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Speech, Language, and Literacy Fun with Helen Lester’s Picture Books

Picture books are absolutely wonderful for both assessment and treatment purposes! They are terrific as narrative elicitation aids for children of various ages, ranging from pre-K through fourth grade.  They are amazing treatment aids for addressing a variety of speech, language, and literacy goals that extend far beyond narrative production.

There are numerous children books authors whom I absolutely adore (e.g., Karma Wilson, Keiko Kasza, Jez Alborough, M. Christina Butler, etc.). Today I wanted to describe how I implement books by Helen Lester into my treatment sessions with elementary aged children. (For information on how I use her books: “Pookins Gets Her Way” and “A Porcupine Named Fluffy” for narrative elicitation purposes click HERE.)

It is important to note that while Ms. Lester’s books are intended for younger children (4-7 years; pre-K-3rd grade), older children (~10 years of age) with significant language and learning difficulties and/or intellectual disabilities have enjoyed working with them and have significantly benefited from reading/listening to them.

Two reasons why I love using Ms. Lester’s books are versatility and wealth of social themes. To illustrate, “Hooway for Wodney Wat” and “Wodney Wat’s Wobot” are two books about a shy rat who cannot pronounce his ‘r’ sounds. Wodney is hugely embarrassed by that fact, and since there are no speech-language pathologists in Rodentia-land, Wodney spends his recess, hiding inside his jacket, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. The arrival of a bullying, Miss-know-it-all, Camilla Capybara, brings some unexpected changes into the school’s dynamic, as well as provides Wodney with a very welcome opportunity to shine socially.

Image result for wodney wobotSpeech Production: Not only is there a phenomenal opportunity to use this book with children struggling with /r/ sound production, but it’s also heavily laden with a plethora of /r/ words in a variety of word positions (e.g., rodeo, robot, contraption, barrel, terrific, fur, prickled, bigger, fear, classroom, smarter, sure, etc.).

Language: There are numerous language goals that could be formulated based on Helen Lester’s books including answering concrete and abstract listening comprehension questions, defining story-embedded vocabulary words, producing word associations, synonyms, antonyms, and multiple meaning words (semantic awareness), formulating compound and complex sentences (syntax), answering predicting and inferencing questions (critical thinking), gauging moods and identifying emotional reactions of characters (social communication), assuming characters’ perspectives and frame of reference (social cognition, theory of mind, etc.), identifying main ideas in text (Gestalt processing) and much, much more.

  • Select Highlights:
    • VocabularyFor the ages/grades that there’ve written for (4-7 years; pre-K-3rd grade), Ms. Lester’s books are laden with a wealth of sophisticated vocabulary words such a: curtsy, contraption, trembled, dreary, shudder, varmint, fashionable, rodent, rattled, shenanigans, chanting, surgical, plunked, occasion, exception, etc.
    • Word Play:  Ms. Lester infuses a great deal of humor and wit in her books. Just look at the names of her characters in “A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing”, which are: Ewetopia, Ewecalyptus, Ewetensil, Heyewe, Rambunctious, Ramshackle, and Ramplestiltskin.  Her ovine characters live in Pastureland and attend Woolyones’ Costume Balls while her porcine characters eat in a trough-a-teria.  
    • Social Communication: Many of Ms. Lester’s book themes focus on the celebration of neurodiversity (e.g., “Tacky the Penguin”), learning valuable life lessons (e.g., “Me First”), addressing one’s fears (e.g., “Something Might Happen”) and feeling uncomfortable in own skin (e.g., “A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing”), etc.

Literacy: Similar to the above, numerous literacy goals can be formulated based on these books. These include but are not limited to, goals targeting phonological (e.g., rhyming words, counting syllables in words, etc.) and phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency and comprehension, spelling, as well as the composition of written responses to story questions.

  • Image result for princess penelope's parrotSelect Highlights:
    • Phonics: Students can practice reading words containing a variety of syllable shapes as well as decode low-frequency words containing a variety of consonantal clusters (Examples from “Princess Penelope’s Parrot” are:  hissed, parrot, buzzard, horribly, flicked, plucked, field,  flapped, silence, Percival, velvet, cloak, caviar, clippy-clopped, poofiest, impressed, expensive, galloping, gulped, bouquet, squawked, etc.)
    • Morphology: There’s a terrific opportunity to introduce a discussion on roots and affixes when using Ms. Lester’s books to discuss how select prefixes and suffixes (e.g., ante-, -able, -ive, -ion, etc.) can significantly increase word sophistication of numerous root words (e.g., impressive, exception, etc.)
    • Spelling: There is a terrific opportunity for children to practice spelling numerous spelling patterns to solidify their spelling abilities, including -ee-, -ea-, -ou-,-oo-, -oa-, -ui-, -ck, -tt-, -rr-, -ss-, -cc-, etc.

When working with picture books, I typically spend numerous sessions working with the same book. That is because research indicates that language disordered children require 36 exposures  (as compared with 12 exposures for typically developing children) to learn new words via interactive book reading (Storkel et al, 2016). As such, I discuss vocabulary words before, during, and after the book reading, by asking the children to both repeatedly define and then use selected words in sentences so the students can solidify their knowledge of these words.

I also spent quite a bit of time on macrostructure, particularly on the identification and definitions of story grammar elements as well as having the student match the story grammar picture cards to various portions of the book.

When working with picture books, here are some verbal prompts that I provide to the students with a focus on story Characters and Setting

  • Who are the characters in this story?
  • Where is the setting in this story?
  • Are there multiple settings in this story?
  • What are some emotions the characters experience throughout this story?
  • When did they experience these emotions in the story?
  • How do you think this character is feeling when ____?
    • Why?
    • How do you know?
  • What do you think this character is thinking?
    • Why?
    • How do you know?
  • What are some actions the characters performed throughout the story?
  • What were the results of some of those actions?

