even created a basic abstract vocabulary handout to facilitate my students comprehension of these words (FREE HERE). While by no means exhaustive, it is a decent starting point for teaching my students the vocabulary needed to improve their metalinguistic skills.

For older elementary aged students with average IQ, I only provide the words I want them to define, and then ask them to look up their meanings online via the usage of PC or an iPad. This turns of vocabulary activity into a critical thinking and an executive functions task.

Students need to figure out the appropriate search string needed to in order to locate the answer as well as which definition comes the closest to clearly and effectively defining the presented word. One of the things I really like about Google online dictionary, is that it provides multiple definitions of the same words along with word origins. As a result, it teaches students to carefully review and reflect upon their selected definition in order to determine its appropriateness.

A word of caution as though regarding using Kiddle, Google-powered search engine for children. While it’s great for locating child friendly images, it is not appropriate for locating abstract definition of words. To illustrate, when you type in the string search into Google, “what is the definition of a letter?” You will get several responses which will appropriately match  some meanings of your query.  However the same string search in Kiddle, will merely yield helpful tips on writing a letter as well as images of envelopes with stamps affixed to them.

In contrast to the above, I use a more structured vocabulary defining activities for younger elementary age students as well as students with intellectual impairments. I provide simple definitions of abstract words, attach images and examples to each definition as well as create cloze activities and several choices of answers in order to ensure my students’ comprehension of these words.

I find that this and other metalinguistic activities significantly improve my students comprehension of abstract words such as ‘communication’, ‘language’, as well as ‘literacy’. They cease being mere buzzwords, frequently heard yet consistently not understood.  To my students these words begin to come to life, brim with meaning, and inspire numerous ‘aha’ moments.

Now that you’ve had a glimpse of my therapy sessions I’d love to have a glimpse of yours. What metalinguistic goals related to literacy are you targeting with your students? Comment below to let me know.

 

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The Limitations of Using Total/Core Scores When Determining Speech-Language Eligibility

In both of the settings where I work, psychiatric outpatient school as well as private practice, I spend a fair amount of time reviewing speech language evaluation reports.  As I’m looking at these reports I am seeing that many examiners choose to base their decision making with respect to speech language services eligibility on the students’ core, index, or total scores, which are composite scores. For those who are not familiar with this term, composite scores are standard scores based on the sum of various test scaled scores.

When the student displays average abilities on all of the presented subtests, use of composite scores clearly indicates that the child does not present with deficits and thereby is not eligible for therapy services.

The same goes for the reverse, when the child is displaying a pattern of deficits which places their total score well below the average range of functioning. Again, it indicates that the child is performing poorly and requires therapy services.

However, there’s also a the third scenario, which presents a cause for concern namely, when the students display a pattern of strengths and weaknesses on a variety of subtests, but end up with an average/low average total scores, making them ineligible for services. 

Results of the Test of Problem Solving -2 Elementary (TOPS-3)

Subtests Raw Score Standard Score Percentile Rank Description
Making Inferences 19 83 12 Below Average
Sequencing 22 86 17 Low Average
Negative Questions 21 95 38 Average
Problem Solving 21 90 26 Average
Predicting 18 92 29 Average
Determining Causes 13 82 11 Below Average
Total Test 114 86 18 Low Average

Results of the Test of Reading Comprehension-Fourth Edition (TORC-4)

Subtests Raw Score Standard Score Percentile Rank Description
Relational Vocabulary 24 9 37 Average
Sentence Completion 25 9 37 Average
Paragraph Construction 41 12 75 Average
Text Comprehension 21 7 16 Below Average
Contextual Fluency 86 6 9 Below Average
Reading Comprehension Index 90 Average

The above tables, taken from different evaluations, perfectly illustrate such a scenario. While we see that their total/index scores are within average range, the first student has displayed a pattern of strengths and weaknesses across various subtests of the TOPS-3, while the second one displayed a similar performance pattern on the TORC-4.

Typically in such cases, clinical judgment dictates a number of options:

  1. Administration of another standardized test further probing into related areas of difficulty (e.g., in such situations the administration of a social pragmatic standardized test may reveal a significant pattern of weaknesses which would confirm student’s eligibility for language therapy services).                                                                                                        
  2. Administration of informal/dynamic assessments/procedures further probing into the student’s critical thinking/verbal reasoning skills.

Image result for follow upHere is the problem though: I only see the above follow-up steps in a small percentage of cases. In the vast majority of cases in which score discrepancies occur, I see the examiners ignoring the weaknesses without follow up. This of course results in the child not qualifying for services.

So why do such practices frequently take place? Is it because SLPs want to deny children services?  And the answer is NOT at all! The vast majority of SLPs, I have had the pleasure interacting with, are deeply caring and concerned individuals, who only want what’s best for the student in question. Oftentimes, I believe the problem lies with the misinterpretation of/rigid adherence to the state educational code.

For example, most NJ SLPs know that the New Jersey State Education Code dictates that initial eligibility must be determined via use of two standardized tests on which the student must perform 1.5 standard deviations below the mean (or below the 10th percentile).  Based on such phrasing it is reasonable to assume that any child who receives the total scores on two standardized tests above the 10th percentile will not qualify for services. Yet this is completely incorrect!

Let’s take a closer look at the clarification memo issued on October 6, 2015, by the New Jersey Department of Education, in response to NJ Edu Code misinterpretation. Here is what it actually states.

In accordance with this regulation, when assessing for a language disorder for purposes of determining whether a student meets the criteria for communication impaired, the problem must be demonstrated through functional assessment of language in other than a testing situation and performance below 1.5 standard deviations, or the 10th percentile on at least two standardized language tests, where such tests are appropriate, one of which shall be a comprehensive test of both receptive and expressive language.”

“When implementing the requirement with respect to “standardized language tests,” test selection for evaluation or reevaluation of an individual student is based on various factors, including the student’s ability to participate in the tests, the areas of suspected language difficulties/deficits (e.g., morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics/social language) and weaknesses identified during the assessment process which require further testing, etc. With respect to test interpretation and decision-making regarding eligibility for special education and related services and eligibility for speech-language services, the criteria in the above provision do not limit the types of scores that can be considered (e.g., index, subtest, standard score, etc.).”

Firstly, it emphasizes functional assessments. It doesn’t mean that assessments should be exclusively standardized rather it emphasizes the best appropriate procedures for the student in question be they standardized and nonstandardized.

Secondly, it does not limit standardized assessment to 2 tests only. Rather it uses though phrase “at least” to emphasize the minimum of tests needed.

It explicitly makes a reference to following up on any weaknesses displayed by the students during standardized testing in order to get to the root of a problem.

It specifies that SLPs must assess all displayed areas of difficulty (e.g., social communication) rather than assessing general language abilities only.

Finally, it explicitly points out that SLPs cannot limit their testing interpretation to the total scores but must to look at the testing results holistically, taking into consideration the student’s entire assessment performance.

The problem is that if SLPs only look at total/core scores then numerous children with linguistically-based deficits will fall through the cracks.  We are talking about children with social communication deficits, children with reading disabilities, children with general language weaknesses, etc.  These students may be displaying average total scores but they may also be displaying significant subtest weaknesses. The problem is that unless these weaknesses are accounted for and remediated as they are not going to magically disappear or resolve on their own. In fact both research and clinical judgment dictates that these weaknesses will exacerbate over time and will continue to adversely impact both social communication and academics.

So the next time you see a pattern of strengths and weaknesses and testing, even if it amounts to a total average score, I urge you to dig deeper. I urge you to investigate why this pattern is displayed in the first place. The same goes for you – parents! If you are looking at average total scores  but seeing unexplained weaknesses in select testing areas, start asking questions! Ask the professional to explain why those deficits are occuring and tell them to dig deeper if you are not satisfied with what you are hearing. All students deserve access to FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education). This includes access to appropriate therapies, they may need in order to optimally function in the classroom.

I urge my fellow SLP’s to carefully study their respective state codes as well as know who they are state educational representatives are. These are the professionals SLPs can contact with questions regarding educational code clarification.  For example, the SEACDC Consultant for the state of New Jersey is currently Fran Liebner (phone: 609-984-4955; Fax: 609-292-5558; e-mail: [email protected]).

