Despite significant advances in the fields of education and speech pathology, many harmful myths pertaining to multilingualism continue to persist. One particularly infuriating and patently incorrect recommendation to parents is the advice to stop speaking the birth language with their bilingual children with language disorders. Continue reading On the Disadvantages of Parents Ceasing to Speak the Birth Language with Bilingual Language Impaired Children
Early Intervention Part V: Assessing Feeding and Swallowing in Children Under Three
Today I am writing my last installment in the five-part early intervention assessment series. My previous posts on this topic included:
- General speech and language assessments of children under 3 years of age.
- Assessments of toddlers with suspected motor speech disorders
- Assessments of children ~16-18 months of age
- Assessments of Social Pragmatic Abilities of Children Under 3
Today I’d like to talk about the assessment of feeding abilities of children under 3 years of age. Just to be clear, in my post, I am not offering tips on the assessment of medically fragile or neurologically impaired children with complex swallowing and feeding disorders such as severe food selectivity. Rather, I am offering suggestions for routine orofacial and feeding assessments of young children with normal swallowing but slightly immature feeding abilities.
First, let take a look at what the typical feeding development looks like in children 0-3 years of age. For this, I really like to use a resource from Dr. Joan Arvedson entitled: Developmental milestones and feeding skills birth to 36 months from her article Swallowing and feeding in infants and young children which was published online in 2006.
|Age (months)||Development/posture||Feeding/oral sensorimotor|
|Source: Adapted from Arvedson and Brodsky (pp. 62–67).|
|Birth to 4–6||Neck and trunk with balanced flexor and extensor tone
Visual fixation and tracking
Learning to control body against gravity
Sitting with support near 6 months
Brings hands to mouth
|Nipple feeding, breast, or bottle
Hand on bottle during feeding (2–4 months)
Maintains semiflexed posture during feeding
Promotion of infant–parent interaction
|6–9 (transition feeding)||Sitting independently for short time
Self-oral stimulation (mouthing hands and toys)
Extended reach with pincer grasp
Visual interest in small objects
Crawling on belly, creeping on all fours
|Feeding more upright position
Spoon feeding for thin, smooth puree
Suckle pattern initially Suckle suck
Both hands to hold bottle
Finger feeding introduced
Vertical munching of easily dissolvable solids
Preference for parents to feed
|9–12||Pulling to stand
Cruising along furniture
First steps by 12 months
Assisting with spoon; some become independent
Refining pincer grasp
Eats lumpy, mashed food
Finger feeding for easily dissolvable solids
Chewing includes rotary jaw action
|12–18||Refining all gross and fine motor skills
Grasping and releasing with precision
|Self-feeding: grasps spoon with whole hand
Holding cup with 2 hands
Drinking with 4–5 consecutive swallows
Holding and tipping bottle
|>18–24||Improving equilibrium with refinement of upper extremity coordination.
Increasing attention and persistence in play activities
Parallel or imitative play
Independence from parents
|Swallowing with lip closure
Chewing broad range of food
Up–down tongue movements precise
Jumping in place
|Circulatory jaw rotations
Chewing with lips closed
One-handed cup holding and open cup drinking with no spilling
Using fingers to fill spoon
Eating wide range of solid food
Total self-feeding, using fork
Now, let’s discuss the importance of examining the child’s facial features and oral structures. During these examinations it is important to document anything out of the ordinary noted in the child’s facial features or oral cavity.
Facial dysmorphia, signs of asymmetry indicative of paresis, unusual spots, nodules, openings, growths, etc, all need to be documented. Note the condition of the child’s mouth. Is there excessive tooth decay? Do you see an unusual absence of teeth? Is there an unusual bite (open, cross, etc.), unusual voice or a cough, in the absence of a documented illness? Here’s an example from a write up on a 2-8-year-old male toddler, below:
Facial observations revealed dysmorphic features: microcephaly (small head circumference), anteriorly rotated ears (wide set), and medially deviated, inward set eyes. A presence of mild-moderate hypotonicity (low tone) of the face [and trunk] was also noted. FA presented with mostly closed mouth posture and appropriate oral postural control at rest but moderate drooling (drool fell on clothes vs. touching chin only) was noted during speech tasks and during play. It’s important to note that the latter might be primarily behavioral in origin since FA was also observed to engage in “drool play” – gathering oral secretions at lip level then slowly and deliberately expelling them in a thin stream from his mouth and onto his shirt.
Articulatory structures including lips, tongue, hard palate and velum appeared to be unremarkable and are adequate for speech purposes. FA’s dentition was adequate for speech purposes as well. Oral motor function was appropriate for lingual lateralization, labial retraction, volitional pucker and lingual elevation. Lingual depression was not achieved. Diadochokinesis for sequential and alternate movements was unremarkable. Overall, FA’s oral structures and function presented to be adequate for speech production purposes.
FA’s prosody, pitch, and loudness were within normal limits for age and gender. No clinical dysfluencies were present during the evaluation. Vocal quality was remarkable for intermittent hoarseness which tended to decrease (clear up) as speech output increased and may be largely due to a cold (he presented with a runny nose during the assessment). Vocal quality should continue to be monitored during therapy sessions for indications of persistent hoarseness in the absence of a cold.
From there I typically segue into a discussion of the child’s feeding and swallowing abilities. Below is an excerpt discussing the strengths and needs of an 18-month-old internationally adopted female.
“During the assessment concerns presented regarding AK’s feeding abilities only. No swallowing concerns were reported or observed during the assessment. As per the parental report, at the age of 18 months, AK is still drinking from the bottle and consuming only puréed foods, which is significantly delayed for a child her age. AK’s feeding skills were assessed at snack time via indirect observation and select direct food administration. The following foods and liquids were presented to AK during the assessment: 2 oz of yogurt, 18 cheerios, 4 banana and 2 apple bites, and 40 ml of water (via cup and straw). AK was observed to accept all of the above foods and liquids readily when offered.
Spoon Stripping and Mouth Closure: During the yogurt presentation, AK’s spoon stripping abilities and mouth closure were deemed good (adequate) when fed by a caregiver and fair when AK fed self (incomplete food stripping from the spoon was observed due to only partial mouth closure). According to parental report, AK’s spoon stripping abilities have improved in recent months. Ms. K was observed to present spoon upwardly in AK’s mouth and hold it still until AK placed her lips firmly around the spoon and initiated spoon stripping. Since this strategy is working adequately for all parties in question no further recommendations regarding spoon feeding are necessary at this time. Skill monitoring is recommended on an ongoing basis for further refinement.
Biting and Chewing Abilities on Solids and Semi-Solids: AK’s chewing abilities were judged to be immature at this time for both solid (e.g., Cheerios) and semi-solid foods (e.g., banana). AK was observed to feed self Cheerios from a plate (1 at a time). She placed a cheerio laterally on lower right molars and attempted to grind it. When the cheerio was presented to AK midline she was observed to anteriorly munch it, or mash it against the hard palate. Notably, when too many cheerios were presented to her, rather than grasping and consuming them AK began to bang on a plate with both hands and throw the cheerios around the room.
During feeding, the most difficulty was observed with biting and chewing solid and semisolid fruit (e.g., apple and banana pieces). When presented with a banana, AK manifested moderate difficulties biting off an adequately sized piece (she bit off too much). Consequently, due to the fact that she was unable to adequately chew on a piece that large, manual extraction of food from the oral cavity was initiated due to choking concerns. It is important to note that during all food presentations AK did not display a diagonal rotary chew, which is below age expectancy for a child her age. Feeding strengths noted during today’s assessment included complete mouth closure (including lack of drooling and anterior food loss) during assisted spoon and finger foods feeding.
Cup and Straw Drinking: AK was also observed to drink 40 mls of water from a cup given parental assistance. Minor anterior spillage was intermittently noted during liquid intake. It is recommended that the parents modify cup presentation by providing AK with a plastic cup with two handles on each side, which would improve her ability to grasp and maintain hold on cup while drinking.
Straw drinking trials were attempted during the assessment as it is a skill which typically emerges between 8-9 months of age and solidifies around 12-13 months of age (Hunt et al, 2000). When AK was presented with a shortened straw placed in cup, she was initially able to create enough intraoral pressure to suck in a small amount of liquid. However, AK quickly lost the momentum and began to tentatively chew on the presented straw as which point the trial was discontinued.
Based on the feeding assessment AK presented with mildly decreased abilities in the oral phase of feeding. It is recommended that she receive feeding therapy with a focus on refining her feeding abilities.”
I follow the above, with a summary of evaluation impressions, recommendations, as well as suggested therapy goals. Finally, I conclude my report with a statement regarding the child’s prognosis (e.g., excellent, good, fair, etc.) as well as list potential maintaining factors affecting the duration of therapy provision.
So what about you? How do you assess the feeding and swallowing of abilities of children under 3 on your caseload? What foods, tasks, and procedures do you use?
Early Intervention Evaluations PART IV:Assessing Social Pragmatic Abilities of Children Under 3
To date, I have written 3 posts on speech and language assessments of children under 3 years of age. My first post offered suggestions on what information to include in general speech-language assessments for this age group, my second post specifically discussed assessments of toddlers with suspected motor speech disorders and my third post described what information I tend to include in reports for children ~16-18 months of age.
Today, I’d like to offer some suggestions on the assessment of social emotional functioning and pragmatics of children, ages 3 and under.