Here is a sampling of verbal prompts I provide to the students with a focus on story Sequencing 

  • What happened at the beginning of the story?
    • What words can we use to start a story?
  • What happened next?
  • What happened after that?
  • What happened last?
  • How do we end a story?
  • What was the problem in the story?
  • Was there more than one problem?
    • What happened?
    • Who solved it?
    • How did s/he solve it?
  • Was there adventure in the story?
    • If yes, how did it start and end?

Here is a sampling of verbal prompts I provide to the students with a focus on Critical Thinking 

  • How are these two characters alike/different? (compare/contrast)
  • What do you think will happen next? (predicting)
  •  Why/How do you think ___ happened (inferencing)
  • Why shouldn’t you, couldn’t s/he ____ ? (answering negative questions)
  • What do you thing s/he must do to ______? (problem-solving)
  • How would you solve his problem? (determining solutions)
  • Why is your solution ______ a good solution? (providing justifications)

Image result for tacky penguinHere is a small sampling of verbal prompts I provide to the students with a focus on Social Communication and Social Cognition 

  • How would you feel if ____?
  • What is his/her mood at ____ point in the story?
    • How do you know?
  • What is his/her reaction to the ____?
    • How do you know?
  • How does it make you feel that s/he are _____?
  • Can you tell me two completely different results of this character’s actions?
  • What could you say to this character to make him/her feel better?
    • Why?
  • What would you think if?

At times, I also use Ms. Lester’s guide for the following books: ‘It Wasn’t My Fault’, ‘Listen, Buddy’, ‘Me First’, and ‘A Porcupine Named Fluffy‘ to supplement my therapy sessions goals. It provides additional helpful ideas and suggestions on how her books can be further used in both therapy room as well as the classroom.

Finally, one of the major reasons why I really like Ms. Lester’s books is because some of them are ‘art imitating life’ and do not necessarily end up in a ‘traditional’ happily ever after. To, illustrate, “Princess Penelope’s Parrot” is a book about a spoiled princess who cannot get her new parrot to talk, even after threatening it and calling it insulting names. When Prince Percival comes courting, the parrot takes his hilarious revenge on Princess Penelope, and the parrot and Prince Percival do end up living happily ever after. However, Princess Penelope quickly gets over her embarrassment and goes back to her unrepentantly spoiled way of acting.

There you have it! Just a few of my many reasons why I adore using Helen Lester’s books for language and literacy treatment purposes. How about you? Do you use any of her books for assessment and treatment purposes? If yes, comment below which ones you use and why do you use them?

References:

Helpful Related Smart Speech Therapy Resources: 

 

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

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

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

Expository discourse is the use of language to convey information (Bliss, 2002). As per Nippold and colleagues, “expository discourse occurs, when a speaker describes the steps and outcome of a biology experiment, explains how to operate the equipment at a medical lab, or gives directions on how to travel by train from one city to another.” (Nippold, Mansfield, & Billow, 2007, p. 180).  Not only does expository discourse require the “facility with complex syntax”, it also taps into the speaker’s social communication and critical thinking abilities, which is why I employ these tasks on a regular basis when assessing adolescent students.

Here is what these tasks entail. First, the tasks are introduced to the student: “People are always running into problems with others at school, at work, and at home. Everyone has to work out ways to solve these problems. I am going to read you two different stories that illustrate these types of problems. I would like you to listen carefully and be ready to tell each story back to me, in your own words. Then I will ask you some questions about the story. There are no penalties for incorrect answers. I just want to know what you think about the issues and how they should be handled.” (adapted from  Selman et al., 1986, p. 459)—

Below are the descriptions of actual tasks straight from the article.

Image result for model airplane clipartStory A: “The Science Fair” John’s (Debbie’s) teacher assigned him (her) to work with three other boys (girls) on a project for the science fair. The boys (girls) decided to build a model airplane that could actually fly. All of the boys (girls) except one, a boy (girl) named Bob (Melanie), worked hard on the project. Bob (Melanie) refused to do anything and just let the others do all the work. This bothered John (Debbie) very much. Now I’d like you to tell the story back to me, in your own words. Try to tell me everything you can remember about the story… Now I’d like to ask you some questions about the story:

  1. What is the main problem here?
  2. Why is that a problem?
  3. What is a good way for John (Debbie) to deal with Bob (Melanie)?
  4. Why is that a good way for John (Debbie) to deal with Bob (Melanie)?
  5. What do you think will happen if John (Debbie) does that?
  6. How do you think they both will feel if John (Debbie) does that?

Image result for fast food restaurant clipartStory B: “The Fast-Food Restaurant” Mike and Peter (Jane and Kathy) work at a fast-food restaurant together. It is Mike’s (Jane’s) turn to work on the grill, which he (she) really likes to do, and it is Peter’s (Kathy’s) turn to do the garbage. Peter (Kathy) says his (her) arm is sore and asks Mike (Jane) to switch jobs with him (her), but Mike (Jane) doesn’t want to lose his (her) chance on the grill. Now I’d like you to tell the story back to me, in your own words. Try to tell me everything you can remember about the story… Now I’d like to ask you some questions about the story:

  1. What is the main problem here?
  2. Why is that a problem?
  3. What is a good way for Mike (Jane) to deal with Peter (Kathy)?
  4. Why is that a good way for Mike (Jane) to deal with Peter (Kathy)?
  5. What do you think will happen if Mike (Jane) does that?
  6. How do you think they both will feel if Mike (Jane) does that?”(Nippold, Mansfield, & Billow, 2007, p. 187)

When presenting each task, the authors recommend that clinicians use male names with male students and female names with female students, as this may increase the chance that the students will better relate to the “characters’ actions, challenges, and emotions“. (187)

Let’s take a look at the analysis of one of the PCR tasks in action. Below are the responses of a 15-4-year-old student with suspected social communication impairment who was presented with the above mentioned Fast Food Restaurant prompt. He was asked to retell the situation in his own words and then answer a set of questions which incorporated aspects of peer interaction, as well as interpersonal conflict and resolution. 

