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Analyzing Narratives of School-Aged Children

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

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

Depending on the child’s age, I may read the story to the child or ask the child to read the story to me. One of the reasons why I like to utilize the second option is because it also allows me to ascertain, to some extent, the child’s reading skills in the areas of phonological awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary, as well as reading comprehension.

After that, I ask the child to retell the story back to me. Once again, depending on the child’s age as well as the estimated extent of his/her language severity, I may show the pictures from the story (and cover up the words) or ask the child to tell the story back to me without the benefit of visual support

Frog Where Are You IntroAs the child is retelling the story I digitally record his/her narrative so I can later transcribe and analyze it.  As the child is retelling the story, I may use verbal prompts such as: ‘What else can you tell me?’ and ‘Can you tell me more?’ to elicit additional information. However, I try not to prompt the child excessively; otherwise, the child is merely producing heavily prompted responses vs. telling me a spontaneous story. I then transcribe the child’s narrative verbatim and include all the pauses, mazes, linguistic reformulations, etc. This is particularly important for the purpose of determining the extent of the child’s word finding difficulties (if any) as well as in order to establish whether the child can retell a story with ease or if s/he struggles significantly during this task.

Here’s an example of what my transcription and analysis look like for first-grade students. Below narrative was produced by a 6-year-old student after I’ve read to her a script of  ‘Frog Where Are You?’ by Mercer Mayer.     Image result for frog where are youAnalysis: This student’s narrative was judged to be immature and decontextualized for her age.  The student’s strengths included the inclusion of all the relevant story grammar elements (for her age), some dialogue (e.g., “Frog! Where are you?”), as well as limited use of perspective taking (e.g., /mad/; /the boy checked that the dog was OK/, etc.). However, her narrative was very difficult to follow due to its limited coherence and cohesion.  The presence of grammatical, syntactic, and pragmatic errors, tangential story production, as well as abrupt and confusing shifts between settings and characters made it further confusing and difficult to follow.

With respect to microstructure, the student’s story was composed of numerous partially produced phrases and simple sentences, had limited temporal markers (e.g., then), and did not contain an adequate number of complex and compound sentences as is appropriate for a child her age (Paul, 1981). Throughout her narrative student inconsistently used anaphoric referencing. She was observed to overuse the pronoun ‘he’, which resulted in lack of clarity regarding which characters – the dog, the boy, or the turtle, she was referring to.  She also at times evidenced pronoun confusion (referred to the boy as ‘it’).

Image result for frog where are youThroughout her narrative, the student also evidenced a number of word finding difficulties manifested via word/phrase repetitions and revisions, use of fillers (e.g., “um”), and pauses, which made her story difficult for listeners to follow. Usage of invented vocabulary (e.g., stairpass) as well as target word substitutions (e.g., /roof/ vs. /cliff/) was also noted (German, 2005).

Summary: A 6-0-year-old student is expected to be at the True Narratives Level I (Hedberg & Westby, 1993), characterized by a well-developed plot, character development, clear sequencing of events, and consistent perspectives which focus around an incident in a story. Weaknesses in the area of narrative ability possess adverse impact on academic performance in the areas of oral language, reading, and written expression. Narrative weaknesses also significantly correlate with social communication deficits (Norbury, Gemmell & Paul, 2014), which this student is currently displaying. In order to facilitate academic and social success in this area, therapeutic intervention is strongly recommended.

Please note that the above analysis is by no means exhaustive. Furthermore, there are numerous other ways one can analyze a narrative sample. Nevertheless, I hope you found the above example useful for your language assessment purposes. Stay tuned for another example of my narrative analysis, to be posted shortly. Meanwhile, feel free to share in the comments section of this post, how you perform narrative assessments and what materials you use for this purpose.


Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources: 


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Social Communication and Describing Skills: What is the Connection?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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It’s a Fairy Tale (Well, Almost) Therapy!

I’ve always loved fairy tales! Much like Audrey Hepburn “If I’m honest I have to tell you I still read fairy-tales and I like them best of all.” Not to compare myself with Einstein (sadly in any way, sigh) but “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.”

