Social stresses alone can make it hard enough for children and adolescents dealing with communication disorders to get through the school day. Add to that the fact that these disorders have the potential to adversely affect success in the classroom, and the result can be a student that is withdrawn and entirely turned off to the school experience. Early intervention from a speech-language pathologist can make a real difference in the social and academic development of these students, bringing about positive change that lasts a lifetime.
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According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), SLPs specializing in child language disorders are critical to social development and literacy for children and adolescents with communication disorders, including those with severe or multiple disabilities.
Understanding the Relationship Between Speech and Literacy
Spoken language provides the foundation for the development of reading and writing, and vice versa. In other words, spoken and written language have a reciprocal relationship, each one building on the other to produce language and literacy competence. Children with spoken language problems frequently have difficulty learning to read and write, just as children with reading and writing problems have difficulty with spoken language.
Problems with speech and language in children and adolescents can occur in the production, comprehension, and awareness of sounds, syllables, words, and sentences. Children may also experience difficulties in using language strategically to communicate, think, and learn. This means that early and continued interventions are vital to the overall development of children and adolescents with speech and linguistic disorders.
SLPs focusing on child language disorders provide research-based, balanced, culturally and developmentally appropriate, needs-based, and curriculum-relevant interventions.
SLPs work with children of all ages and developmental levels:
- Emergent Level: Assess areas such as family literacy, phonological awareness, print awareness, and spoken language
- Early Elementary Level (K to third grade): Assess areas such as phonological memory, letter identification, invented spelling, reading, writing, and spoken language
- Later Level (Fourth grade and above): Assess areas such as reading, writing, and curriculum-based language uses, spoken language, and metacognitive/executive functioning
- Multiple or Severe Developmental Impairments: Assess reading, comprehension and linguistic capabilities and contribute to modifying programs to help students achieve goals and progress through standard curriculum
Speech-Language Disorders Common Among Children
Speech-language disorders in children may be caused by/associated with:
- Hearing loss
- Cleft palate
- Cerebral Palsy
- Learning disabilities
- Developmental delays
- Traumatic brain injuries
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides speech-language interventions in schools that are designed to address the issues that result from these disabilities. IDEA provides speech-language services to all eligible school-age children suffering from a variety of different types of communication disorders:
Language disorders include the slow development of grammar or concepts, as well as the inability to use different communications styles for different situations. Children with language disabilities have difficulty understanding and expressing their ideas, which impedes social development, learning, reading, and writing.
Voice disorders encompass speech that may be too high, too low, or monotonous in pitch. It may also involve harsh, hoarse, breathy, or nasally sounds.
Fluency and stuttering problems involving interruptions in flow or rhythm. Children with problems in this area may hesitate, repeat, or prolong language and sounds, syllables, words, or phrases.
Articulation disorders involve mispronouncing sounds, omitting sounds in words, or distorting a word’s sound.
Dysphagia (Swallowing Disorder)
Children with dysphagia (swallowing) disorders have difficulty, sucking, chewing, initiating a swallow, or swallowing completely. Dysphagia can interfere with eating, which in turn may affect social and communication skills.
The Role of Speech-Language Pathologists Specializing in Child Language Disorders
Speech-language pathologists work with children in school-based settings in a number of ways:
- Integrate classroom objectives to combine communication goals with academic and social goals
- Help students understand and use basic language concepts through reading, language, and writing support
- Monitor student performance and/or provide periodic screening
- Provide small group or individual lessons
- Oversee speech classrooms
- Identify children at risk for reading and writing problems
- Provide appropriate interventions and document outcomes
Specific job duties of SLPs in this setting include:
- Preventing communication disorders
- Identifying students at risk for future speech-language disorders
- Assessing students’ speech-language skills
- Evaluating the results of comprehensive assessments
- Developing and implementing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)
- Documenting the outcomes of IEPs
- Collaborating with teachers and other professionals to foster literacy acquisition
- Advocating for teaching practices
Outside of the classroom/office setting, SLPs specializing in child speech-language development often work on research projects, educate and train graduate students and clinical fellows, and participate in school wide curriculum and literacy teams.