Below is the student’s retelling of the “The Fast-Food Restaurant” story in his own words: “One guy wants works on grill the other guy wants takes out the trash. Guy breaks… has a sore arm and asks another guy to do do his job but other guy didn’t want other guy didn’t want to do lose the job”       

Here’s how this student answered the accompanying questions:

Image result for analysisAnalysis of ‘The Fast Food Restaurant’: The student’s discourse abilities were judged to be impaired for his age/grade level. His retelling was vague and nonspecific and was punctuated by frequent false starts characteristic of word retrieval difficulties.  To illustrate, he first began to state that one of the boys had a broken arm but then self-corrected and was able to explain that the arm was merely sore.  Rather than displaying appropriate anaphoric referencing and referring to both boys by names, he nonspecifically referred to both of them as “one guy” and “another guy”.

The student also did not adequately delve into the complexity of the social scenario. Rather than adequately explaining that one boy’s chance at a preferred activity at his job is jeopardized by his friend’s supposed injury, he imprecisely responded “One’s one’s ah Mike is not you know he’s (unintelligible) he is not being very generous. Also, also the other one is getting all wound up over a sore arm”, which is an inadequate explanation of the problem in the presented scenario.

The student’s answers were nonspecific as he did not appropriately identify the problem in the scenario nor offer an effective solution to it. His response in reference to the lack of cooperation between the two boys lacked concrete details, and his solution: “bargain” and “talk” was too vague to qualify as an adequate response to the scenario.

The student presented with difficulty assuming perspectives of both characters in the scenario (Mike and Peter) and had difficulty explaining what type of a mutually agreeable solution both boys could possibly reach.  The student’s sentence structure lacked adequate syntactic complexity and contained a number of awkwardly phrased sentences marked by significant word retrieval difficulties in the form of word phrase revisions, repetitions as well as pauses.

Impressions: Informal discourse analysis revealed deficits in the areas of semantics, syntax, word finding, problem-solving, perspective taking as well as social communication. Therapeutic intervention is strongly recommended to improve these abilities for social and academic purposes.

As you can see from the above sample, the PCR tasks possess terrific versatility and can reveal a great deal of information about adolescent students’ discourse, problem-solving, social communication abilities. Consequently, I highly recommend them as part of the adolescent language and literacy assessments.

References:

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Back to School SLP Efficiency Bundles™

September is practically here and many speech language pathologists (SLPs) are looking to efficiently prepare for assessing and treating a variety of clients on their caseloads.

With that in mind, a few years ago I created SLP Efficiency Bundles™, which are materials highly useful for SLPs working with pediatric clients. These materials are organized by areas of focus for efficient and effective screening, assessment, and treatment of speech and language disorders.

A.  General Assessment and Treatment Start-Up Bundle contains 5 downloads for general speech language assessment and treatment planning and includes:

  1. Speech Language Assessment Checklist for a Preschool Child
  2. Speech Language Assessment Checklist for a School-Aged Child
  3. Creating a Functional Therapy Plan: Therapy Goals & SOAP Note Documentation
  4. Selecting Clinical Materials for Pediatric Therapy
  5. Types and Levels of Cues and Prompts in  Speech Language Therapy

B. The Checklists Bundle contains 7 checklists relevant to screening and assessment in speech language pathology

  1. Speech Language Assessment Checklist for a Preschool Child 3:00-6:11 years of age
  2. Speech Language Assessment Checklist for a School-Aged Child 7:00-11:11 years of age
  3. Speech Language Assessment Checklist for Adolescents 12-18 years of age
  4. Language Processing Deficits (LPD) Checklist for School Aged Children 7:00-11:11 years of age
  5. Language Processing Deficits (LPD) Checklist for Preschool Children 3:00-6:11 years of age
  6. Social Pragmatic Deficits Checklist for School Aged Children 7:00-11:11 years of age
  7. Social Pragmatic Deficits Checklist for Preschool Children 3:00-6:11 years of age

C. Social Pragmatic Assessment and Treatment Bundle  contains 6 downloads for social pragmatic assessment and treatment planning (from 18 months through school age) and includes:

  1. Recognizing the Warning Signs of Social Emotional Difficulties in Language Impaired Toddlers and Preschoolers
  2. Behavior Management Strategies for Speech Language Pathologists
  3. Social Pragmatic Deficits Checklist for School Aged Children
  4. Social Pragmatic Deficits Checklist for Preschool Children
  5. Assessing Social Pragmatic Skills of School Aged Children
  6. Treatment of Social Pragmatic Deficits in School Aged Children

D. Multicultural Assessment and Treatment Bundle contains 2 downloads relevant to assessment and treatment of bilingual/multicultural children

  1. Language Difference vs. Language Disorder:  Assessment  & Intervention Strategies for SLPs Working with Bilingual Children
  2. Impact of Cultural and Linguistic Variables On Speech-Language Services

E. Narrative Assessment Bundle contains 3 downloads relevant to narrative assessment

  1. Narrative Assessments of Preschool and School Aged Children
  2. Understanding Complex Sentences
  3. Vocabulary Development: Working with Disadvantaged Populations

F. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Assessment and Treatment Bundle contains 3 downloads relevant to FASD assessment  and treatment

  1. Orofacial Observations of At-Risk Children
  2. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: An Overview of Deficits
  3. Speech Language Assessment and Treatment of Children With Alcohol Related Disorders

G. Psychiatric Disorders Bundle contains 7 downloads relevant to language  assessment  and treatment in psychiatrically impaired children

  1. Recognizing the Warning Signs of Social Emotional Difficulties in Language Impaired Toddlers and Preschoolers
  2. Social Pragmatic Deficits Checklist for School Aged Children
  3. Social Pragmatic Deficits Checklist for Preschool Children
  4. Assessing Social Skills in Children with Psychiatric Disturbances
  5. Improving Social Skills of Children with Psychiatric Disturbances
  6. Behavior Management Strategies for Speech Language Pathologists
  7. Differential Diagnosis Of ADHD In Speech Language Pathology

You can find these bundles on SALE in my online store by clicking on the individual bundle links above. You can also purchase these products individually in my online store by clicking HERE.