It was the very first genre I’ve read when I’ve learned how to read. In fact, I love fairy tales so much that I actually took a course on fairy tales in college (yes they teach that!) and even wrote some of my own (though they were primarily satirical in nature).

So it was a given that I would use fairy tales as a vehicle to teach speech and language goals to the children on my caseload (and I am not talking only preschoolers either). Continue reading It’s a Fairy Tale (Well, Almost) Therapy!

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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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The Importance of Narrative Assessments in Speech Language Pathology (Revised)

Image result for narrativeA few years ago I wrote a guest post on the importance of assessing narratives for another blog. Below is a revised version of that post containing the updates with respect to the assessment of narratives.

As SLPs we routinely administer a variety of testing batteries in order to assess our students’ speech-language abilities. Grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and sentence formulation get frequent and thorough attention. But how about narrative production? Does it get its fair share of attention when the clinicians are looking to determine the extent of the child’s language deficits? I was so curious about what the clinicians across the country were doing that in 2013, I created a survey and posted a link to it in several SLP-related FB groups.  I wanted to find out how many SLPs were performing narrative assessments, in which settings, and with which populations.  From those who were performing these assessments, I wanted to know what type of assessments were they using and how they were recording and documenting their findings.   Since the purpose of this survey was non-research based (I wasn’t planning on submitting a research manuscript with my findings), I only analyzed the first 100 responses (the rest were very similar in nature) which came my way, in order to get the general flavor of current trends among clinicians, when it came to narrative assessments. Here’s a brief overview of my [limited] findings. Continue reading The Importance of Narrative Assessments in Speech Language Pathology (Revised)

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Early Intervention Evaluations PART IV:Assessing Social Pragmatic Abilities of Children Under 3

Image result for toddlersTo date, I have written 3 posts on speech and language assessments of children under 3 years of age. My first post offered suggestions on what information to include in general speech-language assessments for this age group, my second post specifically discussed assessments of toddlers with suspected motor speech disorders and my third post described what information I tend to include in reports for children ~16-18 months of age.

Today, I’d like to offer some suggestions on the assessment of social emotional functioning and pragmatics of children, ages 3 and under.

For starters, below is the information I found compiled by a number of researchers on select social pragmatic milestones for the 0-3 age group:

  1. Peters, Kimberly (2013) Hierarchy of Social/Pragmatic Skills as Related to the Development of Executive Function 
  2. Hutchins & Prelock, (2016) Select Social Cognitive Milestones from the Theory of Mind Atlas 

3. Development of Theory of Mind (Westby, 2014)

In my social pragmatic assessments of the 0-3 population, in addition, to the child’s adaptive behavior during the assessment, I also describe the child’s joint attention,  social emotional reciprocity, as well as social referencing abilities.

Joint attention is the shared focus of two individuals on an object. Responding to joint attention refers to the child’s ability to follow the direction of the gaze and gestures of others in order to share a common point of reference. Initiating joint attention involves child’s use of gestures and eye contact to direct others’ attention to objects, to events, and to themselves. The function of initiating joint attention is to show or spontaneously seek to share interests or pleasurable experience with others. (Mundy, et al, 2007)

Social emotional reciprocity involves being aware of the emotional and interpersonal cues of others, appropriately interpreting those cues, responding appropriately to what is interpreted as well as being motivated to engage in social interactions with others (LaRocque and Leach,2009).

Social referencing refers to a child’s ability to look at a caregiver’s cues such as facial expressions, body language and tone of voice in an ambiguous situation in order to obtain clarifying information.   (Walden & Ogan, 1988)

Here’s a brief excerpt from an evaluation of a child ~18 months of age:

“RA’s joint attention skills, social emotional reciprocity as well as social referencing were judged to be appropriate for his age.  For example, when Ms. N let in the family dog from the deck into the assessment room, RA immediately noted that the dog wanted to exit the room and go into the hallway.  However, the door leading to the hallway was closed.  RA came up to the closed door and attempted to reach the doorknob.  When RA realized that he cannot reach to the doorknob to let the dog out, he excitedly vocalized to get Ms. N’s attention, and then indicated to her in gestures that the dog wanted to leave the room.”