For starters, below is the information I found compiled by a number of researchers on select social pragmatic milestones for the 0-3 age group:
- Peters, Kimberly (2013) Hierarchy of Social/Pragmatic Skills as Related to the Development of Executive Function
- Hutchins & Prelock, (2016) Select Social Cognitive Milestones from the Theory of Mind Atlas
3. Development of Theory of Mind (Westby, 2014)
In my social pragmatic assessments of the 0-3 population, in addition, to the child’s adaptive behavior during the assessment, I also describe the child’s joint attention, social emotional reciprocity, as well as social referencing abilities.
Joint attention is the shared focus of two individuals on an object. Responding to joint attention refers to the child’s ability to follow the direction of the gaze and gestures of others in order to share a common point of reference. Initiating joint attention involves child’s use of gestures and eye contact to direct others’ attention to objects, to events, and to themselves. The function of initiating joint attention is to show or spontaneously seek to share interests or pleasurable experience with others. (Mundy, et al, 2007)
Social emotional reciprocity involves being aware of the emotional and interpersonal cues of others, appropriately interpreting those cues, responding appropriately to what is interpreted as well as being motivated to engage in social interactions with others (LaRocque and Leach,2009).
Social referencing refers to a child’s ability to look at a caregiver’s cues such as facial expressions, body language and tone of voice in an ambiguous situation in order to obtain clarifying information. (Walden & Ogan, 1988)
Here’s a brief excerpt from an evaluation of a child ~18 months of age:
“RA’s joint attention skills, social emotional reciprocity as well as social referencing were judged to be appropriate for his age. For example, when Ms. N let in the family dog from the deck into the assessment room, RA immediately noted that the dog wanted to exit the room and go into the hallway. However, the door leading to the hallway was closed. RA came up to the closed door and attempted to reach the doorknob. When RA realized that he cannot reach to the doorknob to let the dog out, he excitedly vocalized to get Ms. N’s attention, and then indicated to her in gestures that the dog wanted to leave the room.”
If I happen to know that a child is highly verbal, I may actually include a narrative assessment, when evaluating toddlers in the 2-3 age group. Now, of course, true narratives do not develop in children until they are bit older. However, it is possible to limitedly assess the narrative abilities of verbal children in this age group. According to Hedberg & Westby (1993) typically developing 2-year-old children are at the Heaps Stage of narrative development characterized by
- Storytelling in the form of a collection of unrelated ideas which consist of labeling and describing events
- Frequent switch of topic is evident with lack of central theme and cohesive devices
- The sentences are usually simple declarations which contain repetitive syntax and use of present or present progressive tenses
- In this stage, children possess limited understanding that the character on the next page is still same as on the previous page
In contrast, though typically developing children between 2-3 years of age in the Sequences Stage of narrative development still arbitrarily link story elements together without transitions, they can:
- Label and describe events about a central theme with stories that may contain a central character, topic, or setting
To illustrate, below is a narrative sample from a typically developing 2-year-old child based on the Mercer Mayer’s classic wordless picture book: “Frog Where Are You?”
- He put a froggy in there
- He’s sleeping
- Froggy came out
- Where did did froggy go?
- Now the dog fell out
- Then he got him
- You are a silly dog
- And then
- where did froggy go?
- In in there
- Up up into the tree
- Up there an owl
- A reindeer caught him
- Then he dropped him
- Then he went into snow
- And then he cleaned up that
- Then stopped right there and see what wha wha wha what he found
- He found two froggies
- They lived happily ever after
Of course, a play assessment for this age group is a must. Since, in my first post, I offered a play skills excerpt from one of my early intervention assessments and in my third blog post, I included a link to the Revised Westby Play Scale (Westby, 2000), I will now move on to the description of a few formal instruments I find very useful for this age group.
While some criterion-referenced instruments such as the Rossetti, contain sections on Interaction-Attachment and Pragmatics, there are other assessments which I prefer for evaluating social cognition and pragmatic abilities of toddlers.
For toddlers 18+months of age, I like using the Language Use Inventory (LUI) (O’Neill, 2009) which is administered in the form of a parental questionnaire that can be completed in approximately 20 minutes. Aimed at identifying children with delay/impairment in pragmatic language development it contains 180 questions and divided into 3 parts and 14 subscales including:
- Communication w/t gestures
- Communication w/t words
- Longer sentences
Therapists can utilize the Automated Score Calculator, which accompanies the LUI in order to generate several pages write up or summarize the main points of the LUI’s findings in their evaluation reports.
Below is an example of a summary I wrote for one of my past clients, 35 months of age.
AN’s ability to use language was assessed via the administration of the Language Use Inventory (LUI). The LUI is a standardized parental questionnaire for children ages 18-47 months aimed at identifying children with delay/impairment in pragmatic language development. Composed of 3 parts and 14 subscales it focuses on how the child communicates with gestures, words and longer sentences.
On the LUI, AN obtained a raw score of 53 and a percentile rank of <1, indicating profoundly impaired performance in the area of language use. While AN scored in the average range in the area of varied word use, deficits were noted with requesting help, word usage for notice, lack of questions and comments regarding self and others, lack of reciprocal word usage in activities with others, humor relatedness, adapting to conversations to others, as well as difficulties with building longer sentences and stories.
Based on above results AN presents with significant social pragmatic language weaknesses characterized by impaired ability to use language for a variety of language functions (initiate, comment, request, etc), lack of reciprocal word usage in activities with others, humor relatedness, lack of conversational abilities, as well as difficulty with spontaneous sentence and story formulation as is appropriate for a child his age. Therapeutic intervention is strongly recommended to improve AN’s social pragmatic abilities.
In addition to the LUI, I recently discovered the Theory of Mind Inventory-2. The ToMI-2 was developed on a normative sample of children ages 2 – 13 years. For children between 2-3 years of age, it offers a 14 question Toddler Screen (shared here with author’s permission). While due to the recency of my discovery, I have yet to use it on an actual client, I did have fun creating a report with it on a fake client.
First, I filled out the online version of the 14 question Toddler Screen (paper version embedded in the link above for illustration purposes). Typically the parents are asked to place slashes on the form in relevant areas, however, the online version requested that I use numerals to rate skill acquisition, which is what I had done. After I had entered the data, the system generated a relevant report for my imaginary client. In addition to the demographic section, the report generated the following information (below):
- A bar graph of the client’s skills breakdown in the developed, undecided and undeveloped ranges of the early ToM development scale.
- Percentile scores of how the client did in the each of the 14 early ToM measures
- Median percentiles of scores
- Table for treatment planning broken down into strengths and challenges
I find the information provided to me by the Toddler Screen highly useful for assessment and treatment planning purposes and definitely have plans on using this portion of the TOM-2 Inventory as part of my future toddler evaluations.
Of course, the above instruments are only two of many, aimed at assessing social pragmatic abilities of children under 3 years of age, so I’d like to hear from you! What formal and informal instruments are you using to assess social pragmatic abilities of children under 3 years of age? Do you have a favorite one, and if so, why do you like it?
- Hedberg, N.L., & Westby, C.E. (1993). Analyzing story-telling skills: Theory to practice. AZ: Communication Skill Builders.
- Mundy P, Block J, Delgado C, Pomares Y, Vaughan Van Hecke A, Parlade MV. (2007) Individual Differences and the Development of Joint Attention in Infancy. Child Development. 78:938–954
- LaRocque, M., & Leach, D. (2009). Increasing social reciprocity in young children with Autism. Intervention in School and Clinic, 10(5), 1-7.
- O’Neill, D. (2009). Language Use Inventory: An assessment of young children’s pragmatic language development for 18- to 47-month-old children [Manual]. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada Knowledge in Development
- Tomasello, M. (1995). Joint attention as social cognition. In C. Moore, & P. J. Dunham (Eds.), Joint attention: It’s origins and role in development (pp. 103–130). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Walden, T., & Ogan, T. (1988). The development of social referencing. Child Development, 59, 1230-1240.
- Westby, C. & Robinson, L. (2014). A developmental perspective for promoting theory of mind. Topics in
Language Disorders, 34(4), 362-383.
Early Intervention Evaluations PART III: Assessing Children Under 2 Years of Age
In this post, I am continuing my series of articles on speech and language assessments of children under 3 years of age. My first installment in this series offered suggestions regarding what information to include in general speech-language assessments for this age group, while my second post specifically discussed assessments of toddlers with suspected motor speech disorders.
Today, I’d like to describe what information I tend to include in reports for children ~16-18 months of age. As I mentioned in my previous posts, the bulk of children I assess under the age of 3, are typically aged 30 months or older. However, a relatively small number of children are brought in for an assessment around an 18-month mark, which is the age group that I would like to discuss today.
Typically, these children are brought in due to a lack of or minimal speech-language production. Interestingly enough, based on the feedback of colleagues, this group is surprisingly hard to report on. While all SLPs will readily state that 18-month-old children are expected to have a verbal vocabulary of at least 50 words and begin to combine them into two-word utterances (e.g., ‘daddy eat’). When prompted: “Well, what else should my child be capable of?” many SLPs draw a blank regarding what else to say to parents on the spot.
As mentioned in my previous post on assessment of children under 3, the following sections should be an integral part of every early intervention speech-language assessment:
- Background History
- Language Development and Use (Free Questionnaires)
- Adaptive Behavior
- Play Assessment (Westby, 2000) (Westby Play Scale-Revised Link)
- Auditory Function
- Oral Motor Exam
- Feeding and Swallowing
- Vocal Parameters
- Fluency and Resonance
- Articulation and Phonology
- Phonetic inventory
- Phonotactic Repertoire
- Speech intelligibility
- Phonological Processes Analysis (Independent and Relational)
- Receptive Language
- Expressive Language
- Social Emotional Development
- Pragmatic Language
- Suggested Therapy Goals
- References (if pertinent to a particular report)
In my two previous posts, I’ve also offered examples of select section write-ups (e.g., receptive, expressive phonology, etc.). Below a would like to offer a few more for this age group. Below is an example of a write-up on an 18-month-old bilingual child with a very limited verbal output.
