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Effective Language Therapy for Large Caseload

Leslie Holzhauser-Peters ., M.S.,CCC

June 28, 2010

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Question

I am having a hard time feeling like the therapy I provide for my language disordered students is effective. My caseload is large (60 + students), and the teachers have been difficult to work with as far as letting me group my children in the way I feel is appropriate.

Answer

First and foremost I want to acknowledge how difficult the job of the public school speech language pathologist can be. Each day remember that your job is one of the most important jobs as many of the children served would not receive therapy if not for you.

In Ohio, the Language Arts standards provide a basic language hierarchy for school age children. These standards tell us what typical children should know and be able to do at the various grade levels. I am not proposing we become language arts teachers but I am saying these standards are a guide we can use to determine the expectations for typically developing students. I believe the SLP's role is to determine the language deficits causing the student to have difficulty accessing the curriculum.

With such limited time, I would like to suggest that an SLP's time would best be spent engaging in language rich tasks. The language rich tasks should encompass meaningful language goals used in a realistic way as opposed to focusing on an isolated language skill such as the ones mentioned in your question. For instance, if several therapy sessions are spent only on antonyms, the overall impact on the language of the child once antonyms are mastered, will be minimal. That is not to say not to work on those skills but to do so in a meaningful context (discourse around fiction/nonfiction text or an activity) while working on other goals at the same time.

Plan your therapy around the five communication functions for school success which include narration, description, direction, explanation, and persuasion. For example, antonyms and synonyms can be used in descriptive discourse about characters in a story or individuals studied in history. An SLP may be targeting antonyms, synonyms, syntactic structures and/ or semantics within the same therapy session.

Our job is to model the language rules in the areas of language function, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics that the child has not developed. I would select activities and use materials that you can use with many groups allowing you to change the language rules you model depending on the student's needs.

Plan therapy using:

  1. wordless picture books

  2. short passages of text (from the student's textbooks, other books from the library, children's encyclopedias, Time for Kids) or

  3. hands on activities (cooking activities, science experiments, art projects)

You want the text or the discussion around the text or activity to model the language structures the student needs to develop in the most naturalistic way possible.

I know it can be trying and stressful because you care and want to do the best you can for children. However, I hope you remember to relax, stay focused on what's important and enjoy the children!

Leslie Holzhauser-Peters, M.S., CCC/SLP has thirty years of experience working in the schools in both the special education and general education areas. Leslie has presented and co-authored publications on topics that include alternate service delivery models, student observation and intervention, the five communication functions for school success as well as writing and math workbooks for children. Her latest publication is entitled, "Making Sense of Children's Thinking and Behavior: A Step by Step Tool to Analyze Children Diagnosed as NLD, Asperger's, HFA, PDD-NOS and other Neurological Differences." (JKP, 2008)

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