If I happen to know that a child is highly verbal, I may actually include a narrative assessment, when evaluating toddlers in the 2-3 age group. Now, of course, true narratives do not develop in children until they are bit older. However, it is possible to limitedly assess the narrative abilities of verbal children in this age group. According to Hedberg & Westby (1993) typically developing 2-year-old children are at the Heaps Stage of narrative development characterized by

  • Storytelling in the form of a collection of unrelated ideas  which consist of labeling and describing events
  • Frequent switch of topic is evident with lack of central theme and cohesive  devices
  • The sentences are usually simple declarations which contain repetitive syntax and use of present or present progressive tenses
  • In this stage, children possess limited understanding that the character on the next page is still same as on the previous page

In contrast, though typically developing children between 2-3 years of age in the Sequences Stage of narrative development still arbitrarily link story elements together without transitions, they can:

  • Label and describe events about a central theme with stories that may contain a central character, topic, or setting

Image result for frog where are youTo illustrate, below is a narrative sample from a typically developing 2-year-old child based on the Mercer Mayer’s classic wordless picture book: “Frog Where Are You?”

  • He put a froggy in there
  • He’s sleeping
  • Froggy came out
  • Where did did froggy go?
  • Now the dog fell out
  • Then he got him
  • You are a silly dog
  • And then
  • where did froggy go?
  • In in there
  • Up up into the tree
  • Up there  an owl
  • Froggy 
  • A reindeer caught him
  • Then he dropped him
  • Then he went into snow
  • And then he cleaned up that
  • Then stopped right there and see what wha wha wha what he found
  • He found two froggies
  • They lived happily ever after

Image result for play assessment kidsOf course, a play assessment for this age group is a must. Since, in my first post, I offered a play skills excerpt from one of my early intervention assessments and in my third blog post, I included a link to the Revised Westby Play Scale (Westby, 2000), I will now move on to the description of a few formal instruments I find very useful for this age group.

While some criterion-referenced instruments such as the Rossetti, contain sections on Interaction-Attachment and Pragmatics, there are other assessments which I prefer for evaluating social cognition and pragmatic abilities of toddlers.

Image result for language use inventoryFor toddlers 18+months of age, I like using the Language Use Inventory (LUI) (O’Neill, 2009) which is administered in the form of a parental questionnaire that can be completed in approximately 20 minutes.  Aimed at identifying children with delay/impairment in pragmatic language development it contains 180 questions and divided into 3 parts and 14 subscales including:

  1. Communication w/t gestures
  2. Communication w/t words
  3. Longer sentences

Therapists can utilize the Automated Score Calculator, which accompanies the LUI in order to generate several pages write up or summarize the main points of the LUI’s findings in their evaluation reports.

Below is an example of a summary I wrote for one of my past clients, 35 months of age.

AN’s ability to use language was assessed via the administration of the Language Use Inventory (LUI). The LUI is a standardized parental questionnaire for children ages 18-47 months aimed at identifying children with delay/impairment in pragmatic language development. Composed of 3 parts and 14 subscales it focuses on how the child communicates with gestures, words and longer sentences.

On the LUI, AN obtained a raw score of 53 and a percentile rank of <1, indicating profoundly impaired performance in the area of language use. While AN scored in the average range in the area of varied word use, deficits were noted with requesting help, word usage for notice, lack of questions and comments regarding self and others, lack of reciprocal word usage in activities with others, humor relatedness, adapting to conversations to others, as well as difficulties with building longer sentences and stories.

Based on above results AN presents with significant social pragmatic language weaknesses characterized by impaired ability to use language for a variety of language functions (initiate, comment, request, etc), lack of reciprocal word usage in activities with others, humor relatedness, lack of conversational abilities, as well as difficulty with spontaneous sentence and story formulation as is appropriate for a child his age. Therapeutic intervention is strongly recommended to improve AN’s social pragmatic abilities.

