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SLPs Collaborating on Literacy Disability Diagnoses: A Team Model

SLPs Collaborating on Literacy Disability Diagnoses: A Team Model
Penelope E. Webster, PhD, CCC-SLP
December 8, 2003

Although we recently published this paper in two installments, we received a number of messages from readers unable to hyperlink from part one to part two, and vice versa. Therefore, we are re-publishing this paper in it's entirety. Happy Holidays! ---Dr. Douglas Beck, Editor-In-Chief

The accurate diagnosis of language-based literacy disability requires a professional group effort. When professionals work together with a clear understanding and appreciation of each other's expertise and role in literacy development and disability, it can make a significant difference in the diagnosis implementation of intervention for those with language-based literacy disabilities.

The aim of this paper is twofold: 1) to illustrate how speech-language pathologists can, and why they should, contribute to a team-based literacy disability diagnostic procedure, and 2) to suggest a model for a collaborative interdisciplinary approach to such a procedure. The proposed model is appropriate for use in public and private school settings. Two sample cases will be used to illustrate the team approach from intake to diagnosis.

Why is the speech-language pathologist such an important contributor to the team of professionals involved in the diagnosis of children with literacy disability? Research over the past several decades has clearly established that successful development of reading and spelling skills requires a sound linguistic foundation (Adams, 1990; Kamhi & Catts, 1999; Hall & Moats, 1999). Speech-language pathologists come to the special education table with specialized knowledge in the following 4 areas (ASHA, 2001):

1- The nature of language, and its acquisition from birth through adulthood;
2- Typical literacy acquisition from basic to advanced skills within educational curricula;
3- The nature of literacy and the relationship between spoken and written language;
4- Language disorders and their relationship to literacy disorders.

Given this knowledge base, it is clear that speech-language pathologists have much to offer to an evaluation team. Their expertise is a critical element in diagnosing a language basis for literacy difficulty. Speech-language pathologists draw upon their understanding of the connections between language and literacy. These connections are overviewed below to facilitate the reader's understanding of the collaborative diagnostic process to follow.

Penelope E. Webster, PhD, CCC-SLP

Penelope E. Webster is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of New Hampshire. She holds a doctorate in applied psycholinguistics from Boston University, a master's degree in speech and language pathology from the State University of New York in Geneseo, and a bachelor's degree in speech and language pathology from Northeastern University.

Dr. Webster teaches courses in language acquisition and language disorders. She developed and teaches a course in language-based reading disabilities and one concerned with writing in children with language and learning disabilities. Her research has focused on the relationship between oral language and literacy. She recently completed a program of research investigating the relationship between early phonological development, phonological processing development, and literacy. Currently, she is researching the writing skills of children with language disorders. She is in the initial phase of a writing intervention project.

In addition to teaching and research, Dr. Webster engages in consultation to families and school districts throughout the region. Her consultation focuses on program development for children with language-based literacy disabilities. As part of this work, she regularly assists schools in the development and implementation of effective collaborative teams for the diagnosis and management of literacy disorders in children of school age.

Related Courses

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