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A Focus on Literacy

Image result for literacyIn recent months, I have been focusing more and more on speaking engagements as well as the development of products with an explicit focus on assessment and intervention of literacy in speech-language pathology. Today I’d like to introduce 4 of my recently developed products pertinent to assessment and treatment of literacy in speech-language pathology.

First up is the Comprehensive Assessment and Treatment of Literacy Disorders in Speech-Language Pathology

which describes how speech-language pathologists can effectively assess and treat children with literacy disorders, (reading, spelling, and writing deficits including dyslexia) from preschool through adolescence.  It explains the impact of language disorders on literacy development, lists formal and informal assessment instruments and procedures, as well as describes the importance of assessing higher order language skills for literacy purposes. It reviews components of effective reading instruction including phonological awareness, orthographic knowledge, vocabulary awareness,  morphological awareness, as well as reading fluency and comprehension. Finally, it provides recommendations on how components of effective reading instruction can be cohesively integrated into speech-language therapy sessions in order to improve literacy abilities of children with language disorders and learning disabilities.

from wordless books to readingNext up is a product entitled From Wordless Picture Books to Reading Instruction: Effective Strategies for SLPs Working with Intellectually Impaired StudentsThis product discusses how to address the development of critical thinking skills through a variety of picture books utilizing the framework outlined in Bloom’s Taxonomy: Cognitive Domain which encompasses the categories of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation in children with intellectual impairments. It shares a number of similarities with the above product as it also reviews components of effective reading instruction for children with language and intellectual disabilities as well as provides recommendations on how to integrate reading instruction effectively into speech-language therapy sessions.

Improving critical thinking via picture booksThe product Improving Critical Thinking Skills via Picture Books in Children with Language Disorders is also available for sale on its own with a focus on only teaching critical thinking skills via the use of picture books.

Best Practices in Bilingual LiteracyFinally,   my last product Best Practices in Bilingual Literacy Assessments and Interventions focuses on how bilingual speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can effectively assess and intervene with simultaneously bilingual and multicultural children (with stronger academic English language skills) diagnosed with linguistically-based literacy impairments. Topics include components of effective literacy assessments for simultaneously bilingual children (with stronger English abilities), best instructional literacy practices, translanguaging support strategies, critical questions relevant to the provision of effective interventions, as well as use of accommodations, modifications and compensatory strategies for improvement of bilingual students’ performance in social and academic settings.

You can find these and other products in my online store (HERE).

Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources:

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Review and Giveaway: Test of Semantic Reasoning (TOSR)

Today I am reviewing a new receptive vocabulary measure for students 7-17 years of age, entitled the Test of Semantic Reasoning (TOSR) created by Beth Lawrence, MA, CCC-SLP  and Deena Seifert, MS, CCC-SLP, available via Academic Therapy Publications.

The TOSR assesses the student’s semantic reasoning skills or the ability to nonverbally identify vocabulary via image analysis and retrieve it from one’s lexicon.

According to the authors, the TOSR assesses “breadth (the number of lexical entries one has) and depth (the extent of semantic representation for each known word) of vocabulary knowledge without taxing expressive language skills”.

The test was normed on 1117 students ranging from 7 through 17 years of age with the norming sample including such diagnoses as learning disabilities, language impairments, ADHD, and autism. This fact is important because the manual did indicate how the above students were identified. According to Peña, Spaulding and Plante (2006), the inclusion of children with disabilities in the normative sample can negatively affect the test’s discriminant accuracy (separate typically developing from disordered children) by lowering the mean score, which may limit the test’s ability to diagnose children with mild disabilities.

TOSR administration takes approximately 20 minutes or so, although it can take a little longer or shorter depending on the child’s level of knowledge.  It is relatively straightforward. You start at the age-based point and then calculate a basal and a ceiling. For a basal rule, if the child missed any of the first 3 items, the examiner must go backward until the child retains 3 correct responses in a row. To attain a ceiling, test administration can be discontinued after the student makes 6 out of 8 incorrect responses.

Test administration is as follows. Students are presented with 4 images and told 4 words which accompany the images. The examiner asks the question: “Which word goes with all four pictures? The words are…

Students then must select the single word from a choice of four that best represents the multiple contexts of the word represented by all the images.

According to the authors, this assessment can provide “information on children and adolescents basic receptive vocabulary knowledge, as well as their higher order thinking and reasoning in the semantic domain.”

My impressions:

During the time I had this test I’ve administered it to 6 students on my caseload with documented history of language disorders and learning disabilities. Interestingly all students with the exception of one had passed it with flying colors. 4 out of 6 received standard scores solidly in the average range of functioning including a recently added to the caseload student with significant word-finding deficits. Another student with moderate intellectual disability scored in the low average range (18th percentile). Finally, my last student scored very poorly (1st%); however, in addition to being a multicultural speaker he also had a significant language disorder. He was actually tested for a purpose of a comparison with the others to see what it takes not to pass the test if you will.

I was surprised to see several children with documented vocabulary knowledge deficits to pass this test. Furthermore, when I informally used the test and asked them to identify select vocabulary words expressively or in sentences, very few of the children could actually accomplish these tasks successfully. As such it is important for clinicians to be aware of the above finding since receptive knowledge given multiple choices of responses does not constitute spontaneous word retrieval. 

Consequently, I caution SLPs from using the TOSR as an isolated vocabulary measure to qualify/disqualify children for services, and encourage them to add an informal expressive administration of this measure in words in sentences to get further informal information regarding their students’ expressive knowledge base.

I also caution test administration to Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD)  students (who are being tested for the first time vs. retesting of CLD students with confirmed language disorders) due to increased potential for linguistic and cultural bias, which may result in test answers being marked incorrect due lack of relevant receptive vocabulary knowledge (in the absence of actual disorder).