L’s receptive language skills were solid at 8 months of age (as per clinical observations and REEL-3 findings) which is significantly below age-expectancy for a child her age (18 months). During the assessment L received credit for appropriately reacting to prohibitive verbalizations (e.g., “No”, “Stop”), attending to speaker when her name was spoken, performing a routine activity upon request (when combined with gestures), looking at familiar object when named, finding the aforementioned familiar object when not in sight, as well as pointing to select body parts on Mrs. L and self (though identification on self was limited). L is also reported to be able to respond to yes/no questions by head nods and shakes.
However, during the assessment L was unable to consistently follow 1 and 2 step directions without gestural cues, understand and perform simple actions per clinician’s request, select objects from a group of 3-5 items given a verbal command, select familiar puzzle pieces from a visual field of 2 choices, understand simple ‘wh questions (e.g., “what?”, “where?”), point to objects or pictures when named, identify simple pictures of objects in book, or display the knowledge and understanding of age appropriate content, function and early concept words (in either Russian or English) as is appropriate for a child her age.
EXPRESSIVE LANGUAGE and ARTICULATION
L’s expressive language skills were judged to be solid at 7 months of age (as per clinical observations and REEL-3 findings), which is significantly below age-expectancy for a child her age (18 months). L was observed to spontaneously use proto-imperative gestures (eye gaze, reaching, and leading [by hand]), vocalizations, as well waving for the following language functions: requesting, rejecting, regulating own environment as well as providing closure (waving goodbye).
L’s spontaneous vocalizations consisted primarily of reduplicated babbling (with a limited range of phonemes) which is significantly below age-expectancy for a child her age (see below for developmental norms). During the assessment, L was observed to frequently vocalize “da-da-da”. However, it was unclear whether she was vocalizing to request objects (in Russian “dai” means “give”) due to the fact that she was not observed to consistently vocalize the above solely when requesting items. Additionally, L was not observed to engage in reciprocal babbling or syllable/word imitation during today’s assessment, which is a concern for a child her age. When the examiner attempted to engage L in structured imitation tasks by offering and subsequently denying a toy of interest until L attempted to imitate the desired sound, L became easily frustrated and initiated tantrum behavior. During the assessment, L was not observed to imitate any new sounds trialed with her by the examiner.
During today’s assessment, L’s primary means of communication consisted of eye gaze, reaching, crying, gestures, as well as sound and syllable vocalizations. L’s phonetic inventory consisted of the following consonant sounds: plosives (/p/, /b/ as reported by Mrs. L), alveolars (/t/, /d/ as reported and observed), fricative (/v/ as observed), velar (/g/ as observed), as well as nasal (/n/, and /m/ as observed). L was also observed to produce two vowels /a/ and a pharyngeal /u/. L’s phonotactic repertoire was primarily restricted to reported CV(C-consonant; V-vowel) and VCV syllable shapes, which is significantly reduced for a child her age.
According to developmental norms, a child of L’s age (18 months) is expected to produce a wide variety of consonants (e.g., [b, d, m, n, h, w] in initial and [t, h, s] in final position of words) as well as most vowels. (Robb, & Bleile,(1994); Selby, Robb & Gilbert, 2000). During this time the child’s vocabulary size increases to 50+ words at which point children begin to combine these words to produce simple phrases and sentences (as per Russian and English developmental norms). Additionally, an, 18 months old child is expected to begin monitoring and repairing own utterances, adjusting speech to different listeners, as well as practicing sounds, words, and early sentences. (Clark, adapted by Owens, 2015)
Based on the above guidelines L’s receptive and expressive language, as well as articulation abilities, are judged to be significantly below age expectancy at this time. Speech and language therapy is strongly recommended in order to improve L’s speech and language skills.
Typically when the assessed young children exhibit very limited comprehension and expression, I tend to provide their caregivers with a list of developmental expectations for that specific age group (given the range of a few months) along with recommendations of communication facilitation. Below is an example of such a list, pulled a variety of resources.
Developmental Milestones expected of a 16-18 months old toddler:
- Make frequent spontaneous eye contact with adults during interactions
- Turn head to look towards the new voice, when another person begins to talk
- Make 3-point gaze shifts by 1. looking at a toy in hand, 2. then at an adult, 3. then back to the toy
- Make 4-point gaze shifts if more than one person is in the room – by looking from a toy in hand to one person, then the other person, then back to the toy,
- Spontaneously attend to book, activity for 2-3+ minutes without redirection
Reaching and Gestures:
- Show objects in hand to an adult (without actually giving them)
- Push away items that aren’t wanted
- Engage in give and take games when holding objects with an adult
- Imitate simple gestures such as clapping hands or waving bye-bye
- Hand an object to an adult to ask for help with it
- Shake head “no?”
- Attempt to actively explore toys (e.g., push or spin parts of toys, turn toys over, roll them back and forth)
- Repeat interesting actions with toys (e.g., make a toy produce an unusual noise, then attempt to make the noise again)
- Imitate simple play activities (adult bangs two blocks together, then child imitates)
- Use objects on daily basis (e.g., when given a spoon or cup the child attempts to feed himself. When putting on clothes the child begins to lift his arms in anticipation of a shirt going on.)
Receptive (Listening Skills):
- Consistently follow 1 and 2 step directions without gestural cues
- Understand and perform simple actions per request (“sit down” or “come here”) without gestures
- Select objects from a group of 3 items given a verbal command
- Select familiar puzzle pieces from a visual field of 2 choices
- Understand simple ‘wh questions (e.g., “what?”, “where?”)
- Point to objects or pictures when named
- Spontaneously and consistently identify simple pictures of objects in book
- Stop momentarily what he is doing if an adult says “no” in a firm voice
- Identify 2-3 common everyday objects or body parts when asked
Expressive (Speaking Skills):
- Produce a wide variety of consonants (e.g., [b, d, m, n, h, w] in initial and [t, h, s] in final position of words) as well as most vowels. (Robb, & Bleile,(1994); Selby, Robb & Gilbert, 2000).
- Have a vocabulary size nearing 50 words (e.g., 35-40)
- Imitate adult words or vocalizations
- Attempt to practice sounds and words (Clark, adapted by Owens, 2015)
- Appropriately label familiar objects (foods, toys, animals)
Materials to use with the child to promote language and play:
- Cause and effect toys
- Toys with a variety of textures (soft toys, plastic toys, cardboard blocks, ridged balls)
- Toys with multiple actions
- Toys with special effects: lights, sounds, movement (push and go vehicles)
- Building and linking toys
- Toys with multiple parts
- Balls, cars and trucks, animals, dolls
- Pop-up picture books
- Toys the child demonstrates an interest in (parents should advise)
- Reduce distractions (noise, clutter etc)
- Provide one on one interaction in a structured space (e.g., sitting at the play table or sitting on parent’s lap) to improve attention
- Offer favorite activities and toys of interest initially before branching out to new materials
- Offer favorite foods/toys as reinforcers to continue working
- Offer choices of two toys, then remove one toy and focus interaction with one toy of interest
- Try to prolong attention to toy for several minutes at a time
- Change activities frequently, HOWEVER, repeat same activities in cycles over and over again during home practice in order to solidify skills
- Label objects and actions in the child’s immediate environment
- Use brief but loud utterances (2-3 words not more) to gain attention and understanding
- Frequently repeat words in order to ensure understanding of what is said/expected of child
- Use combination of gestures, signs, words, and pictures to teach new concepts
- Do not force child to speak if he doesn’t want to rather attempt to facilitate production of gestures/sounds (e.g., use “hand over hand” to show child the desired gesture such as pointing/waving/motioning in order to reduce his/her frustration
- Use play activities as much as possible to improve child’s ability to follow directions and comprehend language
- Doll House (with Little People)
- Farm, etc
Core vocabulary categories for listening and speaking:
- Favorite and familiar toys and objects
- Names of people in the child’s life as well as his own name
- Favorite or familiar foods
- Body parts
- Names of daily activities and actions (go, fall, drink, eat, walk, wash, open)
- Recurrence (more)
- Names of places (bed, outside)
- Safety words (hot, no, stop, dangerous, hurt, don’t touch, yuck, wait)
- Condition words (boo-boo, sick/hurt, mad, happy)
- Early pronouns (me, mine)
- Social words (hi, bye, please, sorry)
- Early concepts: in, off, on, out, big, hot, one, up, down, yucky, wet, all done)
- Owens, R. E. (2015). Language development: An introduction (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
- Rescorla, L. (1989). The Language Development Survey: A screening tool for delayed language in toddlers. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 54, 587–599.
- Rescorla, L., Hadicke-Wiley, M., & Escarce, E. (1993). Epidemiological investigation of expressive language delay
at age two. First Language, 13, 5–22.
- Robb, M. P., & Bleile, K. M. (1994). Consonant inventories of young children from 8 to 25 months. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, 8, 295-320.
- Selby, J. C., Robb, M. P., & Gilbert, H. R. (2000). Normal vowel articulations between 15 and 36 months of age. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, 14, 255-266.