However, the Department of Education is not the only place SLPs can contact in their state.  Numerous state associations worked diligently on behalf of SLPs by liaising with the departments of education in order to have access to up to date information pertaining to school services. In the state of New Jersey, the School Affairs Committee (SAC) of the New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NJSHA), has developed a number of documents of interest for the school-based SLPs which can be found HERE.

For those SLPs located in states other than New Jersey, ASHA helpfully provides contact information by state HERE.

When it comes to score interpretation, there are a variety of options available to SLPs in addition to the detailed reading of the test manual. We can use them to ensure that the students we serve experience optimal success in both social and academic settings.

Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources:

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Intervention at the Last Moment or Why We Need Better Preschool Evaluations

“Well, the school did their evaluations and he doesn’t qualify for services” tells me a parent of a 3.5 year old, newly admitted private practice client.  “I just don’t get it” she says bemusedly, “It is so obvious to anyone who spends even 10 minutes with him that his language is nowhere near other kids his age!” “How can this happen?” she asks frustratedly?

This parent is not alone in her sentiment. In my private practice I frequently see preschool children with speech language impairments who for all intents and purposes should have qualified for preschool- based speech language services but do not due to questionable testing practices.

To illustrate, several years ago in my private practice, I started seeing a young preschool girl, 3.2 years of age. Just prior to turning 3, she underwent a collaborative school-based social, psychological, educational, and speech language evaluation.  The 4 combined evaluators from each field only used one standardized assessment instrument “The Battelle Developmental Inventory – Second Edition (BDI-2)” along with a limited ‘structured observation’, without performing any functional or dynamic assessments and found the child to be ineligible for services on account of a low average total score on the BDI-2.

However, during the first session working 1:1 with this client at the age of 3.2 a number of things became very apparent.  The child had very limited highly echolalic verbal output primarily composed of one-word utterances and select two-word phrases.  She had highly limited receptive vocabulary and could not consistently point to basic pictures denoting common household objects and items (e.g., chair, socks, clock, sun, etc.)  Similarly, expressively she exhibited a number of inconsistencies when labeling simple nouns (e.g., called tree a flower, monkey a dog, and sofa a chair, etc.)  Clearly this child’s abilities were nowhere near age level, so how could she possibly not qualify for preschool based services?

Further work with the child over the next several years yielded slow, labored, and inconsistent gains in the areas of listening, speaking, and social communication.  I’ve also had a number of concerns regarding her intellectual abilities that I had shared with the parents.  Finally, two years after preschool eligibility services were denied to this child, she underwent a second round of re-evaluations with the school district at the age of 5.2.

This time around she qualified with bells on! The same speech language pathologist and psychologist who assessed her first time around two years ago, now readily documented significant communication (Preschool Language Scale-5-PLS-5 scores in the 1st % of functioning) and cognitive deficits (Full Scale Intelligence Quotient-FSIQ in low 50’s).

Here is the problem though. This is not a child who had suddenly regressed in her abilities.  This is a child who actually had improved her abilities in all language domains due to private language therapy services.  Her deficits very clearly existed at the time of her first school-based assessment and had continued to persist over time. For the duration of two years this child could have significantly benefited from free and appropriate education in school setting, which was denied to her due to highly limited preschool assessment practices.

Today, I am writing this post to shed light on this issue, which I’m pretty certain is not just confined to the state of New Jersey.  I am writing this post not simply to complain but to inform parents and educators alike on what actually constitutes an appropriate preschool speech-language assessment.

As per NJAC 6A:14-2.5  Protection in evaluation procedures (pgs. 29-30)

(a) In conducting an evaluation, each district board of education shall:

  1. Use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional and developmental information, including information:
  2. Provided by the parent that may assist in determining whether a child is a student with a disability and in determining the content of the student’s IEP; and
  3. Related to enabling the student to be involved in and progress in the general education curriculum or, for preschool children with disabilities, to participate in appropriate activities;
  4. Not use any single procedure as the sole criterion for determining whether a student is a student with a disability or determining an appropriate educational program for the student; and
  5. Use technically sound instruments that may assess the relative contribution of cognitive and behavioral factors, in addition to physical or developmental factors.

Furthermore, according to the New Special Education Code: N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.5(c)10 (please refer to your state’s eligibility criteria to find similar guidelinesthe eligibility of a “preschool child with a disability” applies to any student between 3-5 years of age with an identified disabling condition adversely affecting learning/development  (e.g., genetic syndrome), a 33% delay in one developmental area, or a 25% percent delay in two or more developmental areas below :

  1. Physical, including gross/fine motor and sensory (vision and hearing)
  2. Intellectual
  3. Communication
  4. Social/emotional
  5. Adaptive

—These delays can be receptive (listening) or expressive (speaking) and need not be based on a total test score but rather on all testing findings with a minimum of at least two assessments being performed.  A determination of adverse impact in academic and non-academic areas (e.g., social functioning) needs to take place in order for special education and related services be provided.  Additionally, a delay in articulation can serve as a basis for consideration of eligibility as well.

—Moreover, according to  the —State Education Agencies Communication Disabilities Council (SEACDC) Consulatent for NJ – Fran Liebner, the BDI-2 is not the only test which can be used to determine eligibility, since the nature and scope of the evaluation must be determined based on parent, teacher and IEP team feedback.

In fact, New Jersey’s Special Education Code, N.J.A.C. 6A:14 prescribes no specific test in its eligibility requirements.  While it is true that for NJ districts participating in Indicator 7 (Preschool Outcomes) BDI-2 is a required collection tool it does NOT preclude the team from deciding what other diagnostic tools are needed to assess all areas of suspected disability to determine eligibility. 

Speech pathologists have many tests available to them when assessing young preschool children 2 to 6 years of age.

SELECT SPEECH PATHOLOGY TESTS FOR PRESCHOOL CHILDREN (2-6 years of age)

 Articulation:

  • Sunny Articulation Test (SAPT)** Ages: All (nonstandardized)
  • Clinical Assessment of Articulation and Phonology-2 (CAAP-2) Ages: 2.6+
  • Linguisystems Articulation Test (LAT) Ages: 3+
  • Goldman Fristoe Test of Articulation-3 (GFTA-3)    Ages: 2+

 Fluency:

  • Stuttering Severity Instrument -4 (SSI-4) Ages: 2+
  • Test of Childhood Stuttering (TOCS) Ages 4+

General Language: 

  • Preschool Language Assessment Instrument-2 (PLAI-2)  Ages: 3+
  • Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals -Preschool 2 (CELF-P2) Ages: 3+
  • Test of Early Language Development, Third Edition (TELD-3) Ages: 2+
  • Test of Auditory Comprehension of Language Third Edition (TACL-4)      Ages: 3+
  • Preschool Language Scale-5 (PLS-5)* (use with extreme caution) Ages: Birth-7:11

Vocabulary

  • Receptive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test-4 (ROWPVT-4)  Ages 2+
  • Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test-4 (EOWPVT-4) Ages 2+
  • Montgomery Assessment of Vocabulary Acquisition (MAVA) 3+
  • Test of Word Finding-3 (TWF-3) Ages 4.6+

Auditory Processing and Phonological Awareness

  • Auditory Skills Assessment (ASA)    Ages 3:6+
  • Test of Auditory Processing Skills-3 (TAPS-3) Ages 4+
  • Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing-2 (CTOPP-2) Ages 4+

Pragmatics/Social Communication

  • —Language Use Inventory LUI (O’Neil, 2009) Ages 18-47 months
  • —Children’s Communication Checklist-2 (CCC-2) (Bishop, 2006) Ages 4+

—In addition to administering standardized testing SLPs should also use play scales (e.g., Westby Play Scale, 1980) to assess the given child’s play abilities. This is especially important given that “play—both functional and symbolic has been associated with language and social communication ability.” (Toth, et al, 2006, pg. 3)

Finally, by showing children simple wordless picture books, SLPs can also obtain of wealth of information regarding ——the child’s utterance length, as well as narrative abilities ( a narrative assessment can be performed on a verbal child as young as two years of age).

—Comprehensive school-based speech-language assessments should be the norm and not an exception when determining preschoolers eligibility for speech language services and special education classification.

Consequently, let us ensure that our students receive fair and adequate assessments to have access to the best classroom placements, appropriate accommodations and modifications as well as targeted and relevant therapeutic services. Anything less will lead to the denial of Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to which all students are entitled to!

Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources Pertaining to Preschoolers: 

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Why Are My Child’s Test Scores Dropping?