Final Thoughts:

I think that SLPs can use this test as a replacement for the Receptive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test-4 (ROWPVT-4) effectively, as it does provide them with more information regarding the student’s reasoning and receptive vocabulary abilities.  I think this test may be helpful to use with children with word-finding deficits in order to tease out a lack of knowledge vs. a retrieval issue.

You can find this assessment for purchase on the ATP website HERE. Finally, due to the generosity of one of its creators, Deena Seifert, MS, CCC-SLP, you can enter my Rafflecopter giveaway below for a chance to win your own copy!

Disclaimer:  I did receive a complimentary copy of this assessment for review from the publisher. Furthermore, the test creators will be mailing a copy of the test to one Rafflecopter winner. However, all the opinions expressed in this post are my own and are not influenced by the publisher or test developers.

References:

Peña ED, Spaulding TJ, and Plante E. ( 2006) The composition of normative groups and diagnostic decision-making: Shooting ourselves in the foot. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology 15: 24754

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Comprehensive Assessment of Adolescents with Suspected Language and Literacy Disorders

When many of us think of such labels as “language disorder” or “learning disability”, very infrequently do adolescents (students 13-18 years of age) come to mind. Even today, much of the research in the field of pediatric speech pathology involves preschool and school-aged children under 12 years of age.

The prevalence and incidence of language disorders in adolescents is very difficult to estimate due to which some authors even referred to them as a Neglected Group with Significant Problems having an “invisible disability“.

Far fewer speech language therapists work with middle-schoolers vs. preschoolers and elementary aged kids, while the numbers of SLPs working with high-school aged students is frequently in single digits in some districts while being completely absent in others. In fact, I am frequently told (and often see it firsthand) that some administrators try to cut costs by attempting to dictate a discontinuation of speech-language services on the grounds that adolescents “are far too old for services” or can “no longer benefit from services”.  

But of course the above is blatantly false. Undetected language deficits don’t resolve with age! They simply exacerbate and turn into learning disabilities. Similarly, lack of necessary and appropriate service provision to children with diagnosed language impairments  at the middle-school and high-school levels will strongly affect their academic functioning and hinder their future vocational outcomes.

A cursory look at the Speech Pathology Related  Facebook Groups as well as ASHA forums reveals numerous SLPs in a continual search for best methods of assessment and treatment of older students (~12-18 years of age).  

Consequently, today I wanted to dedicate this post to a review of standardized assessments options available for students 12-18 years of age with suspected language and literacy deficits.

Most comprehensive standardized assessments, “typically focus on semantics, syntax, morphology, and phonology, as these are the performance areas in which specific skill development can be most objectively measured” (Hill & Coufal, 2005, p 35). Very few of them actually incorporate aspects of literacy into its subtests in a meaningful way.  Yet by the time students reach adolescence literacy begins to play an incredibly critical role not just in all the aspects of academics but also social communication.

So when it comes to comprehensive general language testing I highly recommended that SLPs select  standardized measures with a focus on not  language but also literacy.  Presently of all the comprehensive assessment tools   I highly prefer the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy (TILLS) for students up to 18 years of age, (see a comprehensive review HERE),  which covers such literacy areas as phonological awareness, reading fluency, reading comprehension, writing and spelling in addition to traditional language areas as as vocabulary awareness, following directions, story recall, etc. However,  while comprehensive tests have  numerous  uses,  their sole  administration will not constitute an adequate assessment.

So what areas should be assessed during language and literacy testing?  Below are  a few suggestions of standardized testing measures (and informal procedures) aimed at exploring the student abilities in particular areas pertaining to language and literacy.

TESTS OF LANGUAGE

TESTS OF LITERACYscreen-shot-2016-10-09-at-2-29-57-pm

It is understandable  how given the sheer amount of assessment choices some clinicians may feel overwhelmed and be unsure regarding the starting point of an adolescent evaluation.   Consequently, the use the checklist prior to the initiation of assessment may be highly useful in order to identify potential language weaknesses/deficits the students might experience. It will also allow clinicians to prioritize  the hierarchy of testing instruments to use during the assessment.  

While clinicians are encouraged to develop such checklists for their personal use,  those who lack time and opportunity can locate a number of already available checklists on the market. 

For example, the comprehensive 6-page Speech Language Assessment Checklist for Adolescents (below) can be given to caregivers, classroom teachers, and even older students in order to check off the most pressing difficulties the student is experiencing in an academic setting. 

adolescent checklist

It is important for several individuals to fill out this checklist to ensure consistency of deficits, prior to determining whether an assessment is warranted in the first place and if so, which assessment areas need to be targeted.

Checklist Categories:

  1. Receptive Language
  2. Memory, Attention and Cognition
  3. Expressive Language
  4. Vocabulary
  5. Discourse
  6. Speech
  7. Voice
  8. Prosody
  9. Resonance
  10. Reading
  11. Writing
  12. Problem Solving
  13. Pragmatic Language Skills
  14. Social Emotional Development
  15. Executive Functioning

alolescent pages sample

Based on the checklist administration SLPs can  reliably pinpoint the student’s areas of deficits without needless administration of unrelated/unnecessary testing instruments.  For example, if a student presents with deficits in the areas of problem solving and social pragmatic functioning the administration of a general language test such as the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals® – Fifth Edition (CELF-5) would NOT be functional (especially if the previous administration of educational testing did not reveal any red flags). In contrast, the administration of such tests as Test Of Problem Solving 2 Adolescent and Social Language Development Test Adolescent would be better reflective of the student’s deficits in the above areas. (Checklist HERE; checklist sample HERE). 