Click HERE for the Early Intervention Evaluations PART IV: Assessing Pragmatic Abilities of Children Under 3
Stay Tuned for the next installment in this series:
- Early Intervention Evaluations PART V: Assessing Feeding and Swallowing in Children Under Two
Early Intervention Evaluations PART II: Assessing Suspected Motor Speech Disorders in Children Under 3
In my previous post on this topic, I brought up concerns regarding the paucity of useful information in EI SLP reports for children under 3 years of age and made some constructive suggestions of how that could be rectified. In 2013, I had written about another significant concern, which involved neurodevelopmental pediatricians (rather than SLPs), diagnosing Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), without the adequate level of training and knowledge regarding motor speech disorders. Today, I wanted to combine both topics and delve deeper into another area of EI SLP evaluations, namely, assessments of toddlers with suspected motor speech disorders.
Firstly, it is important to note that CAS is disturbingly overdiagnosed. A cursory review of both parent and professional social media forums quickly reveals that this diagnosis is doled out like candy by both SLPs and medical professionals alike, often without much training and knowledge regarding the disorder in question. The child is under 3, has a limited verbal output coupled with a number of phonological processes, and the next thing you know, s/he is labeled as having Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS). But is this diagnosis truly that straightforward?
Let us begin with the fact that all reputable organizations involved in the dissemination of information on the topic of CAS (e.g., ASHA, CASANA, etc.), strongly discourage the diagnosis of CAS in children under three years of age with limited verbal output, and limited time spent in EBP therapy specifically targeting the remediation of motor speech disorders.
Assessment of motor speech disorders in young children requires solid knowledge and expertise. That is because CAS has a number of overlapping symptoms with other speech sound disorders (e.g., severe phonological disorder, dysarthria, etc). Furthermore, symptoms which may initially appear as CAS may change during the course of intervention by the time the child is older (e.g., 3 years of age) which is why diagnosing toddlers under 3 years of age is very problematic and the use of “suspected” or “working” diagnosis is recommended (Davis & Velleman, 2000) in order to avoid misdiagnosis. Finally, the diagnosis of CAS is also problematic due to the fact that there are still to this day no valid or reliable standardized assessments sensitive to CAS detection (McCauley & Strand, 2008).
In March 2017, Dr. Edythe Strand wrote an excellent article for the ASHA Leader entitled: “Appraising Apraxia“, in which she used a case study of a 3-year-old boy to describe how a differential diagnosis for CAS can be performed. She reviewed CAS characteristics, informal assessment protocols, aspects of diagnosis and treatment, and even included ‘Examples of Diagnostic Statements for CAS’ (which illustrate how clinicians can formulate their impressions regarding the child’s strengths and needs without explicitly labeling the child’s diagnosis as CAS).
Today, I’d like to share what information I tend to include in speech-language reports geared towards the assessing motor speech disorders in children under 3 years of age. I have a specific former client in mind for whom a differential diagnosis was particularly needed. Here’s why.
This particular 30-month client, TQ, (I did mention that I get quite a few clients for assessment around that age), was brought in due to parental concerns over her significantly reduced speech and expressive language abilities characterized by unintelligible “babbling-like” utterances and lack of expressive language. All of TQ’s developmental milestones with the exception of speech and language had been achieved grossly at age expectancy. She began limitedly producing word approximations at ~16 months of age but at 30 months of age, her verbal output was still very restricted. She mainly communicated via gestures, pointing, word approximations, and a handful of signs.
Interestingly, as an infant, she had a restricted lingual frenulum. However, since it did not affect her ability to feed, no surgical intervention was needed. Indeed, TQ presented with an adequate lingual movement for both feeding and speech sound production, so her ankyloglossia (or anterior tongue tie) was definitely not the culprit which caused her to have limited speech production.
Prior to being reevaluated by me, TQ underwent an early intervention assessment at ~26 months of age. She was diagnosed with CAS by an evaluating SLP and was found to be eligible for speech-language services, which she began receiving shortly thereafter. However, Mrs. Q noted that TQ was making very few gains in therapy and her treating SLP was uncertain regarding why her progress in therapy was so limited. Mrs. Q was also rather uncertain that TQ’s diagnosis of CAS was indeed a correct one, which was another reason why she sought a second opinion.
Assessment of TQ’s social-emotional functioning, play skills, and receptive language (via a combination of Revised Westby Play Scale (Westby, 2000), REEL-3, & PLS-5) quickly revealed that she was a very bright little girl who was developing on target in all of the tested areas. Assessment of TQ’s expressive language (via REEL-3, PLS-5 & LUI*), revealed profoundly impaired, expressive language abilities. But due to which cause?
Despite lacking verbal speech, TQ’s communicative frequency (how often she attempted to spontaneously and appropriately initiate interactions with others), as well as her communicative intent (e.g., gaining attention, making requests, indicating protests, etc), were judged to be appropriate for her age. She was highly receptive to language stimulation given tangible reinforcements and as the assessment progressed she was observed to significantly increase the number and variety of vocalizations and word approximations including delayed imitation of words and sounds containing bilabial and alveolar nasal phonemes.
For the purpose of TQ’s speech assessment, I was interested in gaining knowledge regarding the following:
- Automatic vs. volitional control
- Simple vs. complex speech production
- Consistency of productions on repetitions of the same words/word approximations
- Vowel Productions
- Imitation abilities
- Phonetic inventory
- Phonotactic Constraints
TQ’s oral peripheral examination yielded no difficulties with oral movements during non-speaking as well as speaking tasks. She was able to blow bubbles, stick out tongue, smile, etc as well as spontaneously vocalize without any difficulties. Her voice quality, pitch, loudness, and resonance during vocalizations and approximated utterances were judged to be appropriate for age and gender. Her prosody and fluency could not be determined due to lack of spontaneously produced continuous verbal output.
- Phonetic inventory of all the sounds TQ produced during the assessment is as follows:
- Consonants: plosive nasals (/m/) and alveolars (/t/, /d/, n), as well as a glide (/w/)
- Vowels: (/a/, /e/, /i/, /o/)
- TQ’s phonotactic repertoire was primarily comprised of word approximations restricted to specific sounds and consisted of CV (e.g., ne), VCV (e.g., ada), CVC (e.g., nyam), CVCV (e.g., nada), VCVC (e.g., adat), CVCVCV (nadadi), VCVCV(e.g., adada) syllable shapes
- TQ’s speech intelligibility in known and unknown contexts was profoundly reduced to unfamiliar listeners. However, her word approximations were consistent across all productions.
- Due to the above I could not perform an in-depth phonological processes analysis
However, by this time I had already formulated a working hypothesis regarding TQ’s speech production difficulties. Based on her speech sound assessment TQ presented with severe phonological disorder characterized by restricted sound inventory, simplification of sound sequences, as well as patterns of sound use errors (e.g., predominance of alveolar /d/ and nasal /n/ sounds when attempting to produce most word approximations) in speech (Stoel-Gammon, 1987).
TQ’s difficulties were not consistent with the diagnosis Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) at that time due to the following:
- Adequate and varied production of vowels
- Lack of restricted use of syllables during verbalizations (TQ was observed to make verbalizations up to 3 syllables in length)
- Lack of disruptions in rate, rhythm, and stress of speech
- Frequent and spontaneous use of consistently produced verbalizations
- Lack of verbal groping behaviors when producing word-approximations
- Good control of pitch, loudness and vocal quality during vocalizations
I felt that the diagnosis of CAS was not applicable because TQ lacked a verbal lexicon and no specific phonological intervention techniques had been trialed with her during the course of her brief therapy (~4 months) to elicit word productions (Davis & Velleman, 2000; Strand, 2003). While her EI speech therapist documented that therapy has primarily focused on ‘oral motor activities to increase TQ’s awareness of her articulators and to increase imitation of oral motor movements’, I knew that until a variety of phonological/motor-speech specific interventions had been trialed over a period of time (at least ~6 months as per Davis & Velleman, 2000) the diagnosis of CAS could not be reliably made.
I still, however, wanted to be cautious as there were a few red flags I had noted which may have potentially indicative of a non-CAS motor speech involvement, due to which I wanted to include some recommendations pertaining to motor speech remediation.
Now it is possible that after 6 months of intensive application of EBP phonological and motor speech approaches TQ would have turned 3 and still presented with highly restricted speech sound inventory and profoundly impaired speech production, making her eligible for the diagnosis of CAS in earnest. However, at the time of my assessment, making such diagnosis in view of all the available evidence would have been both clinically inappropriate and unethical.
So what were my recommendations you may ask? Well, I provisionally diagnosed TQ with a severe phonological disorder and recommended that among a variety of phonologically-based approaches to trial, an EBP approach to the treatment of motor speech disorders be also used with her for a period of 6 months to determine if it would expedite speech gains.
*For those of you who are interested in the latest EBP treatment for motor speech disorders, current evidence supports the use of the Rapid Syllable Transition Treatment (ReST). ReST is a free EBP treatment developed by the SLPs at the University of Sydney, which uses nonsense words, designed to help children coordinate movements across syllables in long words and phrases as well as helps them learn new speech movements. It is, however, important to note for young children with highly restricted sound inventories, characterized by a lack of syllable production, ReST will not be applicable. For them, the Integral Stimulation/Dynamic Temporal and Tactile Cueing (DTTC) approaches do have some limited empirical support.
I also made sure to make a note in my report regarding the inappropriate use of non-speech oral motor exercises (NSOMEs) in therapy, indicating that there is NO research to support the use of NSOMEs to stimulate speech production (Lof, 2010).
In addition to the trialing of phonological and motor based approaches I also emphasized the need to establish consistent lexicon via development of functional words needed in daily communication and listed a number of examples across several categories. I made recommendations regarding select approaches and treatment techniques to trial in therapy, as well as suggestions for expansion of sounds and structures. Finally, I made suggestions for long and short term therapy goals for a period of 6 months to trial with TQ in therapy and provided relevant references to support the claims I’ve made in my report.