“I just don’t understand,” says a parent bewilderingly, “she’s receiving so many different therapies and tutoring every week, but her scores on educational, speech-language, and psychological testing just keep dropping!”

I hear a variation of this comment far too frequently in both my private practice as well as outpatient school in hospital setting, from parents looking for an explanation regarding the decline of their children’s standardized test scores in both cognitive (IQ) and linguistic domains. That is why today I wanted to take a moment to write this blog post to explain a few reasons behind this phenomenon.

Children with language impairments represent a highly diverse group, which exists along a continuum.   Some children’s deficits may be mild while others far more severe. Some children may receive very little intervention  services and thrive academically, while others can receive inordinate amount of interventions and still very limitedly benefit from them.  To put it in very simplistic terms, the above is due to two significant influences – the interaction between the child’s (1) genetic makeup and (2) environmental factors.

There is a reason why language disorders are considered developmental.   Firstly, these difficulties are apparent from a young age when the child’s language just begins to develop.  Secondly, the trajectory of the child’s language deficits also develops along with the child and can progress/lag based on the child’s genetic predisposition, resiliency, parental input, as well as schooling and academically based interventions.

Let us discuss some of the reasons why standardized testing results may decline for select students who are receiving a variety of support services and interventions.


Ineffective Interventions due to Misdiagnosis 

Sometimes, lack of appropriate/relevant intervention provision may be responsible for it.  Let’s take an example of a misdiagnosis of alcohol related deficits as Autism, which I have frequently encountered in my private practice, when performing second opinion testing and consultations. Unfortunately, the above is not uncommon.  Many children with alcohol-related impairments may present with significant social emotional dysregulation coupled with significant externalizing behavior manifestations.  As a result, without a thorough differential diagnosis they may be frequently diagnosed with ASD and then provided with ABA therapy services for years with little to no benefit.

Ineffective Interventions due to Lack of Comprehensive Testing 

Let us examine another example of a student with average intelligence but poor reading performance.  The student may do well in school up to certain grade but then may begin to flounder academically.  Because only the student’s reading abilities ‘seem’ to be adversely impacted, no comprehensive language and literacy evaluations are performed.   The student may receive undifferentiated extra reading support in school while his scores may continue to drop.

Once the situation ‘gets bad enough’, the student’s language and literacy abilities may be comprehensively assessed.  In a vast majority of situations these type of assessments yield the following results:

  1. The student’s oral language expression as well as higher order language abilities are adversely affected and require targeted language intervention
  2. The undifferentiated reading intervention provided to the student was NOT targeting actual areas of weaknesses

As can be seen from above examples, targeted intervention is hugely important and, in a number of cases, may be responsible  for the student’s declining performance. However, that is not always the case.

What if it was definitively confirmed that the student was indeed diagnosed appropriately and was receiving quality services but still continued to decline academically. What then?

Well, we know that many children with genetic disorders (Down Syndrome, Fragile X, etc.) as well as intellectual disabilities (ID) can make incredibly impressive gains in a variety of developmental areas (e.g., gross/fine motor skills, speech/language, socio-emotional, ADL, etc.)  but their gains will not be on par with peers without these diagnoses.

The situation becomes much more complicated when children without ID (or with mild intellectual deficits) and varying degrees of language impairment, receive effective therapies, work very hard in therapy, yet continue  to be perpetually behind their peers when it comes to making academic gains.  This occurs because of a phenomenon known as Cumulative Cognitive Deficit (CCD).

The Effect of Cumulative Cognitive Deficit (CCD) on Academic Performance 

According to Gindis (2005) CCD “refers to a downward trend in the measured intelligence and/or scholastic achievement of culturally/socially disadvantaged children relative to age-appropriate societal norms and expectations” (p. 304). Gindis further elucidates by quoting Satler (1992): “The theory behind cumulative deficit is that children who are deprived of enriching cognitive experiences during their early years are less able to profit from environmental situations because of a mismatch between their cognitive schemata and the requirements of the new (or advanced) learning situation”  (pp. 575-576).

So who are the children potentially at risk for CCD?

One such group are internationally (and domestically) adopted as well as foster care children.  A number of studies show that due to the early life hardships associated with prenatal trauma (e.g., maternal substance abuse, lack of adequate prenatal care, etc.) as well as postnatal stress (e.g., adverse effect of institutionalization), many of these children have much poorer social and academic outcomes despite being adopted by well-to-do, educated parents who continue to provide them with exceptional care in all aspects of their academic and social development.

Another group, are children with diagnosed/suspected psychiatric impairments and concomitant overt/hidden language deficits. Depending on the degree and persistence of the psychiatric impairment, in addition to having intermittent access to classroom academics and therapy interventions, the quality of their therapy may be affected by the course of their illness. Combined with sporadic nature of interventions this may result in them falling further and further behind their peers with respect to social and academic outcomes.

A third group (as mentioned previously) are children with genetic syndromes, neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., Autism) and intellectual disabilities. Here, it is very important to explicitly state that children with diagnosed or suspected alcohol related deficits (FASD) are particularly at risk due to the lack of consensus/training  regarding FAS detection/diagnosis. Consequently, these children may evidence a steady ‘decline’ on standardized testing despite exhibiting steady functional gains in therapy.

Brief Standardized Testing Score Tutorial:

When we look at norm-referenced testing results, score interpretation can be quite daunting. For the sake of simplicity,  I’d like to restrict this discussion to two types of scores: raw scores and standard scores.

The raw score is the number of items the child answered correctly on a test or a subtest. However, raw scores need to be interpreted to be meaningful.  For example, a 9 year old student can attain a raw score of 12 on a subtest of a particular test (e.g., Listening Comprehension Test-2 or LCT-2).  Without more information, the raw score has no meaning. If the test consisted of 15 questions, a raw score of 12 would be an average score. Alternatively, if the subtest had 36 questions, a raw score of 12 would be significantly below-average (e.g., Test of Problem Solving-3 or TOPS-3).

Consequently, the raw score needs to be converted to a standard score. Standard scores compare the student’s performance on a test to the performance of other students his/her age.  Many standardized language assessments have a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. Thus, scores between 85 and 115 are considered to be in the average range of functioning.

Now lets discuss testing performance variation across time. Let’s say an 8.6 year old student took the above mentioned LCT-2 and attained poor standard scores on all subtests.   That student qualifies for services and receives them for a period of one year. At that time the LCT-2 is re-administered once again and much to the parents surprise the student’s standard scores appear to be even lower than when he had taken the test as an eight year old (illustration below).

Results of The Listening Comprehension Test -2 (LCT-2): Age: 8:4

Subtests Raw Score Standard Score Percentile Rank Description
Main Idea 5 67 2 Severely Impaired
Details 2 63 1 Severely Impaired
Reasoning 2 69 2 Severely Impaired
Vocabulary 0 Below Norms Below Norms Profoundly Impaired
Understanding Messages 0 <61 <1 Profoundly Impaired
Total Test Score 9 <63 1 Profoundly Impaired

(Mean = 100, Standard Deviation = +/-15)

Results of The Listening Comprehension Test -2 (LCT-2):  Age: 9.6

Subtests Raw Score Standard Score Percentile Rank Description
Main Idea 6 60 0 Severely Impaired
Details 5 66 1 Severely Impaired
Reasoning 3 62 1 Severely Impaired
Vocabulary 4 74 4 Moderately Impaired
Understanding Messages 2 54 0 Profoundly Impaired
Total Test Score 20 <64 1 Profoundly Impaired

(Mean = 100, Standard Deviation = +/-15)

However, if one looks at the raw score column on the far left, one can see that the student as a 9 year old actually answered more questions than as an 8 year old and his total raw test score went up by 11 points.

The above is a perfect illustration of CCD in action. The student was able to answer more questions on the test but because academic, linguistic, and cognitive demands continue to steadily increase with age, this quantitative improvement in performance (increase in total number of questions answered) did not result in qualitative  improvement in performance (increase in standard scores).

In the first part of this series I have introduced the concept of Cumulative Cognitive Deficit and its effect on academic performance. Stay tuned for part II of this series which describes what parents and professionals can do to improve functional performance of students with Cumulative Cognitive Deficit.