Downloadable DocumentsIn addition to the LUI, I recently discovered the Theory of Mind Inventory-2. The ToMI-2 was developed on a normative sample of children ages 2 – 13 years. For children between 2-3 years of age, it offers a 14 question Toddler Screen (shared here with author’s permission). While due to the recency of my discovery, I have yet to use it on an actual client, I did have fun creating a report with it on a fake client.

First, I filled out the online version of the 14 question Toddler Screen (paper version embedded in the link above for illustration purposes). Typically the parents are asked to place slashes on the form in relevant areas, however, the online version requested that I use numerals to rate skill acquisition, which is what I had done. After I had entered the data, the system generated a relevant report for my imaginary client.  In addition to the demographic section, the report generated the following information (below):

  1. A bar graph of the client’s skills breakdown in the developed, undecided and undeveloped ranges of the early ToM development scale.
  2. Percentile scores of how the client did in the each of the 14 early ToM measures
  3. Median percentiles of scores
  4. Table for treatment planning broken down into strengths and challenges

I find the information provided to me by the Toddler Screen highly useful for assessment and treatment planning purposes and definitely have plans on using this portion of the TOM-2 Inventory as part of my future toddler evaluations.

Of course, the above instruments are only two of many, aimed at assessing social pragmatic abilities of children under 3 years of age, so I’d like to hear from you! What formal and informal instruments are you using to assess social pragmatic abilities of children under 3 years of age? Do you have a favorite one, and if so, why do you like it?


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Improving Executive Function Skills of Language Impaired Students with Hedbanz

Image result for hedbanzThose of you who have previously read my blog know that I rarely use children’s games to address language goals.  However, over the summer I have been working on improving executive function abilities (EFs) of some of the language impaired students on my caseload. As such, I found select children’s games to be highly beneficial for improving language-based executive function abilities.

For those of you who are only vaguely familiar with this concept, executive functions are higher level cognitive processes involved in the inhibition of thought, action, and emotion, which located in the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobe of the brain. The development of executive functions begins in early infancy; but it can be easily disrupted by a number of adverse environmental and organic experiences (e.g., psychosocial deprivation, trauma).  Furthermore, research in this area indicates that the children with language impairments present with executive function weaknesses which require remediation.

Image result for executive functions brain

EF components include working memory, inhibitory control, planning, and set-shifting.

  • Working memory
    • Ability to store and manipulate information in mind over brief periods of time
  • Inhibitory control
    • Suppressing responses that are not relevant to the task
  • Set-shifting
    • Ability to shift behavior in response to changes in tasks or environment

Simply put, EFs contribute to the child’s ability to sustain attention, ignore distractions, and succeed in academic settings. By now some of you must be wondering: “So what does Hedbanz have to do with any of it?”

Well, Hedbanz is a quick-paced multiplayer  (2-6 people) game of “What Am I?” for children ages 7 and up.  Players get 3 chips and wear a “picture card” in their headband. They need to ask questions in rapid succession to figure out what they are. “Am I fruit?” “Am I a dessert?” “Am I sports equipment?” When they figure it out, they get rid of a chip. The first player to get rid of all three chips wins.

The game sounds deceptively simple. Yet if any SLPs or parents have ever played that game with their language impaired students/children as they would be quick to note how extraordinarily difficult it is for the children to figure out what their card is. Interestingly, in my clinical experience, I’ve noticed that it’s not just moderately language impaired children who present with difficulty playing this game. Even my bright, average intelligence teens, who have passed vocabulary and semantic flexibility testing (such as the WORD Test 2-Adolescent or the  Vocabulary Awareness subtest of the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy ) significantly struggle with their language organization when playing this game.