You may be interested in knowing that nowadays TQ is doing quite well, and at this juncture, she is still, ineligible for the diagnosis CAS (although she needs careful ongoing monitoring with respect to the development of reading difficulties when she is older).
Now I know that some clinicians will be quick to ask me: “What’s the harm in overdiagnosing CAS if the child’s speech production will still be treated via the application of motor speech production principles?” Well, aside from the fact that it’s obviously unethical and can result in terrifying the parents into obtaining all sorts of questionable and even downright harmful bunk treatments for their children, the treatment may only be limitedly appropriate, and may not result in the best possible outcomes for a particular child. To illustrate, TQ never presented with CAS and as such, while she may have initially limitedly benefited from the application of motor speech principles to address her speech production, shortly thereafter, the application of the principles of the dynamic systems theory is what brought about significant changes in her phonological repertoire.
That is why the correct diagnosis is so important for young children under 3 years of age. But before it can be made, extensive (reputable and evidence supported) training and education are needed by evaluating SLPs on the assessment and treatment of motor speech disorders in young children.
- Davis, B & Velleman, S (2000). Differential diagnosis and treatment of developmental apraxia of speech in infants and toddlers”. The Transdisciplinary Journal. 10 (3): 177 – 192.
- Lof, G., & Watson, M. (2010). Five reasons why nonspeech oral-motor exercises do not work. Perspectives on School-Based Issues, 11.109-117.
- McCauley RJ, Strand EA. (2008). A Review of Standardized Tests of Nonverbal Oral and Speech Motor Performance in Children. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 17,81-91.
- McCauley R.J., Strand E., Lof, G.L., Schooling T. & Frymark, T. (2009). Evidence-Based Systematic Review: Effects of Nonspeech Oral Motor Exercises on Speech, American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 18, 343-360.
- Murray, E., McCabe, P. & Ballard, K.J. (2015). A Randomized Control Trial of Treatments for Childhood Apraxia of Speech. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 58 (3) 669-686.
- Stoel-Gammon, C. (1987). Phonological skills of 2-year-olds. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 18, 323-329.
- Strand, E (2003). Childhood apraxia of speech: suggested diagnostic markers for the young child. In Shriberg, L & Campbell, T (Eds) Proceedings of the 2002 childhood apraxia of speech research symposium. Carlsbad, CA: Hendrix Foundation.
- Strand, E, McCauley, R, Weigand, S, Stoeckel, R & Baas, B (2013) A Motor Speech Assessment for Children with Severe Speech Disorders: Reliability and Validity Evidence. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, vol 56; 505-520.
Early Intervention Evaluations PART I: Assessing 2.5 year olds
Today, I’d like to talk about speech and language assessments of children under three years of age. Namely, the quality of these assessments. Let me be frank, I am not happy with what I am seeing. Often times, when I receive a speech-language report on a child under three years of age, I am struck by how little functional information it contains about the child’s linguistic strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, conversations with parents often reveal that at best the examiner spent no more than half an hour or so playing with the child and performed very limited functional testing of their actual abilities. Instead, they interviewed the parent and based their report on parental feedback alone. Consequently, parents often end up with a report of very limited value, which does not contain any helpful information on how delayed is the child as compared to peers their age.
So today I like to talk about what information should such speech-language reports should contain. For the purpose of this particular post, I will choose a particular developmental age at which children at risk of language delay are often assessed by speech-language pathologists. Below you will find what information I typically like to include in these reports as well as developmental milestones for children 30 months or 2.5 years of age.
Why 30 months, you may ask? Well, there isn’t really any hard science to it. It’s just that I noticed that a significant percentage of parents who were already worried about their children’s speech-language abilities when they were younger, begin to act upon those worries as the child is nearing 3 years of age and their abilities are not improving or are not commensurate with other peers their age.
So here is the information I include in such reports (after I’ve gathered pertinent background information in the form of relevant intakes and questionnaires, of course). Naturally, detailed BACKGROUND HISTORY section is a must! Prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal development should be prominently featured there. All pertinent medical history needs to get documented as well as all of the child’s developmental milestones in the areas of cognition, emotional development, fine and gross motor function, and of course speech and language. Here, I also include a family history of red flags: international or domestic adoption of the child (if relevant) as well as familial speech and language difficulties, intellectual impairment, psychiatric disorders, special education placements, or documented deficits in the areas of literacy (e.g., reading, writing, and spelling). After all, if any of the above issues are present in isolation or in combination, the risk for language and literacy deficits increases exponentially, and services are strongly merited for the child in question.
For bilingual children, the next section will cover LANGUAGE BACKGROUND AND USE. Here, I describe how many and which languages are spoken in the home and how well does the child understand and speak any or all of these languages (as per parental report based on questionnaires).
After that, I move on to describe the child’s ADAPTIVE BEHAVIOR during the assessment. In this section, I cover emotional relatedness, joint attention, social referencing, attention skills, communicative frequency, communicative intent, communicative functions, as well as any and all unusual behaviors noted during the therapy session (e.g., refusal, tantrums, perseverations, echolalia, etc.) Then I move on to PLAY SKILLS. For the purpose of play assessment, I use the Revised Westby Play Scale (Westby, 2000). In this section, I describe where the child is presently with respect to play skills, and where they actually need to be developmentally (excerpt below).
“During today’s assessment, LS’s play skills were judged to be significantly reduced for his age. A child of LS’s age (30 months) is expected to engage in a number of isolated pretend play activities with realistic props to represent daily experiences (playing house) as well as less frequently experienced events (e.g., reenacting a doctor’s visit, etc.) (corresponds to Stage VI on the Westby Play Scale, Revised Westby Play Scale (Westby, 2000)). Contrastingly, LS presented with limited repertoire routines, which were characterized primarily by exploration of toys, such as operating simple cause and effect toys (given modeling) or taking out and then putting back in playhouse toys. LS’s parents confirmed that the above play schemas were representative of play interactions at home as well. Today’s LS’s play skills were judged to be approximately at Stage II (13 – 17 months) on the Westby Play Scale, (Revised Westby Play Scale (Westby, 2000)) which is significantly reduced for a child of LS’s age, since it is almost approximately ±15 months behind his peers. Thus, based on today’s play assessment, LS’s play skills require therapeutic intervention. “
Sections on AUDITORY FUNCTION, PERIPHERAL ORAL MOTOR EXAM, VOCAL PARAMETERS, FLUENCY AND RESONANCE (and if pertinent FEEDING and SWALLOWING follow) (more on that in another post).
Now, it’s finally time to get to the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the report ARTICULATION AND PHONOLOGY as well as RECEPTIVE and EXPRESSIVE LANGUAGE (more on PRAGMATIC ASSESSMENT in another post).
First, here’s what I include in the ARTICULATION AND PHONOLOGY section of the report.
- Phonetic inventory: all the sounds the child is currently producing including (short excerpt below):
- Consonants: plosive (/p/, /b/, /m/), alveolar (/t/, /d/), velar (/k/, /g/), glide (/w/), nasal (/n/, /m/) glottal (/h/)
- Vowels and diphthongs: ( /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/, /ou/, /ai/)
- Phonotactic repertoire: What type of words comprised of how many syllables and which consonant-vowel variations the child is producing (excerpt below)
- LS primarily produced one syllable words consisting of CV (e.g., ke, di), CVC (e.g., boom), VCV (e.g., apo) syllable shapes, which is reduced for a child his age.
- Speech intelligibility in known and unknown contexts
- Phonological processes analysis
Now that I have described what the child is capable of speech-wise, I discuss where the child needs to be developmentally:
“A child of LS’s age (30 months) is expected to produce additional consonants in initial word position (k, l, s, h), some consonants (t, d, m, n, s, z) in final word position (Watson & Scukanec, 1997b), several consonant clusters (pw, bw, -nd, -ts) (Stoel-Gammon, 1987) as well as evidence a more sophisticated syllable shape structure (e.g., CVCVC) Furthermore, a 30 month old child is expected to begin monitoring and repairing own utterances, adjusting speech to different listeners, as well as practicing sounds, words, and early sentences (Clark, adapted by Owens, 1996, p. 386) all of which LS is not performing at this time. Based on above developmental norms, LS’s phonological abilities are judged to be significantly below age-expectancy at this time. Therapy is recommended in order to improve LS’s phonological skills.”
At this point, I am ready to move on to the language portion of the assessment. Here it is important to note that a number of assessments for toddlers under 3 years of age contain numerous limitations. Some such as REEL-3 or Rosetti (a criterion-referenced vs. normed-referenced instrument) are observational or limitedly interactive in nature, while others such as PLS-5, have a tendency to over inflate scores, resulting in a significant number of children not qualifying for rightfully deserved speech-language therapy services. This is exactly why it’s so important that SLPs have a firm knowledge of developmental milestones! After all, after they finish describing what the child is capable of, they then need to describe what the developmental expectations are for a child this age (excerpts below).
“LS’s receptive language abilities were judged to be scattered between 11-17 months of age (as per clinical observations as well as informal PLS-5 and REEL-3 findings), which is also consistent with his play skills abilities (see above). During the assessment LS was able to appropriately understand prohibitive verbalizations (e.g., “No”, “Stop”), follow simple 1 part directions (when repeated and combined with gestures), selectively attend to speaker when his name was spoken (behavioral), perform a routine activity upon request (when combined with gestures), retrieve familiar objects from nearby (when provided with gestures), identify several major body parts (with prompting) on a doll only, select a familiar object when named given repeated prompting, point to pictures of familiar objects in books when named by adult, as well as respond to yes/no questions by using head shakes and head nods. This is significantly below age-expectancy.