References:

  • Bowers, L., Huisingh, R., & LoGiudice, C. (2006). The Listening Comprehension Test-2 (LCT-2). East Moline, IL: LinguiSystems, Inc.
  • Bowers, L., Huisingh, R., & LoGiudice, C. (2005). The Test of Problem Solving 3-Elementary (TOPS-3). East Moline, IL: LinguiSystems.
  • Gindis, B. (2005). Cognitive, language, and educational issues of children adopted from overseas orphanages. Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology, 4 (3): 290-315.
  • Sattler, J. M. (1992). Assessment of Children. Revised and updated 3rd edition. San Diego: Jerome M. Sattler.
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Parent Consultation Services

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

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Creating A Learning Rich Environment for Language Delayed Preschoolers

Today I’m excited to introduce a new product: “Creating A Learning Rich Environment for Language Delayed Preschoolers“.  —This 40 page presentation provides suggestions to parents regarding how to facilitate further language development in language delayed/impaired preschoolers at home in conjunction with existing outpatient, school, or private practice based speech language services. It details implementation strategies as well as lists useful materials, books, and websites of interest.

It is intended to be of interest to both parents and speech language professionals (especially clinical fellows and graduates speech pathology students or any other SLPs switching populations) and not just during the summer months. SLPs can provide it to the parents of their cleints instead of creating their own materials. This will not only save a significant amount of time but also provide a concrete step-by-step outline which explains to the parents how to engage children in particular activities from bedtime book reading to story formulation with magnetic puzzles.

Product Content:

  • The importance of daily routines
  • The importance of following the child’s lead
  • Strategies for expanding the child’s language
    • —Self-Talk
    • —Parallel Talk
    • —Expansions
    • —Extensions
    • —Questioning
    • —Use of Praise
  • A Word About Rewards
  • How to Begin
  • How to Arrange the environment
  • Who is directing the show?
  • Strategies for facilitating attention
  • Providing Reinforcement
  • Core vocabulary for listening and expression
  • A word on teaching vocabulary order
  • Teaching Basic Concepts
  • Let’s Sing and Dance
  • Popular toys for young language impaired preschoolers (3-4 years old)
  • Playsets
  • The Versatility of Bingo (older preschoolers)
  • Books, Books, Books
  • Book reading can be an art form
  • Using Specific Story Prompts
  • Focus on Story Characters and Setting
  • Story Sequencing
  • More Complex Book Interactions
  • Teaching vocabulary of feelings and emotions
  • Select favorite authors perfect for Pre-K
  • Finding Intervention Materials Online The Easy Way
  • Free Arts and Crafts Activities Anyone?
  • Helpful Resources

Are you a caregiver, an SLP or a related professional? DOES THIS SOUND LIKE SOMETHING YOU CAN USE? if so you can find it HERE in my online store.

Useful Smart Speech Therapy Resources:

References:
Heath, S. B (1982) What no bedtime story means: Narrative skills at home and school. Language in Society, vol. 11 pp. 49-76.

Useful Websites:
http://www.beyondplay.com
http://www.superdairyboy.com/Toys/magnetic_playsets.html
http://www.educationaltoysplanet.com/
http://www.melissaanddoug.com/shop.phtml
http://www.dltk-cards.com/bingo/
http://bogglesworldesl.com/
http://www.childrensbooksforever.com/index.html

 

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What do Auditory Memory Deficits Indicate in the Presence of Average General Language Scores?

I frequently see a variation of the following question on a variety of speech language forums: “My student scored within the average range on all the tested subtests with the exception of working memory and sentence recall. What other testing do you recommend to determine whether these difficulties are impacting their academics?”

First, lets provide a definition of working memory (WM). WM is the memory used for temporarily storing and manipulating information so we can perform a particular task. It’s one of the executive functions (EFs) and contains two important subcomponents: a phonological loop that stores verbal information and a visuo-spatial ‘sketchpad’ which stores visual and spatial information (Baddeley & Hitch, 2007). Together they are responsible for acquisition of sound-letter correspondence, phonemic awareness and ultimately reading comprehension since WM influences the duration the information stays in memory as well as its eventual transfer (or lack of thereof) to long-term memory.

In other words, students with adequate working memory will have enough capacity to appropriately decode, fluently read and adequately comprehend text while students with poor working memory will expend all their capacity on basic tasks such as decoding, which leaves them with very little capacity to devote to comprehension of read material.

Outside of testing, WM deficits typically become glaringly apparent as students move up grade levels and are given challenging subject-specific abstract texts, requiring in-depth analysis.  This is when parents and professionals start to see that in addition to experiencing difficulty comprehending the read texts, students with poor WM also tire easily when presented with lengthy texts, and tend to evidence increased frustration and decreased self-efficacy during reading tasks.

Now let’s get back to our original question: “What other testing do you recommend to determine whether these [memory] difficulties are impacting their academics?”

Typically when asked that question I always tend to recommend that the therapist (an SLP trained in reading disorders) or a related special educational professional (e.g., learning specialist) preform a series of tests aimed to determine whether the student presents with reading deficits.

In my clinical experience (which is of course substantiated by research) in 99% of cases, reading disabilities are the hidden culprit behind seemingly average oral language skills and working memory deficits.   For more information on what testing is recommended to tease out the presence of reading disorders, see my series posts on Comprehensive Dyslexia Testing (HERE) as well as on the validity of (C)APD diagnosis (HERE).

keep calm and don't ignore the signs

So the next time you encounter this perplexing pattern of strengths and weaknesses don’t just ignore it as inconsequential and not recommend or dismiss the student from language services.  Delve into it further! You will often find that it is representative of reading difficulties, the cumulative impact of which may significantly affect the student’s academic performance and ultimately school outcomes, unless appropriate therapeutic interventions are provided.

References:

  • Baddeley, A. D., & Hitch, G. J. (2007). Working memory: Past, present…and future? In N.Osaka, R. Logie & M. D’Esposito (Eds), Working Memory – Behavioural & Neural Correlates. Oxford University Press.
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Have you Worked on Morphological Awareness Lately?

Last year an esteemed colleague, Dr. Roseberry-McKibbin posed this question in our Bilingual SLPs Facebook Group:  “Is anyone working on morphological awareness in therapy with ELLs (English Language Learners) with language disorders?”

Her question got me thinking: “How much time do I spend on treating morphological awareness in therapy with monolingual and bilingual language disordered clients?” The answer did not make me happy!

So what is morphological awareness and why is it important to address when treating monolingual and bilingual  language impaired students?

Morphemes are the smallest units of language that carry meaning. They can be free (stand alone words such as ‘fair’, ‘toy’, or ‘pretty’) or bound (containing prefixes and suffixes that change word meanings – ‘unfair’ or ‘prettier’).

Morphological awareness refers to a ‘‘conscious awareness of the morphemic structure of words and the ability to reflect on and manipulate that structure’’ (Carlisle, 1995, p. 194). Also referred to as “the study of word structure” (Carlisle, 2004), it is an ability to recognize, understand, and use affixes or word parts (prefixes, suffixes, etc) that “carry significance” when speaking as well as during reading tasks. It is a hugely important skill for building vocabulary, reading fluency and comprehension as well as spelling (Apel & Lawrence, 2011; Carlisle, 2000; Binder & Borecki, 2007; Green, 2009). 

So why is teaching morphological awareness important? Let’s take a look at some research.

Goodwin and Ahn (2010) found morphological awareness instruction to be particularly effective for children with speech, language, and/or literacy deficits. After reviewing 22 studies Bowers et al. (2010) found the most lasting effect of morphological instruction was on readers in early elementary school who struggled with literacy.

Morphological awareness instruction mediates and facilitates vocabulary acquisition leading to improved reading comprehension abilities (Bowers & Kirby, 2010; Carlisle, 2003, 2010; Guo, Roehrig, & Williams, 2011; Tong, Deacon, Kirby, Cain, & Parilla, 2011).

Unfortunately as important morphological instruction is for vocabulary building, reading fluency, reading comprehension, and spelling, it is often overlooked during the school years until it’s way too late. For example, traditionally morphological instruction only beings in late middle school or high school but research actually found that in order to be effective one should actually begin teaching it as early as first grade (Apel & Lawrence, 2011).

So now that we know that we need to target morphological instruction very early in children with language deficits, let’s talk a little bit regarding how morphological awareness can be assessed in language impaired learners.

