When you think about the role of a speech-language pathologist in a school, do you immediately associate this person with the job of fixing speech problems, such as a lisp or an “r” sound? What you may not realize is that SLPs possess much more of a range of expertise. They possess knowledge and skills that are key to supporting students and facilitating academic and social success.
I have asked Speech-Language Pathologist Lauren Albert if she could explain some of the ways that SLPs can support the academic and social success of students. I think you will see why I believe SLPs are a wonderful, often underutilized resource!
1. SLPs have expertise in understanding language development and addressing language disorders.
The development of language includes the understanding, production and utilization of verbal and non-verbal, as well as written communication. This includes understanding verbal and written language, following verbal and written directions, memory, recall, answering questions, vocabulary and grammar development, as well as using both verbal and non-verbal language to effectively communicate and socially interact with others. For example, a student may have difficulty understanding verbal or written multi-step directions, this can affect her ability to follow classroom procedures and/or accurately complete assignments. An SLP can work with this student to develop strategies to assist her comprehension of more complex directives. Since these skills are critical for success throughout the school day, it is extremely important to have SLPs in the school who can recognize, and remediate difficulties in comprehension, production, and pragmatic use of language.
2. SLPs have expertise in understanding literacy development
Verbal language provides a foundation for literacy development. Students who have difficulties in producing speech sounds, using grammatical structures, expanding vocabulary, understanding stories, or using language for a range of purposes, are at risk for reading difficulties. SLPs in the school can identify lagging pre-literacy skills, address them proactively, and therefore help prevent later difficulties in learning to read. For instance, if a child is delayed in his use of possessives, when he is learning to read, he may not understand the meaning of a word containing a possessive “s.” Since SLPs are trained to identify and address delays in language acquisition, they can work with students to help them acquire the understanding and production of language components that are necessary for reading development. Furthermore, as reading comprehension moves from being primarily literal to requiring understanding of inferential knowledge and figurative language, SLPs are specialists who target these competencies.
3. SLPs have expertise in improving all aspects of speech production (not just lisps and r’s)
Speech production involves both segmental and suprasegmental features. Segmental refers to the vowels and consonants that are produced at the sound, syllable, word, phrase, sentence, and discourse levels. Suprasegmental features refer to the prosodic features of speech: intonation, stress, and rhythm of speech. Both of these types of features are essential not only to overall speech intelligibility but also the effectiveness of verbal communication. For example, a student who produces all of his speech sounds correctly but speaks in a monotone voice, is not an effective communicator. SLPs are uniquely trained to work with students to improve these prosodic features of connected speech.
4. SLPs have expertise in identifying and addressing pragmatic/social language difficulties
From the moment children learn to use language whether it be verbally or non-verbally, they learn that it can be used for a range of functions, including requesting, sharing information, refusing, expressing emotion, and showing intention. Some students may be delayed or have difficulty using certain language functions and/or understanding how others use language to interact socially. SLPs in the school can pinpoint which areas of social language need to be strengthened and work with students to develop these skills. For instance, a student who has lagging skills in requesting may have difficulty with self-advocating for herself in the classroom. This can affect the student’s ability to receive academic support because she doesn’t speak up for herself. SLPs can work with students to improve their understanding of how to use language effectively and strengthen their ability to do so to accomplish their academic and/or social goals.
5. SLPs have expertise in identifying and addressing executive functioning deficits
Executive functioning skills are those skills that enable us to accomplish tasks and achieve goals. Throughout the school day, students need to use these skills, which include working memory, planning, organizing, sustaining attention, flexible thinking, self-monitoring, and self-regulating. Since all of these skills require the ability to understand, produce, and utilize language, the knowledge and expertise of SLPs is extremely valuable in addressing executive functioning deficits. For example, a student’s difficulty in planning and organizing may also affect his ability to organize his verbal and written thoughts. Therefore, a SLP can work with this student to improve his ability to organize his language and become a more effective communicator.
If you suspect that your child has difficulty with any of the language, speech or executive functioning areas mentioned above, you should contact the speech and language department at their school and discuss these concerns with an SLP, who can then help you determine the best course of action for addressing your concerns.
Lauren Albert, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and parent coach who is in private practice in Westchester County, New York. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org