A typically developing child 30 months of age is expected to spontaneously follow (without gestures, cues or prompts) 2+ step directives, follow select commands that require getting objects out of sight, answer simple “wh” questions (what, where, who), understand select spatial concepts, (in, off, out of, etc), understand select pronouns (e.g., me, my, your), identify action words in pictures, understand concept sizes (‘big’, ‘little’), identify simple objects according to their function, identify select clothing items such as shoes, shirt, pants, hat (on self or caregiver) as well as understand names of farm animals, everyday foods, and toys. Therapeutic intervention is recommended in order to increase LS’s receptive language abilities.
“During today’s assessment, LS’s expressive language skills were judged to be scattered between 10-15 months of age (as per clinical observations as well as informal PLS-5 and REEL-3 findings). LS was observed to communicate primarily via proto-imperative gestures (requesting and object via eye gaze, reaching) as well as proto-declarative gestures (showing an object via eye gaze, reaching, and pointing). Additionally, LS communicated via vocalizations, head nods, and head shakes. According to parental report, at this time LS’s speaking vocabulary consists of approximately 15-20 words (see word lists below). During the assessment LS was observed to spontaneously produce a number of these words when looking at a picture book, playing with toys, and participating in action based play activities with Mrs. S and clinician. LS was also observed to produce a number of animal sounds when looking at select picture books and puzzles. For therapy planning purposes, it is important to note that LS was observed to imitate more sounds and words, when they were supported by action based play activities (when words and sounds were accompanied by a movement initiated by clinician and then imitated by LS). Today LS was observed to primarily communicate via a very limited number of imitated and spontaneous one word utterances that labeled basic objects and pictures in his environment, which is significantly reduced for his age.
A typically developing child of LS’s chronological age (30 months) is expected to possess a minimum vocabulary of 200+ words (Rescorla, 1989), produce 2-4 word utterance combinations (e.g., noun + verb, verb + noun + location, verb + noun + adjective, etc), in addition to asking 2-3 word questions as well as maintaining a topic for 2+ conversational turns. Therapeutic intervention is recommended in order to increase LS’s expressive language abilities.”
Here you have a few speech-language evaluation excerpts which describe not just what the child is capable of but where the child needs to be developmentally. Now it’s just a matter of summarizing my IMPRESSIONS (child’s strengths and needs), RECOMMENDATIONS as well as SUGGESTED (long and short term) THERAPY GOALS. Now the parents have some understanding regarding their child’s strengths and needs. From here, they can also track their child’s progress in therapy as they now have some idea to what it can be compared to.
Now I know that many of you will tell me, that this is a ‘perfect world’ evaluation conducted by a private therapist with an unlimited amount of time on her hands. And to some extent, many of you will be right! Yes, such an evaluation was a result of more than 30 minutes spent face-to-face with the child. All in all, it took probably closer to 90 minutes of face to face time to complete it and a few hours to write. And yes, this is a luxury only a few possess and many therapists in the early intervention system lack. But in the long run, such evaluations pay dividends not only, obviously, to your clients but to SLPs who perform them. They enhance and grow your reputation as an evaluating therapist. They even make sense from a business perspective. If you are well-known and highly sought after due to your evaluating expertise, you can expect to be compensated for your time, accordingly. This means that if you decide that your time and expertise are worth private pay only (due to poor insurance reimbursement or low EI rates), you can be sure that parents will learn to appreciate your thoroughness and will choose you over other providers.
So, how about it? Can you give it a try? Trust me, it’s worth it!
- Owens, R. E. (1996). Language development: An introduction (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
- Rescorla, L. (1989). The Language Development Survey: A screening tool for delayed language in toddlers. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 54, 587–599.
- Selby, J. C., Robb, M. P., & Gilbert, H. R. (2000). Normal vowel articulations between 15 and 36 months of age. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, 14, 255-266.
- Stoel-Gammon, C. (1987). Phonological skills of 2-year-olds. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 18, 323-329.
- Watson, M. M., & Scukanec, G. P. (1997b). Profiling the phonological abilities of 2-year-olds: A longitudinal investigation. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 13, 3-14.
For more information on EI Assessments click on any of the below posts:
- Part II: Early Intervention Evaluations PART II: Assessing Suspected Motor Speech Disorders in Children Under 3
- Part III: Early Intervention Evaluations PART III: Assessing Children Under 2 Years of Age
- Part IV: Early Intervention Evaluations PART IV:Assessing Social Pragmatic Abilities of Children Under 3
Creating A Learning Rich Environment for Language Delayed Preschoolers
Today I’m excited to introduce a new product: “Creating A Learning Rich Environment for Language Delayed Preschoolers“. This 40 page presentation provides suggestions to parents regarding how to facilitate further language development in language delayed/impaired preschoolers at home in conjunction with existing outpatient, school, or private practice based speech language services. It details implementation strategies as well as lists useful materials, books, and websites of interest.
It is intended to be of interest to both parents and speech language professionals (especially clinical fellows and graduates speech pathology students or any other SLPs switching populations) and not just during the summer months. SLPs can provide it to the parents of their cleints instead of creating their own materials. This will not only save a significant amount of time but also provide a concrete step-by-step outline which explains to the parents how to engage children in particular activities from bedtime book reading to story formulation with magnetic puzzles.
- The importance of daily routines
- The importance of following the child’s lead
- Strategies for expanding the child’s language
- Parallel Talk
- Use of Praise
- A Word About Rewards
- How to Begin
- How to Arrange the environment
- Who is directing the show?
- Strategies for facilitating attention
- Providing Reinforcement
- Core vocabulary for listening and expression
- A word on teaching vocabulary order
- Teaching Basic Concepts
- Let’s Sing and Dance
- Popular toys for young language impaired preschoolers (3-4 years old)
- The Versatility of Bingo (older preschoolers)
- Books, Books, Books
- Book reading can be an art form
- Using Specific Story Prompts
- Focus on Story Characters and Setting
- Story Sequencing
- More Complex Book Interactions
- Teaching vocabulary of feelings and emotions
- Select favorite authors perfect for Pre-K
- Finding Intervention Materials Online The Easy Way
- Free Arts and Crafts Activities Anyone?
- Helpful Resources
Are you a caregiver, an SLP or a related professional? DOES THIS SOUND LIKE SOMETHING YOU CAN USE? if so you can find it HERE in my online store.
Useful Smart Speech Therapy Resources:
- Assessment Checklist for Preschool Aged Children
- Creating Functional Therapy Plan
- Selecting Clinical Materials for Pediatric Therapy
- Language Processing Checklist for Preschool Children
- Social Pragmatic Deficits Checklist for Preschool Children
- Recognizing the Warning Signs of Social Emotional Difficulties in Language Impaired Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Executive Function Impairments in At-Risk Pediatric Populations
Heath, S. B (1982) What no bedtime story means: Narrative skills at home and school. Language in Society, vol. 11 pp. 49-76.
Recommendations for Assessing Language Abilities of Verbal Children with Down Syndrome (DS)
Assessment of children with DS syndrome is often complicated due to the wide spectrum of presenting deficits (e.g., significant health issues in conjunction with communication impairment, lack of expressive language, etc) making accurate assessment of their communication a difficult task. In order to provide these children with appropriate therapy services via the design of targeted goals and objectives, we need to create comprehensive assessment procedures that focus on highlighting their communicative strengths and not just their deficits.
Today I’d like to discuss assessment procedures for verbal monolingual and bilingual children with DS 4-9 years of age, since testing instruments as well as assessment procedures for younger as well as older verbal and nonverbal children with DS do differ.
When it comes to dual language use and genetic disorders and developmental disabilities many educational and health care professionals are still under the erroneous assumption that it is better to use one language (English) to communicate with these children at home and at school. However, studies have shown that not only can children with DS become functionally bilingual they can even become functionally trilingual (Vallar & Papagno, 1993; Woll & Grove, 1996). It is important to understand that “bilingualism does not change the general profile of language strengths and weaknesses characteristic of DS—most children with DS will have receptive vocabulary strengths and expressive language weaknesses, regardless of whether they are monolingual or bilingual.” (Kay-Raining Bird, 2009, p. 194)
Furthermore, advising a bilingual family to only speak English with a child will cause a number of negative linguistic and psychosocial implications, such as create social isolation from family members who may not speak English well as well as adversely affect parent-child relationships (Portes & Hao, 1998).
Consequently, when preparing to assess linguistic abilities of children with DS we need to first determine whether these children have single or dual language exposure and design assessment procedures accordingly.
It is very important to conduct a parental interview no matter the setting you are performing the assessment in. One of your goals during the interview will be to establish the functional goals the parents’ desire for the child which may not always coincide with the academic expectations of the program in question.
Begin with a detailed case history and review of current records and obtain information about the child’s prenatal, perinatal and postnatal development, medical history as well as the nature of previous assessments and provided related services. Next, obtain a detailed history of the child’s language use by inquiring what languages are spoken by household members and how much time do these people spend with the child?
Choosing Testing Instruments
A balanced assessment will include a variety of methods, including observations of the child as well as direct interactions in the form of standardized, informal and dynamic assessments. If you will be using standardized assessments (e.g., ROWPVT-4) YOU MUST use descriptive measures vs. standardized scores to describe the child’s functioning. The latter is especially applicable to bilingual children with DS. Consider using the following disclaimer: “The following test/s __________were normed on typically developing English speaking children. Testing materials are not available in standardized form for child’s unique developmental and bilingual/bicultural backgrounds. In accordance with IDEA 2004 (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) [20 U.S.C.¤1414(3)],official use of standard scores for this child would be inaccurate and misleading so the results reported are presented in descriptive form. Raw scores are provided here only for comparison with future performance.”