When it comes to standardized testing, both the Test of Language Development: Intermediate – Fourth Edition (TOLD-I:4) and the Test of Adolescent and Adult Language–Fourth Edition (TOAL-4) have subtests which assess morphology as well as word derivations. However if you do not own either of these tests you can easily create non-standardized tasks to assess  morphological awareness.

Apel, Diehm, & Apel (2013) recommend multiple measures which include:  phonological awareness tasks, word level reading tasks, as well as reading comprehension tasks.

Below are direct examples of tasks from their study:

MATs

One can test morphological awareness via production or decomposition tasks. In a production task a student is asked to supply a missing word, given the root morpheme (e.g., ‘‘Sing. He is a great _____.’’ Correct response: singer).  A decomposition task asks the student to identify the correct root of a given derivation or inflection. (e.g., ‘‘Walker. How slow can she _____?’’ Correct response: walk).

Another way to test morphological awareness is through completing analogy tasks since it involves both  decomposition and production components (provide a missing word based on the presented pattern—crawl: crawled:: fly: ______ (flew).

Still another way to test morphological awareness with older students is through deconstruction tasks: Tell me what ____ word means? How do you know? (The student must explain the meaning of individual morphemes).

Finding the affix: Does the word ______ have smaller parts?

So what are the components of effective morphological instruction you might ask?

Below is an example of a ‘Morphological Awareness Intervention With Kindergarteners and First and Second Grade Students From Low SES Homes’ performed by Apel & Diehm, 2013:

Apel and Diem 2011

Here are more ways in which this can be accomplished with older children:

  • Find the root word in a longer word
  • Fix the affix (an additional element placed at the beginning or end of a root, stem, or word, or in the body of a word, to modify its meaning)
    • Affixes at the beginning of words are called “prefixes”
    • Affixes at the end of words are called “suffixes
  • Word sorts to recognize word families based on morphology or orthography
  • Explicit instruction of syllable types to recognize orthographical patterns
  • Word manipulation through blending and segmenting morphemes to further solidify patterns

Now that you know about the importance of morphological awareness, will you be incorporating it into your speech language sessions? I’d love to know!

Until then, Happy Speeching!

References:

  • Apel, K., & Diehm, E. (2013). Morphological awareness intervention with kindergarteners and first and second grade students from low SES homes: A small efficacy study. Journal of Learning Disabilities.
  • Apel, K., & Lawrence, J. (2011). Contributions of morphological awareness skills to word-level reading and spelling in first-grade children with and without speech sound disorder. Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research, 54, 1312–1327.
  • Apel, K., Brimo, D., Diehm, E., & Apel, L. (2013). Morphological awareness intervention with kindergarteners and first and second grade students from low SES homes: A feasibility study. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 44, 161-173.
  • Binder, K. & Borecki, C. (2007). The use of phonological, orthographic, and contextualinformation during reading: a comparison of adults who are learning to read and skilled adult readers. Reading and Writing, 21, 843-858.
  • Bowers, P.N., Kirby, J.R., Deacon, H.S. (2010). The effects of morphological instruction on literacy skills: A systematic review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 80, 144-179.
  • Carlisle, J. F. (1995). Morphological awareness and early reading achievement. In L. B. Feldman (Ed.), Morphological aspects of language processing (pp. 189–209). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Carlisle, J. F. (2000). Awareness of the structure and meaning of morphologically complex words: Impact on reading. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal,12,169-190.
  • Carlisle, J. F. (2004). Morphological processes that influence learning to read. In C. A. Stone, E. R. Silliman, B. J. Ehren, & K. Apel (Eds.), Handbook of language and literacy. NY: Guilford Press.
  • Carlisle, J. F. (2010). An integrative review of the effects of instruction in morphological awareness on literacy achievement. Reading Research Quarterly, 45(4), 464-487.
  • Goodwin, A.P. & Ahn, S. (2010). Annals of Dyslexia, 60, 183-208.
  • Green, L. (2009). Morphology and literacy: Getting our heads in the game. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in the schools, 40, 283-285.
  • Green, L., & Wolter, J.A. (2011, November). Morphological Awareness Intervention: Techniques for Promoting Language and Literacy Success. A symposium presentation at the annual American Speech Language Hearing Association, San Diego, CA.
  • Guo, Y., Roehrig, A. D., & Williams, R. S. (2011). The relation of morphological awareness and syntactic awareness to adults’ reading comprehension: Is vocabulary knowledge a mediating variable? Journal of Literacy Research, 43, 159-183.
  • Tong, X., Deacon, S. H., Kirby, J. R., Cain, K., & Parrila, R. (2011). Morphological awareness: A key to understanding poor reading comprehension in English. Journal of Educational Psychology103 (3), 523-534.
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Why (C) APD Diagnosis is NOT Valid!

Today’s post will make a number of people quite angry and is intended to be controversial!  Why? Because controversy promotes critical thinking, broadens perspectives, allows to acquire better knowledge of the construct in question as well as ultimately guides better decision making on the part of the parties in question. So why the lengthy disclaimer? Because today via the use of the latest research publications, I would like discuss the fact that the diagnosis of Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) or what some may know as Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) is NOT valid!

Here are just a few reasons why:

  1. There is a strong desire for the (C)APD label on the part of those encountering processing difficulties, yet once the label is given no direct/specific auditory interventions are provided by the audiologist. Subsequent to the diagnosis, confusion ensues regarding the type, frequency, and duration of service provision (typically performed by the SLP) as well as what those services should actually constitute 
  2. Recommendations for training deficits specific areas such as working memory, auditory discrimination, auditory sequencing, etc., do not functionally transfer into practice and fail to create generalization affect
  3. Recommendations for specific costly auditory training programs such Auditory Integration Training (AIT), The Listening Program (TLP), Fast ForWord® (FFW) at the exclusion of all others, without the provision of a detailed breakdown of the child’s deficit areas often cause an incursion of unnecessary expenses for parents and professionals and are found to be INEFFECTIVE or limitedly effective in the long run
  4. General audiological recommendations for accommodations (e.g., FM systems, etc.) are frequently unnecessary, and may actually exacerbate the isolation effect while in no way alleviating the student’s deficits, which require direct and targeted intervention
  5. Auditory deficits don’t cause speech, language, and academic learning difficulties
  6. Numerous non-linguistic based disorders can be misdiagnosed as (C)APD without differential diagnosis
  7. (C)APD testing is hugely influenced by non-auditory factors grounded in higher order cognitive and linguistic processes
  8. Presently there’s no no clear performance criteria to make the (C)APD diagnosis
  9. The diagnosis of (C)APD is appealing because it presents a more attractive explanation than the diagnoses of language and learning disabilities for children with processing deficits
  10. The diagnosis of (C)APD may often detract from identifying legitimate language based deficits in the areas of comprehension, expression, social communication and literacy development, as the result of which these areas will not get adequate therapeutic attention by relevant professionals

A few words on (C)APD popularity, well sort of:

(C)APD  is currently rampantly diagnosed in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and is even beginning to be diagnosed in the United Kingdom (Dawes & Bishop, 2009). However, presently, (C)APD is not a mainstream diagnostic classifications in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) nor is part of an actual educational classification in United States.  Already many of you can see the beginnings of the controversy.  If this diagnoses is so popular and so prevalent why is that major psychological and educational governing bodies such as American Psychiatric Association and the US Department of Education still do not officially recognize it?

(C)APD symptomology:

A. Student presents with difficulty processing information efficiently

  • Requires increased processing time to respond to questions
  • Presents like s/he are ignoring the speaker
  • May request frequent repetition of presented information from speakers
  • Difficulty following long sentences
  • Difficulty keeping up with class discussions in group settings
  • Poor listening abilities under noisy conditions may be interpreted as “distractibility”

B. Student has difficulty maintaining attention on presented tasks

  • Frequent loss of focus
  • Difficulty completing assignments on their own

C. Student has poor short term memory – difficulty remembering instructions and directions or verbally presented information

D.Student has difficulty with phonemic awareness, reading and spelling

  • Poor ability to recognize and produce rhyming words
  • Poor segmentation abilities (separation of sentences, syllables and sounds)
  • Poor sound manipulation abilities (isolation, deletion, substitution, blending, etc)
  • Poor sound letter identification abilities
  • Poor vowel recognition abilities
  • Poor decoding
  • Poor comprehension
  • Spelling errors
  • Limited/disorganized writing

E. The combination of above factors may result in generalized deficits across the board, affecting the child’s social and academic performance:

  • Poor reading comprehension
  • Poor oral and written expression
  • Disorganized thinking (e.g., disjointed narrative production)
  • Sequencing errors (recalling/retelling information in order, following recipes, etc)
  • Poor message interpretation
  • Difficulty making inferences
  • Misinterpreting the meaning of abstract information

I do not know what you see when you read the above description but to me those are the classical signs of a language impairment which has turned into a learning disability masking under the ambiguous label of  (C)APD. 