Speech-language pathologists that work primary with children can serve in any number of roles:
- Direct Service Provider: Works directly with students to meet their needs
- Collaborative Consultant (Indirect Service Provider): Works with others who work directly with students to meet their needs
- Planning Team Member: Works with other professionals and family members to design interventions, modify general education instruction, and provide special services for children in early childhood or school-age students
- Model: Serves as a model to demonstrate a particular approach or skill
- Leader and Professional Developer: Assumes responsibility for facilitating the professional growth of others
- Advocate and Policy Developer: Speaks out on behalf of children to raise awareness and initiate policy changes related to speech-language and literacy problems
- Researcher: Informs practice and designs strategies through scientific and social research
How to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist Focused on Child Language Disorders
The path to becoming a speech-language pathologist in the school setting involves five basic steps:
Step 1. Completing an entry-level master’s degree (MA, MS, MEd) from a communicative sciences and disorders/speech-language pathology program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA)
Individuals with their sights set on specializing in child language disorders are well served by taking additional elective courses in child speech-language development and disorders.
Step 2. Completing a post-graduate fellowship of at least 36 weeks
Clinical experiences in developing individualized programs for children and adolescents prepare SLPs to assume any number of roles focused on child language-development.
Step 3. Passing the Praxis II: Subject Assessment in Speech-Language Pathology and earning state licensure as a speech-language pathologist
Speech-language pathologists focused on child language disorders and working in a school setting must also earn a state teacher’s license and/or Department of Education certification, where required.
Step 4. Earning ASHA’s Speech-Language Pathology Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC-SLP)
Step 5. Earning the Child Language Specialist designation through The American Board of Child Language and Language Disorders
Obtaining the Child Language Specialist Designation
Gaining specialty certification in child language disorders allow SLPs with advanced skills, knowledge, and experience beyond the CCC-SLP to earn recognition for their specialized expertise from consumers, colleagues, referral sources, and the general public. The American Board of Child Language and Language Disorders, which is approved by ASHA’s Council on Clinical Certification, offers the Child Language Specialist designation.
To become a Child Language Specialist, candidates must:
- Hold a current CCC-SLP designation
- Verify at least 5 years of clinical experience in child language after obtaining the CCC-SLP
- Document at least 100 hours in intermediate or advanced courses related to typical and atypical language learners, beyond the requirements for the CCC-SLP, including:
- Typical language learning
- Children at-risk for language disorders
- Language differences
- Disordered oral and written language, including discourse
- Demonstrate advanced knowledge, skills, and experiences in child language
To demonstrate clinical experience, applicants must provide the following:
- A description of the employment setting
- Identification of the percentage of time employed
- Definition of employment responsibilities
- Identification and description of clinical/professional responsibilities and the percentage of time dedicated to each
The areas for which candidates must demonstrate their expertise include services for children from birth to age 21.
Applicants must demonstrate their advanced knowledge and skills by documenting the following:
- Professional responsibilities beyond the requirements for the CCC-SLP in the area of child language
- Specific examples of the Preferred Practice Patterns specific to child language
- Professional responsibilities that exceed the entry-level requirements for speech-language pathologists due to the nature of the clients served, the complexity of the clients’ communication needs, and the innovative clinical practices applied
Applicants must submit supporting materials/portfolio that includes:
- A statement of their current philosophy of typical and atypical language and literacy development in children
- One case study that documents a specific application of advanced knowledge and skills in prevention, assessment, and intervention/treatment
- Integration of advanced knowledge as reflected by professional literature and presentations and appropriate references
SLPs interested in earning this specialty designation must complete and submit an Intent to Apply for Board Certification in Child Language and Language Disorders.