Academic journal article Communication Disorders Quarterly

Toward a Discussion of Issues Associated with Speech-Language Pathologists' Dismissal Practices in Public School Settings

Academic journal article Communication Disorders Quarterly

Toward a Discussion of Issues Associated with Speech-Language Pathologists' Dismissal Practices in Public School Settings

Article excerpt

Guidelines for dismissal of a student who has been receiving educational interventions are available from both the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) Ad Hoc Committee on Admission/Discharge Criteria and from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Yet as speech-language pathologists (SLPs) in the schools enroll students and subsequently make decisions about the students' dismissal, many questions remain, especially in regard to children having persistent communication difficulties. A thorough review of the decision-making process for dismissal is one aspect of SLPs' training and serves as the foundation for decisions about when intervention should end. IDEA guidelines differ in many respects from the guidelines set forth by ASHA. There is no research that clarifies how these differing guidelines are reconciled when SLPs begin working in the schools, but the authors have anecdotal information from their experiences and from colleagues in South Carolina. An introduction to some of the other factors that may affect dismissal decisions is included. Current practice patterns and considerations for the future of speech-language services in the schools are discussed.

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The number of children receiving speech-language therapy in the schools has been increasing. Information from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) indicates that between the 1991-1992 and 2000-2001 school years, the number of children being served by speech-language pathologists (SLPs) grew by 9.5% (ASHA, 2004). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1997) records indicate that in the 1999-2000 school year, 1,089,964 students were identified as having a speech or a language impairment as their primary disability (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). This number represented 19.2% of all the children deemed eligible for special education services. Although the increase relates in part to population growth, growing recognition of the impact of communication disorders on school performance is also a factor in the burgeoning demand for services. This recognition has led to more children being identified as eligible for speech-language services.

In the public schools, SLPs' caseloads will include children with a broad spectrum of communication disorders. Children with mild articulation delays may enter and then exit speech-language intervention programs within a short period of time. Some with moderate-to-severe communication disorders will continue to have at least subtle language difficulties, and those with very severe language delays are at risk for significant lifelong disabilities (Stothard, Snowling, Bishop, Chipchase, & Kaplan, 1998).

The long-term effects of significant language disorders have been documented by many researchers. For example, these children are at risk for problems in acquiring academic skills and have associated social problems (Beitchman, Wilson, Brownlie, Walters, & Lancee, 1996; Catts, Fey, Tomblin & Zhang, 2002; Johnson et al., 1999; Young et al., 2002). SLPs must make decisions about how long children with persistent communication disorders can reasonably be expected to benefit from intervention. This consideration, combined with issues such as high caseloads and busy workloads, may create challenges for SLPs as they try to balance eligibility and dismissal decisions.

The following review of issues associated with dismissal decisions is not intended to be an exhaustive listing. Rather, it is a compilation of factors that are often discussed by the dedicated professionals in the school system who serve children with communication disorders. At this time, there are no published data that provide a clear picture of the impact of all the elements that SLPs consider in determining how long children should remain on their caseloads. We hope that this discussion will lead to further examination of these issues. …

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