That is exactly what Dawes & Bishop, stated in 2009, when they asserted that “a child who is regarded as having a specific learning disability by one group of experts may be given an APD diagnosis by another.” They concluded that: “APD, as currently diagnosed, is not a coherent category, but that rather than abandoning the construct, we need to develop improved methods for assessment and diagnosis, with a focus on interdisciplinary evaluation“.

Let us now deconstruct each of the above statements with the assistance of direct quotes from current research.

1. (C)APD – what is it good for? Child goes to an audiologist and receives an ambiguous battery of (C)APD  testing with unclear qualification criteria (more on that below). There are some abnormal findings, so the audiologist states that the child has (C)APD, recommends accommodations and modifications, services in the form of speech language therapy with a focus on auditory training (more below) and/or some form of program similar to Fast ForWord®, and doesn’t see the child again for some time (maybe even years).  Since the child is now being seen by an SLP, who by the way frequently has no idea what to do with that child based on the ambiguous audiological findings, what exactly did the diagnosis of (C) APD just accomplish?

2. Processing Skills Training – Say What? In 2011 Fey and colleagues  (many notable audiologists and speech language pathologists) conducted a systematic review of  25 journal articles on the efficacy of interventions for school-age children with auditory processing disorder (C)APD. Their review found no compelling evidence that auditory interventions provided any unique benefit to auditory, language, or academic outcomes for children with diagnoses of (C)APD or language disorder.

Presently there is no valid evidence that targeting specific processing skills such as auditory discrimination, auditory sequencing, phonological memory, working memory, or rapid serial naming actually improves children’s ‘auditory processing’, language or reading abilities (Fey et al., 2011).

To illustrate further, Melby-Lervåg & Hulme, 2013 performed a meta analysis  of 23 working memory training studies. They found no evidence that memory training was an effective intervention for children with ADHD or dyslexia as it did not lead to better performance outside of the tasks presented within the memory tests. They concluded: “In the light of such evidence, it seems very difficult to justify the use of working memory training programs in relation to the treatment of reading and language disorders.” Further adding: “Our findings also cast strong doubt on claims that working memory training is effective in improving cognitive ability and scholastic attainment.” (Melby-Lervåg, 2013, p. 282).

3. The trouble with prescriptive programs.  (C)APD assessments often yield recommendations for a number of specific costly prescriptive programs such as AIT, FFW, etc.. As humans we are “attracted to interventions that promise relatively rapid improvements in language and academic skills. Interventions that target processing abilities are appealing because they promise significant improvements in language and reading without having to directly target the specific knowledge and skills required to be a proficient speaker, listener, reader, and writer.” (Kamhi and Wallach, 2012)

These programs claim to improve the child’s processing abilities through music, phonics, hearing distortions, etc. When such recommendations are made parents and professionals are urged to carefully review evidence-based research supported information regarding these prescribed programs in order to determine their effectiveness. Presently, there’s no research to support the use of any of these programs with children presenting with processing difficulties. 

Let’s take a look at Fast ForWord®, which is a highly costly program frequently recommended for children with auditory processing deficits. It is designed to help children’s reading and spoken language by training their memory, attention, processing, and sequencing by training 3 to 5 days per week, for 8 to 12 weeks. However, systematic reviews found no sign of a reliable effect of Fast ForWord® on reading or on expressive or receptive spoken language. 

Now some of you may legitimately tell me: “How dare you? I’ve tried it with my child and seen great gains”. And that is terrific! However, it is important to note that ANY intervention is better than NO intervention! And there is currently no scientific proof out there that this program works better than other programs aimed directly at improving the children’s reading abilities and listening skills.  Furthermore, if the child needs assistance with reading rather than spending the money  on Fast ForWord® it would be far more effective to select a systematic Orton-Gillingham (OG) (or similar) reading based program to teach her/him reading!

4. The dreaded FM system! FM systems have become an almost automatic recommendation for children diagnosed with (C)APD but are they actually effective?

Here is what one notable audiologist had to say in the subject. An FM system brings the speaker’s voice via the mic to the listener via loudspeakers or earphones through an amplifier. Only personal systems appropriate for children with TRUE APD-based auditory distractibility problems (understanding speech in the presence of background noise)”.  However, when he did his testing he found that only ~25% of children with (C)APD had issues with hearing speech in noise, the other ~75% didn’t. 

Guess what… a recent meta-analysis showed? Lemos et, al, 2009 did a systematic literature review of articles recommending the use of FM systems for APD. They concluded that: “Strong scientific evidence supporting the use of personal FM systems for APD intervention was not found. Since such device is frequently recommended for the treatment of APD, it becomes essential to carry out studies with high scientific evidence that could safely guide clinical decision making on this subject.

5. (C)APD diagnosis does NOT Language Disorder Make. “There little evidence that auditory perceptual impairments (not referring to hearing deficits) are a significant risk factor for language and academic performance (e.g., Hazan, Messaoud-Galusi, Rosan, Nouwens, & Shakespeare, 2009; Watson & Kidd, 2009)” (Kamhi, 2011, p. 265).  

  • Watson et al., 2003 found that measures of auditory processing (NOT hearing) had no impact on children’s reading or language abilities in Grades 1 through 4.
  • Sharma, Purdy, and Kelly (2009)  found that having auditory processing difficulties did not increase the likelihood that a child would have a language or reading disorder.
  • Hazan et al., 2009; Ramus et al., 2006) found that despite poor phonological processing abilities, individuals with dyslexia perform within normal limits on measures of speech perception. 

(From Kamhi, 2011, p. 268)

6. Are you sure it’s (C)APD?

—Without a careful differential diagnosis, numerous non-linguistic based medical, psychiatric neurological, psychological, and cognitive conditions can be misdiagnosed as (C)APD including (but not limited):

  • —Respiratory Disorders
    • —Adenoid hypertrophy, asthma, allergic rhinitis
  • —Metabolic/Endocrine Disorders
    • —Diabetes  hypo/hyperthyroidism
  • —Hematological Disorders
    • —Anemia
  • —Immunological Disorders
    • —Acquired and congenital immune problems
  • —Cardiac Disorders
    • —Congenital and acquired heart disease, syncopy
  • —Digestive  Disorders
    • —Irritable bowel syndrome, GERD
  • —Neurological Disorders
    • —Traumatic Brain Injuries, Tumors, Encephalopathy
  • Genetic Disorders
    • —Fragile X Syndrome
  • —Toxin Exposure
    • —Lead, Mercury, Drug Exposure
  • —Infections and Infestations
    • —Yeast overgrowth , intestinal worms/parasites
  • —Sleep Disorders
    • Sleep Apnea
  • —Mental Health Disorders
    • —Trauma, Anxiety, mood disorders, adjustment disorders
  • ——Sensory Processing Disorders
    • —Vision, hearing, auditory, tactile
  • —Acquired Disorders
    • —FASD

7. (C)APD testing is NOT so PURE 

(C)APD testing does not simply consists of pure tone audiometry and is heavily comprised of higher order linguistic and cognitive tasks. Testing requires that the listeners attend to given directions, remember and label the presented auditory sequences, etc, in other words participate in tasks aimed to task their linguistic system and executive functions  (DeBonis, 2015)

So what does the research show?

  • Wallach (2011) has indicated that  (C) APD ‘symptomology’ “reflects broader underlying problems in language comprehension and metalinguistic awareness.
  • Dawes and Bishop (2009)  compared children with a CAPD to children diagnosed with dyslexia and found similar attention, reading, and language deficits in both groups.
  •  Kelly et al. (2009)  found that 76% of a sample of 68 children with suspected auditory processing disorder also had language impairment with 53% demonstrating decreased auditory attention and 59% demonstrated decreased auditory memory.
  • Ferguson et al. (2011)  concluded that “the current labels of CAPD and SLI [specific language impairment] may, for all practical purposes, be indistinguishable” (p. 225).