It is very important to understand that students presenting with language and literacy deficits will not outgrow these deficits on their own. While there may be “a time period when the students with early language disorders seem to catch up with their typically developing peers” (e.g., illusory recovery) by undergoing a “spurt” in language learning”(Sun & Wallach, 2014). These spurts are typically followed by a “post-spurt plateau”. This is because due to the ongoing challenges and an increase in academic demands “many children with early language disorders fail to “outgrow” these difficulties or catch up with their typically developing peers”(Sun & Wallach, 2014).  As such many adolescents “may not show academic or language-related learning difficulties until linguistic and cognitive demands of the task increase and exceed their limited abilities” (Sun & Wallach, 2014).  Consequently, SLPs must consider the “underlying deficits that may be masked by early oral language development” and “evaluate a child’s language abilities in all modalities, including pre-literacy, literacy, and metalinguistic skills” (Sun & Wallach, 2014).

References:

  1. Hill, J. W., & Coufal, K. L. (2005). Emotional/behavioral disorders: A retrospective examination of social skills, linguistics, and student outcomes. Communication Disorders Quarterly27(1), 33–46.
  2. Sun, L & Wallach G (2014) Language Disorders Are Learning Disabilities: Challenges on the Divergent and Diverse Paths to Language Learning Disability. Topics in Language Disorders, Vol. 34; (1), pp 25–38.

Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources 

  1. Assessment of Adolescents with Language and Literacy Impairments in Speech Language Pathology 
  2. Assessment and Treatment Bundles 
  3. Social Communication Materials
  4. Multicultural Materials 

 

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Importance of Assessing Social Pragmatic Abilities in Children with Language Difficulties

You’ve received a referral to assess the language abilities of a school aged child with suspected language difficulties. The child has not been assessed before so you know you’ll need a comprehensive language test to look at the child’s ability to recall sentences, follow directions, name words, as well as perform a number of other tasks showcasing the child’s abilities in the areas of content and form (Bloom & Lahey, 1978).

But how about the area of language use? Will you be assessing the child’s pragmatic and social cognitive abilities as well during your language assessment? After all most comprehensive standardized assessments, “typically focus on semantics, syntax, morphology, and phonology, as these are the performance areas in which specific skill development can be most objectively measured” (Hill & Coufal, 2005, p 35). Continue reading Importance of Assessing Social Pragmatic Abilities in Children with Language Difficulties

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Assessing Social Communication Abilities of School-Aged Children

Recently, I’ve published an article in SIG 16 Perspectives on School Based Issues discussing the importance of social communication assessments of school aged children 2-18 years of age. Below I would like to summarize article highlights.

First, I summarize the effect of social communication on academic abilities and review the notion of the “academic impact”. Then, I go over important changes in terminology and definitions as well as explain the “anatomy of social communication”.

Next I suggest a sample social communication skill hierarchy to adequately determine assessment needs (assess only those abilities suspected of deficits and exclude the skills the student has already mastered).

After that I go over pre-assessment considerations as well as review standardized testing and its limitations from 3-18 years of age.

Finally I review a host of informal social communication procedures and address their utility.

What is the away message?

When evaluating social communication, clinicians need to use multiple assessment tasks to create a balanced assessment. We need to chose testing instruments that will help us formulate clear goals.  We also need to add descriptive portions to our reports in order to “personalize” the student’s deficit areas. Our assessments need to be functional and meaningful for the student. This means determining the student’s strengths and not just weaknesses as a starting point of intervention initiation.

Is this an article which you might find interesting? If so, you can access full article HERE free of charge.

Helpful Smart Speech Resources Related to Assessment and Treatment of Social Communication 

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Special Education Disputes and Comprehensive Language Testing: What Parents, Attorneys, and Advocates Need to Know

Image result for evaluationSeveral years after I started my private speech pathology practice, I began performing comprehensive independent speech and language evaluations (IEEs).

For those of you who may be hearing the term IEE for the first time, an Independent Educational Evaluation is “an evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the public agency responsible for the education of the child in question.” 34 C.F.R. 300.503. IEE’s can evaluate a broad range of functioning outside of cognitive or academic performance and may include neurological, occupational, speech language, or any other type of evaluations  as long as they bear direct impact on the child’s educational performance.

Independent evaluations can be performed for a wide variety of reasons, including but not limited to:

  • To determine the student’s present level of functioning
  • To determine whether the student presents with hidden, previously undiscovered deficits (e.g., executive function, social communication, etc.)
  • To determine whether the student’s educational classification requires a change
  • To determine if the student requires additional, previously not provided, related services (e.g., language therapy, etc.) or an increase in related services
  • To determine whether a student might benefit from an application of a particular therapy technique or program (e.g, Orton-Gillingham)
  • To determine whether a student with a severe impairment (e.g., severe emotional and behavioral disturbances, genetic syndrome, significant intellectual disability, etc.) is a good candidate for an out of district specialized school

Why can’t similar assessments be performed in school settings?

There are several reasons for that.

Why are IEE’s Needed?

The answer to that is simple:  “To strengthen the role of parents in the educational decision-making process.” According to one Disability Rights site: “Many disagreements between parents and school staff concerning IEP services and placement involve, at some stage, the interpretation of evaluation findings and recommendations. When disagreements occur, the Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) is one option lawmakers make available to parents, to help answer questions about appropriate special education services and placement“.

Indeed, many of the clients who retain my services also retain the services of educational advocates as well as special education lawyers.  Many of them work on determining appropriate level of services as well as an out of district placement for the children with a variety of special education needs. However, one interesting reoccurring phenomenon I’ve noted over the years is that only a small percentage of special education lawyers, educational advocates, and even parents believed that children with autism spectrum disorders, genetic syndromes, social pragmatic deficits, emotional disturbances, or reading disabilities required a comprehensive language evaluation/reevaluation prior to determining an appropriate out of district placement or an in-district change of service provision.

So today I would like to make a case, in favor of comprehensive independent language evaluations being a routine component of every special education dispute involving a child with impaired academic performance. I will do so through the illustration of past case scenarios that clearly show that comprehensive independent language evaluations do matter, even when it doesn’t look like they may be needed.

Case A: “He is just a weak student”.