So what makes Hedbanz so challenging for language impaired students? Primarily, it’s the involvement and coordination of the multiple executive functions during the game. In order to play Hedbanz effectively and effortlessly, the following EF involvement is needed:

  • Task Initiation
    • Students with executive function impairments will often “freeze up” and as a result may have difficulty initiating the asking of questions in the game because many will not know what kind of questions to ask, even after extensive explanations and elaborations by the therapist.
  • Organization
    • Students with executive function impairments will present with difficulty organizing their questions by meaningful categories and as a result will frequently lose their track of thought in the game.
  • Working Memory
    • This executive function requires the student to keep key information in mind as well as keep track of whatever questions they have already asked.
  • Flexible Thinking
    • This executive function requires the student to consider a situation from multiple angles in order to figure out the quickest and most effective way of arriving at a solution. During the game, students may present with difficulty flexibly generating enough organizational categories in order to be effective participants.
  • Impulse Control
    • Many students with difficulties in this area may blurt out an inappropriate category or in an appropriate question without thinking it through first.
      • They may also present with difficulty set-shifting. To illustrate, one of my 13-year-old students with ASD, kept repeating the same question when it was his turn, despite the fact that he was informed by myself as well as other players of the answer previously.
  • Emotional Control
    • This executive function will help students with keeping their emotions in check when the game becomes too frustrating. Many students of difficulties in this area will begin reacting behaviorally when things don’t go their way and they are unable to figure out what their card is quickly enough. As a result, they may have difficulty mentally regrouping and reorganizing their questions when something goes wrong in the game.
  • Self-Monitoring
    • This executive function allows the students to figure out how well or how poorly they are doing in the game. Students with poor insight into own abilities may present with difficulty understanding that they are doing poorly and may require explicit instruction in order to change their question types.
  • Planning and Prioritizing
    • Students with poor abilities in this area will present with difficulty prioritizing their questions during the game.

Image result for executive functionsConsequently, all of the above executive functions can be addressed via language-based goals.  However, before I cover that, I’d like to review some of my session procedures first.

Typically, long before game initiation, I use the cards from the game to prep the students by teaching them how to categorize and classify presented information so they effectively and efficiently play the game.

Rather than using the “tip cards”, I explain to the students how to categorize information effectively.

This, in turn, becomes a great opportunity for teaching students relevant vocabulary words, which can be extended far beyond playing the game.

I begin the session by explaining to the students that pretty much everything can be roughly divided into two categories animate (living) or inanimate (nonliving) things. I explain that humans, animals, as well as plants belong to the category of living things, while everything else belongs to the category of inanimate objects. I further divide the category of inanimate things into naturally existing and man-made items. I explain to the students that the naturally existing category includes bodies of water, landmarks, as well as things in space (moon, stars, sky, sun, etc.). In contrast, things constructed in factories or made by people would be example of man-made objects (e.g., building, aircraft, etc.)

When I’m confident that the students understand my general explanations, we move on to discuss further refinement of these broad categories. If a student determines that their card belongs to the category of living things, we discuss how from there the student can further determine whether they are an animal, a plant, or a human. If a student determined that their card belongs to the animal category, we discuss how we can narrow down the options of figuring out what animal is depicted on their card by asking questions regarding their habitat (“Am I a jungle animal?”), and classification (“Am I a reptile?”). From there, discussion of attributes prominently comes into play. We discuss shapes, sizes, colors, accessories, etc., until the student is able to confidently figure out which animal is depicted on their card.

In contrast, if the student’s card belongs to the inanimate category of man-made objects, we further subcategorize the information by the object’s location (“Am I found outside or inside?”; “Am I found in ___ room of the house?”, etc.), utility (“Can I be used for ___?”), as well as attributes (e.g., size, shape, color, etc.)

Thus, in addition to improving the students’ semantic flexibility skills (production of definitions, synonyms, attributes, etc.) the game teaches the students to organize and compartmentalize information in order to effectively and efficiently arrive at a conclusion in the most time expedient fashion.

Now, we are ready to discuss what type of EF language-based goals, SLPs can target by simply playing this game.