(From DeBonis, 2015 pgs. 126-127)

8. What to Test and How to do it – That IS the Question? 

“Despite lofty claims to the contrary, there is no clear consensus concerning the battery of tests that lead to a diagnosis of CAPD.”  (Burkard, 2009, p. vii) Presently, neither the American Academy of Audiology nor the American Speech Language Hearing Association have a clear criteria on what testing to administer, how many standard deviations the client has to be in order to qualify, as well as even who is a good candidate for (C)APD testing.  (DeBonis, 2015 pg. 125)

As such, presently children diagnosed with (C)APD are diagnosed purely in an arbitrary fashion rather than based on a specific widely accepted standard.  To illustrate W. J. Wilson and Arnott (2013) found that “in a sample of records of 150 school-aged children who had completed at least four CAPD tests, rates of diagnosis ranged from 7.3% to 96% depending on the criteria used” (DeBonis, 2015 pg. 125). Are you “processing” what I am saying? 

9. Looking for the “Right” Label 

As an SLP, I frequently hear the following statement from parents: “We were searching for what was wrong with our child for such a long time; we are so happy that we were finally able to identify that it’s (C)APD.

The above comment is certainly understandable.  After all (C)APD sounds manageable!  The appeal to it is that presumably if the child undergoes specific auditory interventions to improve deficit areas, s/he will get better and all the problems will go away.  In contrast, finding out that the child’s processing difficulties are the result of linguistic deficits in the areas of listening, speaking, reading, and writing can be incredibly overwhelming especially because what we know about the nature of language impairments and that is that more often than not they turn into lifelong learning disabilities.

Some parents and professionals may disagree.  They might point out that many children with (C)APD test just fine on generalized language testing and only present with isolated deficits in the areas of attention, memory, as well as phonological processing. Yet here is the problem! General language testing in the form of administration of tests such as the CELF-5 or the CASL does not complete language assessment make!

The same children who test ‘just fine’ on these assessments often test quite poorly on the measures of social communication, executive function, as well as reading.  In other words if the professionals dig deep enough they often find out that something which outwardly presents as (C)APD is part of much broader language related issues, which require relevant intervention services. This leads me to my final point below.

10. Missing the Big Picture

“The primacy given to auditory processing abilities has resulted at times in neglect of other cognitive factors” (Cowan et al. 2009, p. 192). Focusing on the diagnosis of (C)APD obscures REAL, language-based deficits in children in question. It forces SLPs to address erroneous therapeutic targets based on AuD recommendations. It makes us ignore the BIG Picture and  “Consider non-auditory reasons for listening and comprehension difficulties, such as limitations in working memory, language knowledge, conceptual abilities, attention, and motivation and consequently targeting language, literacy, and knowledge-based goals in therapy.” —(Kamhi &Wallach, 2012)

Conclusion:

So what will happen next? Well, I can tell you with certainty that the controversy will certainly not end here!  Presently, not only is that there is a fierce academic debate between speech language pathologist and audiologists but there is also a raging debate among audiologists themselves!  This controversy will continue for many years among some highly educated people.  And SLPs? Well, we will continue seeing numerous children diagnosed with (C)APD.  Except, I do hope something will change and that is our collective outlook on how we view ambiguously defined and assessed disorders such as (C)APD.

I sincerely hope that we do not blindly defer to other professions and reject current valid research regarding this controversial diagnosis without first spending some time reflecting and critically reviewing these findings in order to better assist us with making informed and educated decisions regarding our clients’ plan of care.

Click HERE to read the second part of this post, which describes how SLPs SHOULD assess and treat children diagnosed by audiologists with (C)APD

References:

  • Burkard, R. (2009). Foreword. In A. Cacace & D. McFarland (Eds.), Controversies in central auditory processing disorder (pp. vii-viii). San Diego, CA: Plural.
  • Cowan, J., Rosen, S., & Moore, D. (2009). Putting the auditory back into auditory processing disorder in children. In Cacace, A., & McFarland, D. (Eds.),Controversies in central auditory processing disorder(pp. 187–197). San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing.
  • Dawes, P., & Bishop, D. (2009). Auditiory processing disorder in relation to developmental disorders of language, communication and attention: A review and critique. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 44, 440–465.
  • DeBonis, D. A. (2015) It Is Time to Rethink Central Auditory Processing Disorder Protocols for School-Aged Children. American Journal of Audiology. v. 24, 124-136.
  • Ferguson, M. A., Hall, R. L., Moore, D. R., & Riley, A. (2011). Communication, listening, cognitive and speech perception skills in children with auditory processing disorder (APD) or specific language impairment (SLI). Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 54, 211–227.
  • Fey, M. E., Richard, G. J., Geffner, D., Kamhi, A. G., Medwetsky, L., Paul, D., Schooling, T. (2011). Auditory processing disorder and auditory/language interventions: An evidence-based systematic review. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 42, 246–264.
  • Hazan, V., Messaoud-Galusi, S., Rosen, S., Nouwens, S., Shakespeare, B. (2009). Speech perception abilities of adults with dyslexia: Is there any evidence for a true deficit?. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. 52 1510–1529
  • Kamhi, A. G. (2011). What speech-language pathologists need to know about auditory processing disorder. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 42, 265–272.
  • Kamhi, A & Wallach, G (2012) What Speech-Language Pathologists Need to Know about Auditory Processing Disorders. ASHA Convention Presentation. Atlanta, GA.
  • Kelly, A. S., Purdy, S. C., & Sharma, M. (2009). Comorbidity of auditory processing, language, and reading disorders. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 53, 706–722.
  • Lemos IC, Jacob RT, Gejao MG, et al. (2009) Frequency modulation (FM) system in auditory processing disorder: An evidence-based practice? Pró-Fono Produtos Especializados para Fonoaudiologia Ltda. 21(3):243-248.
  • Melby-Lervåg, M., & Hulme, C. (2013). Is working memory training effective? A meta-analytic review. Developmental Psychology, 49, 270–291.
  • Ramus, F., White, S., Frith, U. (2006). Weighing the evidence between competing theories of dyslexia.Developmental Science. 9 265–269
  • Sharma, M., Purdy, S. C., Kelly, A. S. (2009). Comorbidity of auditory processing, language, and reading disorders. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. 52 706–722
  • Wallach, G. P. (2011). Peeling the onion of auditory processing disorder: A language/curricular-based perspective. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 42, 273–285.
  • Watson, C., Kidd, G. (2009). Associations between auditory abilities, reading, and other language skills in children and adults. Cacace, A., McFarland, D.Controversies in central auditory processing disorder.  218–242 San Diego, CA Plural.
  • Wilson, W. J., & Arnott, W. (2013). Using different criteria to diagnose (central) auditory processing disorder: How big a difference does it make? Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 56, 63–70.
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Preventing Learned Helplessness in Students with Language Impairments

A few weeks ago in one of my private speech language therapy sessions, I was reviewing the homework  of an 11-year-old student,  part of which involved  synonym and  antonym production describing abstract feelings (e.g., disinterested, furious, etc.). These words were in the client’s lexicon as we had been working on the concept of abstract feelings for a number of weeks. I was feeling pretty confident that the student would do well on this assignment, especially because prior to assigning the homework we had identified the exact emotion which required the generation of antonyms and synonyms. So all was going swimmingly,  until she made the following comment when explaining one of her answers: “I was thinking that this word ____ is not really an appropriate synonym for _________ but I put it anyway because I couldn’t think of any others.”

That gave me a pause because I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. So I asked: “I completely understand that you might not have remembered some words but what could you have done to help yourself in this situation?” Without any prompting, the student readily identified a number of strategies including: looking up the words in a thesaurus/dictionary, “Googling” them, or even asking an adult to help her with choosing the best answers from a number of choices.

My follow-up question to her was: “Why didn’t you?” The student just shrugged her shoulders and looked at me in surprise, as though this concept had never occurred to her.

This incident got me thinking regarding the pervasive influence of learned helplessness, and how our students continue to be impacted by it long after they begin receiving the necessary therapies to improve their academic performance.

For those of you unfamiliar with this term, here is a brief overview. This phrase was coined by a US based psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier in 1967. In a series of experiments they exposed dogs to electric shocks that they were unable to escape. After a little while the dogs stopped trying to avoid the aversive stimuli because they became conditioned to the fact that they were helpless to change the situation. However, the most fascinating aspect in these series of experiments was the fact that even after the opportunity to escape became clearly available, the animals still failed to take any action and continue to behave as though they were still helpless.