Selecting Standardized Assessments
Depending on the child’s age and level of abilities a variety of assessment measures may be applicable to test the child in the areas of Content (vocabulary), Form (grammar/syntax), and Use(pragmatic language).
For children over 3 years of age whose linguistic abilities are just emerging you may wish to use a vocabulary inventory such as the MacArthur-Bates (also available in other languages) as well as provide parents with the Developmental Scale for Children with Down Syndrome to fill out. This will allow you to compare where child with DS features in their development as compared to typically developing peers. For older, more verbal children who are using words, phrases, and/or sentences to express themselves, you may want to use or adapt (see above) one of the following standardized language tests:
- Preschool Language Assessment Instrument-2 (PLAI-2)
- Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals-Preschool 2 (CELF-P2)
- Receptive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test-4 (ROWPVT)
- Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test-4 (EOWPVT)
- Test of Auditory Processing Skills-3 (TAPS-3)
- Narrative Assessment Protocol (NAP)
Informal Assessment Procedures
Depending on your setting (hospital vs. school), you may not perform a detailed assessment of the child’s feeding and swallowing skills. However, it is still important to understand that due to low muscle tone, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal disorders and cardiac issues, children with DSoften present with feeding dysfunction which is further exacerbated by concomitant issues such as obesity, GERD, constipation, malnutrition (restricted food group intake lacking in vitamins and minerals), and fatigue. With respect to swallowing, they may experience abnormalities in both the oral and pharyngeal phases of swallow, as well as present with silent aspiration, due to which instrumental assessment (MBS) may be necessary (Frazer & Friedman, 2006).
In contrast to feeding and swallowing the oral-peripheral assessment can be performed in all settings. When performing oral-peripheral exam, you need to carefully describe all structural (anatomical) and functional (physiological) abnormalities (e.g., macroglossia, micrognathia, prognathism, etc). Note any issues with:
- Dentition (e.g., dental overcrowding, occlusion, etc)
- Tongue/jaw disassociation (ability to separate tongue from jaw when speaking)
- Mouth Posture (open/closed) and tongue positioning at rest (protruding/retracted)
- Control of oral secretions
- Lingual and buccal strength, movement (e.g., lingual protrusion, elevation, lateralization, and depression for volitional tasks) and control
- Mandibular (jaw) strength, stability and grading
Take a careful look at the child’s speech. Perform dual speech sampling (if applicable) by considering the child’s phonetic inventory, syllable lengths and shapes as well as articulatory/phonological error patterns. Make sure to factor in the combined effect of the child’s craniofacial anomalies as well as system wide impairment (disturbances in respiration, voice, articulation, resonance, fluency, and prosody) on conversational intelligibility. Impaired intelligibility is a serious concern for individuals with DS, as it tends to persist throughout life for many of them and significantly interferes with social and vocational pursuits (Kent & Vorperian, 2013)
Don’t forget to assess the child’s voice, fluency, prosody, and resonance. Children with DS may have difficulty maintaining constant airstream for vocal production due to which they may occasionally speak with low vocal volume and breathiness (caused by air loss due to vocal fold hypotonicity). This may be directly targeted in treatment sessions and taught how to compensate for. When assessing resonance make sure to screen the child for hypernasality which may be due to velopharyngeal insufficiency secondary to hypotonicity as well as rule out hyponasality which may be due to enlarged adenoids (Kent & Vorperian, 2013). Furthermore, since stuttering and cluttering occur in children with DS at rates of 10 to 45%, compared to about 1% in the general population, a detailed analysis of disfluencies may be necessary(Kent & Vorperian, 2013). Finally, due to limitations with perception, imitation, and spontaneous production of prosodic features secondary to motor difficulties, motor coordination issues, and segmental errors that impede effective speech production across multisyllabic sequences, the prosody of individuals with DS will be impaired and might require a separate intervention. (Kent & Vorperian, 2013)
When it comes to auditory function, formal hearing testing and retesting is mandatory due to the fact that many children with DS have high prevalence of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss (Park et al, 2012). So if the child in question is not receiving regular follow-ups from the audiologist, it is very important to make the appropriate referral. Similarly, it is also very important that the child’s visual perception is assessed as well since children with DS frequently experience difficulties with vision acuity as well as visual processing, consequentially a consultation with developmental optometrist may be recommended/needed.
Describe in detail the child’s adaptive behavior and learning style, including their social strengths and weaknesses. Observe the child’s eye contact, affect, attention to task, level of distractibility, and socialization patterns. Document the number of redirections and negotiations the child needed to participate as well as types and level of reinforcement used during testing.
Perform dual language sampling and look at functional vocabulary knowledge and use, grammar measures, sentence length, as well as the child’s pragmatic functions (what is the child using his/her language for: request, reject, comment, etc.) Perform a dynamic assessment to determine the child’s learnability (e.g., how quickly does the child learns and adapts to being taught new concepts?) since “even a minimal mediation in the form of ‘focusing’ improves the receptive language performance of children with DS” (Alony & Kozulin, 2007, p 323)
After all the above sections are completed, it is time to move on to the impressions section of the report. While it is important to document the weaknesses exposed by the assessment, it is even more important to document the child’s strengths or all the things the child did well, since this will help you to determine the starting treatment point and allow you to formulate relevant treatment goals.
When making recommendations for treatment, especially for bilingual children with DS, make sure to provide a strong rationale for the provision of services in both languages (if applicable) as well as specify the importance of continued support of the first language in the home.
Finally, make sure to provide targeted and measurable [suggested] treatment goals by breaking the targets into measurable parts:
Given ___time period (1 year, 1 progress reporting period, etc), the student will be able to (insert specific goal) with ___accuracy/trials, given ___ level of, given _____type of prompts.
Assessing communication abilities of children with developmental disabilities may not be easy; however, having the appropriate preparation and training will ensure that you will be well prepared to do the job right! Use multiple tasks and activities to create a balanced assessment, use descriptive measures instead of standard scores to report findings, and most importantly make your assessment functional by making sure that your testing yields relevant diagnostic information which could then be effectively used to provide effective quality treatments for clients with DS!
For comprehensive information on “Comprehensive Assessment of Monolingual and Bilingual Children with Down Syndrome” which discusses how to assess young (birth-early elementary age) verbal and nonverbal monolingual and bilingual children with Down Syndrome (DS) and offers comprehensive examples of write-ups based on real-life clients click HERE.
Other Helpful Resources
What if Its More Than Just “Misbehaving”?
Frequently, I see a variation of the following scenario on many speech and language forums.
The SLP is seeing a client with speech and/or language deficits through early intervention, in the schools, or in private practice, who is having some kind of behavioral issues.
Some issues are described as mild such as calling out, hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattention, while others are more severe and include refusal, noncompliance, or aggression such as kicking, biting, or punching.
An array of advice from well-meaning professionals immediately follows. Some behaviors may be labeled as “normal” due to the child’s age (toddler), others may be “partially excused” due to a DSM-5 diagnosis (e.g., ASD). Recommendations for reinforcement charts (not grounded in evidence) may be suggested. A call for other professionals to deal with the behaviors is frequently made (“in my setting the ______ (insert relevant professional here) deals with these behaviors and I don’t have to be involved”). Specific judgments on the child may be pronounced: “There is nothing wrong with him/her, they’re just acting out to get what they want.” Some drastic recommendations could be made: “Maybe you should stop therapy until the child’s behaviors are stabilized”.
However, several crucial factors often get overlooked. First, a system to figure out why particular set of behaviors takes place and second, whether these behaviors may be manifestations of non-behaviorally based difficulties such as medical issues, or overt/subtle linguistically based deficits.
So what are some reasons kids may present with behavioral deficits? Obviously, there could be numerous reasons: some benign while others serious, ranging from lack of structure and understanding of expectations to manifestations of psychiatric illnesses and genetic syndromes. Oftentimes the underlying issues are incredibly difficult to recognize without a differential diagnosis. In other words, we cannot claim that the child’s difficulties are “just behavior” if we have not appropriately ruled out other causes which may be contributing to the “behavior”.
Here are some possible steps which can ensure appropriate identification of the source of the child’s behavioral difficulties in cases of hidden underlying language disorders (after of course relevant learning, genetic, medical, and psychiatric issues have been ruled out).
Let’s begin by answering a few simple questions. Was a thorough language evaluation with an emphasis on the child’s social pragmatic language abilities been completed? And by thorough, I am not referring to general language tests but to a variety of formal and informal social pragmatic language testing (read more HERE).
Please note that none of the general language tests such as the Preschool Language Scale-5 (PLS-5), Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language (CASL-2), the Test of Language Development-4 (TOLD-4) or even the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals Tests (CELF-P2)/ (CELF-5) tap into the child’s social language competence because they do NOT directly test the child’s social language skills (e.g., CELF-5 assesses them via a parental/teachers questionnaire). Thus, many children can attain average scores on these tests yet still present with pervasive social language deficits. That is why it’s very important to thoroughly assess social pragmatic language abilities of all children (no matter what their age is) presenting with behavioral deficits.
But let’s say that the social pragmatic language abilities have been assessed and the child was found/not found to be eligible for services, meanwhile, their behavioral deficits persist, what do we do now?