1. Initiation: Student will initiate questioning during an activity in __ number of instances per 30-minute session given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

2. Planning: Given a specific routine, student will verbally state the order of steps needed to complete it with __% accuracy given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

3. Working Memory: Student will repeat clinician provided verbal instructions pertaining to the presented activity, prior to its initiation, with 80% accuracy  given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

4. Flexible Thinking: Following a training by the clinician, student will generate at least __ questions needed for task completion (e.g., winning the game) with __% accuracy given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

5. Organization: Student will use predetermined written/visual cues during an activity to assist self with organization of information (e.g., questions to ask) with __% accuracy given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

6. Impulse Control: During the presented activity the student will curb blurting out inappropriate responses (by silently counting to 3 prior to providing his response) in __ number of instances per 30 minute session given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

7. Emotional Control: When upset, student will verbalize his/her frustration (vs. behavioral activing out) in __ number of instances per 30 minute session given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

8. Self-Monitoring:  Following the completion of an activity (e.g., game) student will provide insight into own strengths and weaknesses during the activity (recap) by verbally naming the instances in which s/he did well, and instances in which s/he struggled with __% accuracy given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

There you have it. This one simple game doesn’t just target a plethora of typical expressive language goals. It can effectively target and improve language-based executive function goals as well. Considering the fact that it sells for approximately $12 on, that’s a pretty useful therapy material to have in one’s clinical tool repertoire. For fancier versions, clinicians can use “Jeepers Peepers” photo card sets sold by Super Duper Inc. Strapped for cash, due to highly limited budget? You can find plenty of free materials online if you simply input “Hedbanz cards” in your search query on Google. So have a little fun in therapy, while your students learn something valuable in the process and play Hedbanz today!

Related Smart Speech Therapy Resources:


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What do Narratives and Pediatric Psychiatric Impairments Have in Common?

High comorbidity between language and psychiatric disorders has been well documented (Beitchman, Cohen, Konstantaras, & Tannock, 1996; Cohen, Barwick, Horodezky, Vallence, & Im, 1998; Toppelberg & Shapiro, 2000). However, a lesser known fact is that there’s also a significant under-diagnosis of language impairments in children with psychiatric disorders.

In late 90’s, a study by Cohen, Barwick, Horodezky, Vallance, & Im (1998) found that 40% of children between the ages of 7 and 14 referred solely for psychiatric problems had a language impairment that had not been previously suspected.

Several decades later not much has changed. Hollo, Wehby, & Oliver (2014) did a meta-analysis of 22 studies, which reported results of language assessments in children with emotional and behavioral disturbances, EBD, with no prior history of language impairment (LI). They found that more than 80% of these children displayed below average language performance on standardized assessments (1–2 SD below the mean on a single measure) and 46.5% of these children qualified for criteria of moderate-severe LI (>2 SD below the mean on a single measure).

The above illustrates that children with psychiatric impairments often spend years “under the radar” without the recognition from medical and educational professionals that they present with difficulty adequately comprehending and expressing language. This is particularly damaging because good language development is critically important in order for psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapies to be effective for the child. Without relevant speech-language intervention services, psychotherapy referrals are rendered virtually useless, since those children who lack adequate linguistic abilities would not make meaningful therapeutic gains even after spending years in psychotherapy.

Narrative abilities are “highly relevant for the child psychiatry population as means for both psychotherapeutic evaluation (Emde, Wolf, & Oppenheim, 2003) and intervention (Angus & McLeod, 2004; Chaika, 2000; Gardner, 1993)”.  That is why it is crucial that language impairments be “identified, taken into account, and remediated (Losh & Capps, 2003)” (Pearce, et al, 2014, p. 245).

Over a two-year period, Pearce and colleagues (2014) assessed 48 children, 6–12 years old who were admitted: “for a four-week diagnostic period to the Child Psychiatry Inpatient Unit in a children’s hospital”. The children selected for the study had a minimum IQ of 85, had passed a hearing test and did not present with any acute psychotic symptoms (e.g., delusions, hallucinations, etc.). The children were administered the core subtests of The Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals–4 (CELF-4) as well as the Test of Narrative Language (TNL).