How does this apply to students with learning disabilities? 

Many students with language impairments and learning disabilities struggle significantly in school setting due to failing academic performance. The older they get, the more academic demands are placed on them.  This includes but is not limited to the amount of homework they asked to complete, the number of long-term projects they’re expected to write, as well as the number of tests they are expected to study for.

Because they are unable to meet the ever increasing academic demands, their parents begin to actively micromanage their academic life by scheduling the times when the students are expected to perform homework, study for tests, do projects, and much much more. As a result, many of the students do not know how to do any of the above activities/tasks independently because they are conditioned  by their parents/teachers to tell them what to do, how to do it, and how to lead their academic life at any given moment.

The students begin believing they they are helpless  to change even the most basic situations (e.g., take an extra step during the homework assignment and look up a vocabulary word without anyone telling them to do it) and continue to behave in this fashion long after they begin receiving the necessary therapies, coaching, or in school assistance. This is especially true of students whose language/learning disabilities are not identified until later in their school career (e.g., late elementary years, middle school, or even high school).

What are the Symptoms of Learned Helplessness in Children?  

The below poster from Dragonfly Forest Blogspot/Forest Alliance Coaching summarizes it quite nicely.

Other symptoms of learned helplessness include:

  • Lack of motivation/task initiation
  • Poor critical thinking abilities
  • Reluctance to make independent choices
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Blaming a disability: “I act like this because I have _________”

It is important to note that the above symptoms are most applicable to students with learning disabilities and average cognition.  However, learned helplessness is equally pervasive (if not more so) in students with developmental disabilities (e.g., ASD, genetic syndromes, etc.)

Below are just a few examples of learned helplessness in students with developmental disabilities, which were inadvertently (and/or deliberately) reinforced by the adults in their lives(e.g., family members, educational staff, etc.).

  • Spoon feeding a three-year-old with ASD who has already mastered this particular ADL skill
  • Having a non-verbal eight-year-old correctly identify the PECS card for “open” but then always opening the door for him without giving him an opportunity to do so himself
  • Keeping a 12-year-old with ASD on puréed diet despite multiple MBS and FEES studies indicating that there are no structural abnormalities which would prevent this student from successfully trialing solid foods
  • Not placing basic expectations such as cleanup of toys on a verbal seven-year-old with Down Syndrome, simply because of her condition

Changing the Patterns of Learned Behavior:

According to available literature, when psychologists had tried to change learned helplessness in animal subjects it took them between 30 – 50 times of physically moving the dogs across the barrier before they proceeded to do so independently. Thus, it stands to reason that the process of rewiring the brain in humans with learned helplessness will be a lengthy one as well.

The first task on the part of adults  is active analysis of all the things  we may be doing  as  parents and educators,  which inadvertently  reinforces learned helplessness in our children/students.   Some  things may surprise you.   For example, I frequently ask the  parents of the students on my caseload what chores and responsibilities  they give their children at home.   In an overwhelming majority of the cases  my clients have  very few chores/responsibilities at home.  This  is especially apparent in families  of language  impaired children  with typically developing siblings. Conversations with parents  frequently reveal that many typically developing siblings (who are sometimes younger than my clients)  have far greater responsibilities  when it comes to chores,  assignment completion,  etc.

Did you know that an average 8-9 year-old is expected to remember to do chores for 15-20 min after school (“prospective memory”), independently, plan school projects (select book, do report, present in school), keep track of changing daily schedule, do homework for 1 hour independently as well as keep track of personal effects when away from home? (Peters, 2013)

Did you know that an average —12-14 year old is expected to demonstrate adult level planning abilities, have daily chore responsibilities for 60-90 minute in length, babysit younger siblings, follow complex school schedule, as well as plan and carry out multiple large semester-long school projects independently? (Peters, 2013)

While our language impaired children of the same age may not be capable of some of the above responsibilities they are capable of  more then we give them credit for given appropriate level of support (strategies vs. doing things for them).

Where do we begin?

It is important to recognize the potential of the children that we work with without letting their disabilities to color our subjective perceptions of what they can and cannot do. In other words, just because there are significant physical/cognitive handicaps, it does not mean that given appropriate accommodations, therapies, resources, as well as compensatory strategies that our student will not be able to reach their optimal potential.

Working with Physically/Cognitively Impaired Children: 

  • Uphold accountability 
    • You wouldn’t let a typical four-year-old get away with leaving a mess and not cleaning up their toys, so why would you let a four-year-old with Down syndrome or ASD slide?  It might take a tad longer to teach them what to do and how to do it but it certainly is more then doable
  • Do not excuse inappropriate behaviors and attribute it to a disability
  • Assign responsibility
    • Even in the presence of physical and cognitive disabilities students are still capable of performing a number of tasks and chores. This may include but not be limited to cleaning up own room, making up one bed, loading and unloading the dishwasher, taking out the garbage, vacuuming the floor, pushing the grocery cart in the store, loading and unloading food at the cash register, and much much more.
  • Encourage Hobbies 
  • Explore Adapted Sports 
    • Similar to hobbies adaptive sports can be incredibly beneficial to children with developmental disabilities. Movement helps to rewire the brain! Adaptive sports participation increases the child’s independence as well as fosters socialization with others.  Engagement in adaptive sports can also combat learned helplessness.
  • Support Quality of Life Experiences
    • Unfortunately the quality of life of the children with developmental disabilities that we work with is often compromised. Because there is inordinate focus placed on “just existing” and fitting in all the therapies, frequently joyful experiences are few and far between. If the situation allows it needs to change! There are so many simple activities we take for granted, which can bring true happiness to the children that we work with.
      • Swimming in the pool
      • Visiting a museum
      • Going into an amusement park
      • Picking berries or mushrooms in the woods
      • Going to the beach
      • Bird watching
      • Taking a vacation (if financially doable)
  • Expect more
    • Don’t let the child’s cognitive and/or physical limitations  stop them from reaching their true potential.
      • This may mean disagreeing with well-meaning but limitedly knowledgeable school-based professionals, who may tell you that your child with genetic syndrome such as Down Syndrome or Fragile X will never learn how to read (see Case C
      • This may mean finding accommodations and compensatory strategies for a student’s severe disabilities to make that person’s life more meaningful and enjoyable.  To illustrate, many years ago when I just started working for a school for severely medically fragile children, I’ve worked with severely physically impaired nonverbal young adult  (21) who had a limited use of his right arm (gross motor movements]only).  That did not stop us from ‘discussing’ works of literature, studying SAT level vocabulary, as well as learning Greek and Latin Roots of English.   It also didn’t stop his parents from exposing him to a variety of life experiences, aimed to make him feel like an average young adult, such as allowing him to taste a few drops of sake even though he was NPO (lat. for nothing by mouth)

Working with Language Impaired and Learning Disabled Children with Average IQ:

  • Increase their accountability in own education
    • Teach useful compensatory strategies
      • Have the children wear a watch to be more mindful of the passage of time (a child 6+ years of age could be an appropriate candidate)
      • Use of schedules, planners, and timers to be more mindful of time spent on homework, assignments, and test studying
      • Use charts listing various strategies of asking for help to teach children to increase ownership of their learning (FREE HERE)
  • Teach them to speak up regarding needed accommodations
    • Use of software applications
    • Time to prepare for oral responses
    • Use of choices when answering questions of increased complexity
    • Audio recording of newly taught information in the classroom
  • Develop their critical thinking skills and problem solving abilities
  • Change your outlook
    • Replace doing everything for them attitude or finger-pointing and blame attitude with solution- focused constructive criticism by teaching specific strategies which will help the student succeed
  • Encourage perseverance
    • Teach the students positive strategies of not giving up and persisting through the difficult situations

Changing the ingrained patterns of learned helplessness is no easy feat.  It requires time, perseverance, and patience. But it can be done even in children with significant developmental and learning disabilities.  It is a difficult but much needed process, which is instrumental in helping our students/children attain their optimal potential.

References:

  1. Seligman, M. E. P. (1975) Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death. San Francisco : Freeman.
  2. Peterson, C., S. Maier, and M. Seligman. (1993). Learned Helplessness. New York: Oxford University Press.