Several years ago I was contacted by a parent of a 12 year old boy, who was concerned with his son’s continuously failing academic performance. The child had not qualified for an IEP but was receiving 504 plan in school setting and was reported to significantly struggle due to continuous increase of academic demands with each passing school year.  An in-district language evaluation had been preformed several years prior. It showed that the student’s general language abilities were in the low average range of functioning due to which he did not qualify for speech language services in school setting. However, based on the review of available records it very quickly became apparent that many of the academic areas in which the student struggled (e.g., reading comprehension, social pragmatic ability, critical thinking skills, etc)  were simply not assessed by the general language testing. I had suggested to the parent a comprehensive language evaluation and explained to him on what grounds I was recommending this course of action.  That comprehensive 4 hour assessment broken into several testing sessions revealed that the student presented with severe receptive, expressive, problem solving and social pragmatic language deficits, as well as moderate executive function deficits, which required therapeutic intervention.

Prior to that assessment the parent, reinforced by the feedback from his child’s educational staff believed his son to be an unmotivated student who failed to apply himself in school setting.  However, after the completion of that assessment, the parent clearly understood that it wasn’t his child’s lack of motivation which was impeding his academic performance but rather a true learning disability was making it very difficult for his son to learn without the necessary related services and support. Several months after the appropriate related services were made available to the child in school setting on the basis of the performed IEE, the parent reported significant progress in his child academic performance.

Case B: “She’s just not learning because of her behavior, so there’s nothing we can do”.  

This case involved a six year old girl who presented with a severe speech – language disorder and behavioral deficits in school setting secondary to an intellectual disability of an unspecified origin.

In contrast to Case A scenario, this child had received a variety of assessments and therapies since a very early age; however, her parents were becoming significantly concerned regarding her regression of academic functioning in school setting and felt that a more specialized out of district program with a focus on multiple disabilities would be better suitable to her needs. Unfortunately the school disagreed with them and believed that she could be successfully educated in an in-district setting (despite evidence to the contrary).  Interestingly, an in-depth comprehensive speech language assessment had never been performed on this child because her functioning was considered to be “too low” for such an assessment.

Comprehensive assessment of this little girl’s abilities revealed that via an application of a variety of behavioral management techniques (of non-ABA origin), and highly structured language input, she was indeed capable of significantly better performance then she had exhibited in school setting.  It stood to reason that if she were placed in a specialized school setting composed of educational professionals who were trained in dealing with her complex behavioral and communication needs, her performance would continue to steadily improve.  Indeed, six months following a transfer in schools her parents reported a “drastic” change pertaining to a significant reduction in challenging behavioral manifestations as well as significant increase in her linguistic output.

Case C: “Your child can only learn so much because of his genetic syndrome”.  

This case scenario does not technically involve just one child but rather three different male students between 9 and 11 years of age with several ‘common’ genetic syndromes: Down, Fragile X, and Klinefelter.  All three were different ages, came from completely different school districts, and were seen by me in different calendar years.

However, all three boys had one thing in common, because of their genetic syndromes, which were marked by varying degrees of intellectual disability as well as speech language weaknesses, their parents were collectively told that there could be very little done for them with regards to expanding their expressive language as well as literacy development.

Similarly to the above scenarios, none of the children had undergone comprehensive language testing to determine their strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles. Comprehensive assessment of each student revealed that each had the potential to improve their expressive abilities to speak in compound and complex sentences. Dynamic assessment of literacy also revealed that it was possible to teach each of them how to read.

Following the respective assessments, some of these students had became my private clients, while others’s parents have periodically written to me, detailing their children’s successes over the years.  Each parent had conveyed to me how “life-changing”a comprehensive IEE was to their child.

Case D: “Their behavior is just out of control”

The final case scenario I would like to discuss today involves several students with an educational classification of “Emotionally Disturbed” (pg 71).  Those of you who are familiar with my blog and my work know that my main area of specialty is working with school age students with psychiatric impairments and emotional behavioral disturbances.  There are a number of reasons why I work with this challenging pediatric population. One very important reason is that these students continue to be grossly underserved in school setting. Over the years I have written a variety of articles and blog posts citing a number of research studies, which found that a significant number of students with psychiatric impairments and emotional behavioral disturbances present with undiagnosed linguistic impairments (especially in the area of social communication), which adversely impact their school-based performance.

Here, we are not talking about two or three students rather we’re talking about the numbers in the double digits of students with psychiatric impairments and emotional disturbances, who did not receive appropriate therapies in their respective school settings.

The majority of these students were divided into two distinct categories. In the first category, students began to manifest moderate-to-severe speech language deficits from a very early age. They were classified in preschool and began receiving speech language therapy. However by early elementary age their general language abilities were found to be within the average range of functioning and their language therapies were discontinued.   Unfortunately since general language testing does not assess all categories of linguistic functioning such as critical thinking, executive functions, social communication etc., these students continued to present with hidden linguistic impairments, which continued to adversely impact their behavior.

Students in the second category also began displaying emotional and behavioral challenges from a very early age. However, in contrast to the students in the first category the initial language testing found their general language abilities to be within the average range of functioning. As a result these students never received any language-based therapies and similar to the students in the first category, their hidden linguistic impairments continued to adversely impact their behavior.

Students in both categories ended up following a very similar pattern of behavior. Their behavioral challenges in the school continued to escalate. These were followed by a series of suspensions, out of district placements, myriad of psychiatric and neuropsychological evaluations, until many were placed on home instruction. The one vital element missing from all of these students’ case records were comprehensive language evaluations with an emphasis on assessing their critical thinking, executive functions and social communication abilities. Their worsening patterns of functioning were viewed as “severe misbehaving” without anyone suspecting that their hidden language deficits were a huge contributing factor to their maladaptive behaviors in school setting.

Conclusion:

So there you have it!  As promised, I’ve used four vastly different scenarios that show you the importance of comprehensive language evaluations in situations where it was not so readily apparent that they were needed.  I hope that parents and professionals alike will find this post helpful in reconsidering the need for comprehensive independent evaluations for students presenting with impaired academic performance.