The first step in establishing a behavior management system is determining the function of challenging behaviors, since we need to understand why the behavior is occurring and what is triggering it (Chandler & Dahlquist, 2006)
We can begin by performing some basic data collection with a child of any age (even with toddlers) to determine behavior functions or reasons for specific behaviors. Here are just a few limited examples:
- Seeking Attention/Reward
- Seeking Sensory Stimulation
- Seeking Control
Most behavior functions typically tend to be positively, negatively or automatically reinforced (Bobrow, 2002). For example, in cases of positive reinforcement, the child may exhibit challenging behaviors to obtain desirable items such as toys, games, attention, etc. If the parent/teacher inadvertently supplies the child with the desired item, they are reinforcing inappropriate behaviors positively and in a way strengthening the child’s desire to repeat the experience over and over again, since it had positively worked for them before.
In contrast, negative reinforcement takes place when the child exhibits challenging behaviors to escape a negative situation and gets his way. For example, the child is being disruptive in classroom/therapy because the tasks are too challenging and is ‘rewarded’ when therapy is discontinued early or when the classroom teacher asks an aide to take the child for a walk.
Finally, automatic reinforcements occur when certain behaviors such as repetitive movements or self-injury produce an enjoyable sensation for the child, which he then repeats again to recreate the sensation.
In order to determine what reinforces the child’s challenging behaviors, we must perform repeated observations and take data on the following:
- Antecedent or what triggered the child’s behavior?
- What was happening immediately before behavior occurred?
- What type of challenging behavior/s took place as a result?
- How did you respond to behavior when it took place?
Here are just a few antecedent examples:
- Therapist requested that child work on task
- Child bored w/t task
- Favorite task/activity taken away
- Child could not obtain desired object/activity
In order to figure them out we need to collect data, prior to appropriately addressing them. After the data is collected the goals need to be prioritized based urgency/seriousness. We can also use modification techniques aimed at managing interfering behaviors. These techniques include modifications of: physical space, session structure, session materials as well as child’s behavior. As we are implementing these modifications we need to keep in mind the child’s maintaining factors or factors which contribute to the maintenance of the problem (Klein & Moses, 1999). These include: cognitive, sensorimotor, psychosocial and linguistic deficits.
We also need to choose our reward system wisely, since the most effective systems which facilitate positive change actually utilize intrinsic rewards (pride in self for own accomplishments) (Kohn, 2001). We need to teach the child positive replacement behaviors to replace the use of negative ones, with an emphasis on self-talk, critical thinking, as well as talking about the problem vs. acting out behaviorally.
Of course it is very important that we utilize a team based approach and involve all the professionals involved in the child’s care including the child’s parents in order to ensure smooth and consistent carryover across all settings. Consistency is definitely a huge part of all behavior plans as it optimizes intervention results and achieves the desired therapy outcomes.
So the next time the client on your caseload is acting out don’t be so hasty in judging their behavior, when you have no idea regarding the reasons for it. Troubleshoot using appropriate and relevant steps in order to figure out what is REALLY going on and then attempt to change the situation in a team-based, systematic way.
For more detailed information on the topic of social pragmatic language assessment and behavior management in speech pathology see if the following Smart Speech Therapy LLC products could be of use:
- Introduction to Social Pragmatic Language Disorders
- Recognizing the Warning Signs of Social Emotional Difficulties in Language Impaired Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Social Pragmatic Deficits Checklist fro Preschool Children
- Social Pragmatic Deficits Checklist for School Aged Children
- Social Pragmatic Assessment and Treatment Bundle
- Narrative Assessment Bundle
- Psychiatric Disorders Bundle
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Assessment and Treatment Bundle
- Assessing Social Pragmatic Skills of School Aged Children
- Behavior Management Strategies for Speech Language Pathologists
- Effective Behavior Management Techniques for Parents and Professionals
- Treatment of Social Pragmatic Deficits in School Aged Children
- Social Pragmatic Language Activity Pack
- Social Pragmatic Language: Multiple Interpretations Therapy Activity
- The Role of Frontal Lobe in Speech and Language Functions
- Executive Function Impairments in At-Risk Pediatric Populations
- Differential Diagnosis of ADHD in Speech Language Pathology
- Speech Language Assessment of Older Internationally Adopted Children
- Bobrow, A. (2002). Problem behaviors in the classroom: What they mean and how to help. Functional Behavioral Assessment, 7 (2), 1–6.
- Chandler, L.K., & Dahlquist, C.M. Functional assessment: strategies to prevent and remediate challenging behavior in school settings (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.
- Klein, H., & Moses, N. (1999). Intervention planning for children with communication disorders: A guide to the clinical practicum and professional practice. (2nd Ed.). Boston, MA.: Allyn & Bacon.
- Kohn, A. (2001, Sept). Five reasons to stop saying “good job!’. Young Children. Retrieved from http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/gj.htm
Dear Pediatrician: Please Don’t Say That!
Recently, a new client came in for therapy. He was a little over three years of age with limited verbal abilities, and a number of stereotypical behaviors consistent with autism spectrum disorder. During the course of parental interview, the child’s mother mentioned that he had previously briefly received early intervention services but aged out from the early intervention system after only a few months. As we continued to discuss the case, his mother revealed that she had significant concerns regarding her son’s language abilities and behavior from a very early age because it significantly differed from his older sister’s developmental trajectory. However, every time she brought it up to her pediatrician she invariably received the following answers: “Don’t compare him to his sister, they are different children” and “Don’t worry, he will catch up”, which resulted in the child being referred for early intervention services when he was almost 3 years of age, and unable to receive consistent speech therapy services prior to aging out of the program all together.
This is not the first time I heard such a story, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time as well. Sadly, myself and other speech language therapists are very familiar with such cases and that is such a shame. It is a shame, because a parent was absolutely correct in trusting her instincts but was not validated by a medical professional she trusted the most, her child’s pediatrician. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not playing the blame game or trying to denigrate members of another profession. My aim today is rather different and that is along with my colleagues to continue increasing awareness among all health professionals regarding the early identification of communication disorders in children in order for them to receive effective early intervention services to improve their long-term outcomes.
Whenever one “Googles” the term “Language Milestones In Children” or “When do children begin to talk?” Numerous links pop-up, describing developmental milestones in children. Most of them contain fairly typical information such as: first word emerge at approximately 12 months of age, 2 word combinations emerge when the child has a lexicon of approximately 50 words or more, which corresponds to a period between 18 months to 2 years of age, and sentences emerge when a child is approximately 3 years of age. While most of this information is hopefully common knowledge for many healthcare professionals working with children including pediatricians, is also important to understand that when the child comes in for a checkup one should not look at these abilities in isolation but rather look at the child holistically. That means asking the parents the right questions to compare the child’s cognitive, adaptive, social emotional, as well as communicative functioning to that of typically developing peers or siblings in order to determine whether anything is amiss. Thus, rather than to discourage the parent from comparing their child to typically developing children his age, the parents should actually be routinely asked the variation of the following question: “How do your child’s abilities and functioning compare to other typically developing children your child age?”
Whenever I ask this question during the process of evaluation or initiation of therapy services, 90% of the time I receive highly detailed and intuitive responses from well-informed parents. They immediately begin describing in significant detail the difference in functioning between their own delayed child and his/her siblings/peers. That is why in the majority of cases I find the background information provided by the parent to be almost as valuable as the evaluation itself. For example, I recently assessed a 3-5 year-old child due to communication concerns. The pediatrician was very reluctant to refer to the child for services due to the fact that the child was adequately verbal. However, the child’s parents were insistent, a script for services was written, and the child was brought to me for an evaluation. Parents reported that while their child was very verbal and outgoing, most of the time they had significant difficulty understanding what she was trying to tell them due to poor grammar as well as nonsensical content of her messages. They also reported that the child had a brother , who was older than her last several years. However, they stated that they had never experienced similar difficulties with the child’s brother when he was her age, which is why they became so concerned with each passing day regarding the child’s language abilities.
Indeed, almost as soon as the evaluation began, it became apparent that while the child’s verbal output was adequate, the semantic content of those messages as well as the pragmatic use in conversational exchanges was significantly impaired. In other words, the child may have been adequately verbose but the coherence of her discourse left a lot to be desired. This child was the perfect candidate for therapy but had parents not insisted, the extent of her expressive language difficulties may have been overlooked until she was old enough to go to kindergarten. By then many valuable intervention hours would have been lost and the extent of the child deficits have been far greater.
So dear pediatrician, the next time a concerned parent utters the words: “I think something is wrong…” or “His language is nothing like his brother’s/sister’s when s/he was that age” don’t be so hasty in dismissing their concerns. Listen to them, understand that while you are the expert in childhood health and diseases, they are the expert in their own child, and are highly attuned to their child’s functioning and overall abilities. Encourage them to disclose their worries by asking follow-up questions and validating their concerns.
There are significant benefits to receiving early targeted care beyond the improvement in language abilities. These include but are not limited to: reduced chances of behavioral deficits or mental illness, reduced chances of reading, writing and learning difficulties when older, reduced chances of impaired socialization abilities and self-esteem, all of which can affect children with language deficits when appropriate services are delayed or never provided. So please, err on the side of caution and refer the children with suspected deficits to speech language pathologists. Please give us an opportunity to thoroughly assess these children in order to find out whether there truly is speech/language disorder/delay. Because by doing this you truly will be serving the interests of your clients.
Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources:
- Pediatric Background History Questionnaire
- The Checklists Bundle
- Introduction to Prevalent Disorders Bundle
- Language Difference vs. Language Disorder: Assessment & Intervention Strategies for SLPs Working with Bilingual Children
- Recognizing the Warning Signs of Social Emotional Difficulties in Language Impaired Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Genetics in Speech Language Pathology
- Differential Diagnosis of ADHD in Speech Language Pathology
- Recognizing Speech-Language Delay in School-Age Children