Study results found that:

  1. “The mean scores for less complex core language production and comprehension were in the average range”, whereas the mean narrative-production scores on the TNL were in the clinical range. In other words: “These children perhaps had acquired foundational language skills sufficient for functional communication and produced verbal output at a rate and complexity not noticeably different from their peers, particularly with the overlay of social or emotional disturbance, yet had impaired discourse skills difficult to detect in the typical psychiatric interview, psychotherapy session, or classroom setting” (Pearce, et al, 2014, p. 253).
  2. The study also found a significant correlation between narratives and social skills (but not between core language and social skills). That is because, in contrast to general language tests, which assess basic constructs such as vocabulary and grammar and often require single word responses, storytelling involves a number of higher order skills such as sequencing, emotion processing, perspective taking, pragmatic presupposition, gauging the listener’s level of interest, etc., which children with psychiatric impairments understandably lack.
  3. Consequently, the authors concluded that: “More than half the children in our complex population not previously diagnosed with language impairment were identified as having impaired language when higher-level discourse skills, measured by narrative ability, were tested in addition to core language abilities.”(Pearce, et al, 2014, p. 257)

Additionally, it is important to note that the above study utilized two fairly basic language measures and was still able to attain very significant results. It is strongly speculated that if the study was conducted in the present and utilized a general language test such as the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy the results would have been even more dramatic and the impairment would have extended to language abilities as well as narratives.

So the takeaway messages are as follows:

  1. Do not assume that children who present with challenging behaviors are merely “acting out” and present with intact language abilities. Assess them in order to confirm/rule out a language disorder (and make a relevant psychiatric referral if needed).
  2. Do not assume that children with emotional and behavioral disturbances are ONLY behaviorally/psychiatrically impaired and have average language abilities. Consequently, perform necessary testing in order to confirm/rule out the presence of concomitant language disorder.
  3. General language tests such do NOT directly test children’s narrative abilities or social language skills. Thus, many children can attain average scores on these tests yet still present with pervasive higher order language deficits, so more sensitive testing IS NEEDED
  4. Don’t ascribe linguistic deficits to externalizing symptomology (e.g., impulsivity, anxiety, inattention, challenging behaviors, etc.)  when the cause of it may in actuality be an undiagnosed language impairment. Perform a thorough assessment of higher-order linguistic abilities to ensure that the child receives the best possible care in order to optimally function in social and academic settings.

Helpful Resources:


  • Angus, L. E., & McLeod, J. (Eds.) (2004). The handbook of narrative and psychotherapy. London, UK: Sage Publications
  • Beitchman, J., Cohen, N., Konstantareas, M., & Tannock, R. (Eds.) (1996). Language, learning and behaviour disorders: Developmental, biological and clinical perspectives. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  • Chaika, E. (2000). Linguistics, pragmatics and psychotherapy. London, UK: Whurr Publishers
  • Cohen, N., Barwick, M., Horodezky, N., Vallance, D., & Im, N. (1998). Language, achievement, and cognitive processing in psychiatrically disturbed children with previously identified and unsuspected language impairments. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 39, 865–877.
  • Cohen, N., & Horodezky, N. (1998). Prevalence of language impairments in psychiatrically referred children at different ages: Preschool to adolescence [Letter to the editor]. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35, 461–262.
  • Emde, R., Wolf, D., & Oppenheim, D. (Eds.) (2003). Revealing the inner worlds of young children—The MacArthur story stem battery. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Gardner, R. (1993). Storytelling in psychotherapy with children. London, UK: Jason Aronson.
  • Hollo, A., Wehby, J. H., & Oliver, R. O.  (2014). Unsuspected language deficits in children with emotional and behavioral disorders: A meta-analysis. Exceptional Children, Vol. 80, No. 2, pp. 169-186.
  • Losh, M., & Capps, L. (2003). Narrative ability in high-functioning children with autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33, 239–251.
  • Pearce, P. et al. (2014). Use of narratives to assess language disorders in an inpatient pediatric psychiatric population. Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry, 19(2) 244-259.
  • Toppelberg, C., & Shapiro, T. (2000). Language disorders: A 10-year research update review. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 39, 143–152.
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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 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).


  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