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Friend or Friendly: What Does Age Have To Do with It?

In my social pragmatic language groups I target a wide variety of social communication goals for children with varying levels and degrees of impairment with a focus on improving their social pragmatic language competence.  In the past I have written blog posts on a variety of social  pragmatic language therapy topics, including strategies for improving students’ emotional intelligence as well as on how to teach students to develop insight into own strengths and weaknesses.  Today I wanted to discuss the importance of teaching students with social communication impairments, age recognition for friendship and safety purposes.

Now it is important to note that the focus of my sessions is a bit different from the focus of “teaching protective behaviors”, “circles of intimacy and relationships” or “teaching kids to deal with tricky people. Rather the goal is to teach the students to recognize who it is okay “to hang out” or be friends with, and who is considered to be too old/too young to be a friend.

Why is it important to teach age recognition?

There are actually quite a few reasons.

Firstly, it is a fairly well-known fact that in the absence of age-level peers with similar weaknesses, students with social communication deficits will seek out either much younger or much older children as playmates/friends as these individuals are far less likely to judge them for their perceived social deficits. While this may be a short-term solution to the “friendship problem” it also comes with its own host of challenges.  By maintaining relationships with peers outside of their age group, it is difficult for children with social communication impairments to understand and relate to peers of their age group in school setting. This creates a wider chasm in the classroom and increases the risk of peer isolation and bullying.

Secondly, the difficulty presented by friendships significantly outside of one’s peer group, is  the risk of, for lack of better words, ‘getting into trouble’. This may include but is not limited to exploring own sexuality (which is perfectly normal) with a significantly younger child (which can be problematic) or be instigated by an older child/adolescent in doing something inappropriate (e.g, shoplifting, drinking, smoking, exposing self to peers, etc.).

Thirdly, this difficulty (gauging people’s age) further exacerbates the students’ social communication deficits as it prevents them from effectively understanding such pragmatic parameters such as audience (e.g., with whom its appropriate to use certain language in a certain tone and with whom it is not) and topic (with whom it is appropriate to discuss certain subjects and with whom it is not).

So due to the above reasons I began working on age recognition with the students (6+ years of age) on my caseload diagnosed with social communication and language impairments.   I mention language impairments because it is very important to understand that more and more research is coming out connecting language impairments with social communication deficits. Therefore it’s not just students on the autism spectrum or students with social pragmatic deficits (an official DSM-5 diagnosis) who have difficulties in the area of social communication. Students with language impairments could also benefit from services focused on improving their social communication skills.

I begin my therapy sessions on age recognition by presenting the students with photos of people of different ages and asking them to attempt to explain how old do they think the people in the pictures are and what visual clues and/or prior knowledge assisted them in the formulation of their responses. I typically select the pictures from some of the social pragmatic therapy materials packets that I had created over the years (e.g., Gauging Moods, Are You Being Social?, Multiple Interpretations, etc.).

I make sure to carefully choose my pictures based on the student’s age and experience to ensure that the student has at least some degree of success making guesses.  So for a six-year-old I would select pictures of either toddlers or children his/her age to begin teaching them recognition of concepts: “same” and “younger” (e.g., Social Pragmatic Photo Bundle for Early Elementary Aged Children).

Kids playing in the room

For older children, I vary the photos of different aged individuals significantly.  I also introduce relevant vocabulary words as related to a particular age demographic, such as:

  • Infant (0-1 years of age)
  • Toddler (2-3 years of age)
  • Preschooler (3-5 years of age)
  • Teenager (individual between 13-19 years of age)
  • Early, mid and late 20s, 30s, 40s
  • Middle-aged (individuals around 50 years of age)
  • Senior/senior citizen (individuals ~65+ years of age)

I explain to the students that people of different ages look differently and teach them how to identify relevant visual clues to assist them with making educated guesses about people’s ages.  I also use photos of my own family or ask the students to bring in their own family photos to use for age determination of people in the presented pictures.  When students learn the ages of their own family members, they have an easier time determining the age ranges of strangers.

My next step is to explain to students the importance of understanding people’s ages.  I present to the students a picture of an individual significantly younger or older than them and ask them whether it’s appropriate to be that person’s friend.   Here students with better developed insight will state that it is not appropriate to be that person’s friend because they have nothing in common with them and do not share their interests. In contrast, students with limited insight will state that it’s perfectly okay to be that person’s friend.

This is the perfect teachable moment for explaining the difference between “friend” and “friendly”. Here I again reiterate that people of different ages have significantly different interests as well as have significant differences in what they are allowed to do (e.g., a 16-year-old is allowed to have a driver’s permit in many US states as well as has a later curfew while an 11-year-old clearly doesn’t).  I also explain that it’s perfectly okay to be friendly and polite with older or younger people in social situations (e.g., say hello all, talk, answer questions, etc.) but that does not constitute true friendship.

I also ask students to compile a list of qualities of what they look for in a “friend” as well as have them engage in some perspective taking (e.g, have them imagine that they showed up at a toddler’s house and asked to play with him/her, or that a teenager came into their house, and what their parents reaction would be?).

Finally, I discuss with students the importance of paying attention to who wants to hang out/be friends with them as well as vice versa (individuals they want to hang out with) in order to better develop their insight into the appropriateness of relationships. I instruct them to think critically when an older individual (e.g,  young adult) wants to get particularly close to them.  I use examples from an excellent post written by a colleague and good friend, Maria Del Duca of Communication Station Blog re: dealing with tricky people, in order to teach them to recognize signs of individuals crossing the boundary of being friendly, and what to do about it.

So there you have it. These are some of the reasons why I teach age recognition to clients with social communication weaknesses. Do you teach age recognition to your clients? If so, comment under this post, how do you do it and what materials do you use?

Helpful Smart Speech Resources Related to Assessment and Treatment of Social Pragmatic Disorders