A letter home about a speech evaluation (which was probably just a screening)

A grandparent received a letter home about a "speech evaluation," which was probably just a screening.

My granddaughter is 5 and just started kindergarten at a private school. She was sent home with a letter from the school stating that they did a speech evaluation and she is being recommended for speech therapy. They mentioned her area of trouble being articulation of /ch/ and /j/ sounds. Is a five year old developed enough in speech to have mastered this? Where do we go from here? They have asked for a meeting! We are expected to come with questions. What would you be asking of them? Your help is greatly appreciated.

Robert’s response:

My guess is, what really happened was that your granddaughter had a speech screening, not an evaluation. In other words, a speech therapist or possibly a speech therapy student did a quick, 5-minute observation, noticed that her /ch/ and /j/ sounds were a bit distorted, and recommended a meeting with her parents or guardians to discuss whether or not to proceed with a full speech evaluation, which would determine whether she is eligible for speech therapy. To do an evaluation, they need the written permission of a parent or legal guardian.

Many schools provide a speech screening to all new students, including kindergarteners, as a way of determining whether a full evaluation is appropriate, and preventing kids who need services from “falling through the cracks.” If the school does want to do a speech evaluation, here are some things to consider:

Since your granddaughter attends a private school, the first thing you’ll want to know is, who will evaluate her speech and who will be providing the speech therapy? The public schools are required to provide speech evaluations and therapy for children who need it, but private schools are not. Public school systems often provide special services, including speech therapy, to private school students who qualify. Is this what her school is recommending, or are they expecting you to enroll her in (and pay for) private therapy? If a public school therapist will be seeing her, will therapy be during school hours? Will the therapist come to her school, or will someone need to drive her to the public school for her therapy sessions?

If a public school therapist will be seeing her, the standard operating procedure is to have a case conference committee (CCC) meeting at the outset. The CCC usually involves the child’s teacher, the person who did the testing, a member of the school administration and the parent/guardian. The school or the parent/guardian may choose to invite others to attend if they wish. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the testing results and decide what services, if any, the child should receive. Nothing is officially decided before the meeting. The child’s parents/guardians have the right to refuse services if they do not want them. They also have the right to ask for more services than the school is recommending. However, the final decision is for the committee to make as a body; the committee needs to reach an agreement, and everyone’s opinion has to be considered.

In general, children are expected to have mastered the /ch/ and /j/ sounds by about age seven. Because of this, some speech therapists will not treat a younger child if these are the only sounds the child has trouble with. However, there are a number of factors to consider, and many of my colleagues believe it is best to start younger. Some of the things I would take into consideration are:

  1. Are these the only sounds she has trouble with? The /ch/ and /j/ sounds are essentially the same sound, the only difference being that one is voiced and the other is unvoiced. If all her other sounds are crystal clear, there’s a good chance the /ch/ and /j/ sounds will resolve on their own.
  2. Is she able to produce these sounds correctly if someone models them for her? If so, she is what we call stimulable. If she is stimulable for these sounds, there is a good chance she will master them on her own eventually. If she is not, she may need therapy to master them.
  3. Is she generally understandable when she talks (taking into consideration, of course, that she is five years old)? If so, her production of these sounds is probably not a barrier to success in school—at least not yet. On the other hand, if adults and other children have trouble understanding her, she may become frustrated and shy away from verbal interaction, and this can affect her ability to learn well.

I have to say that the situation you are describing seems a bit unusual. School SLPs tend to be so busy that many feel the need to ‘triage’ potential referrals to avoid already bloated caseloads getting out of control. For that reason, a younger child with a speech sound disorder involving ‘older sounds’ will often not qualify for therapy unless the parents really fight for it. On the other hand, some therapists prefer to begin treatment earlier rather than later. Younger children generally respond better to therapy, and are dismissed sooner, reducing long-term caseload size. Also, scheduling therapy time that does not interfere with crucial instruction time becomes more difficult as children progress to higher grades in school.

I hope you find this helpful. Best of luck to you and your granddaughter.

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