October 22, 2013

Let's Talk Tuesday - Speech Students Falling Through The Cracks

'Let's Talk Tuesday' is a bi-weekly post series with ideas on how you can help your child of any ability, but especially those with Apraxia, Autism, speech disorders or late talkers. These are meant to be simple ways to encourage speech. I am not a speech therapist, but I am a mom of an Apraxic child, I am just sharing these ideas in hopes that they will help someone else. 

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Today I am excited to welcome Kate from Oh Green Pea!  She is a former elementary language arts and special education teacher and now is a SAHM.  Thanks for sharing with us today, Kate! 


We've all heard the phrase "fell through the cracks." Often this is applied to "cracks" in the education system that fail to help a child through a difficult area of academics. Fortunately with differentiated instruction teachers are now trained to teach to the average student, the gifted student, the struggling student, and the special needs student. As a newbie teacher I had the privilege of teaching a small group of special needs students. They had varying abilities and splinter skills. It was amazing to see the growth in these students knowing that they could reach their potential and were not "falling through the cracks."

Eventually I changed positions. I went from a pullout resource position to an inclusion setting. This means I had a mixture of special education students, general education students, at-risk students, and gifted students in one classroom. As I got to know my students, I recognized that academically much was done to ensure none of the students "fell through the cracks." I did, however have two students that puzzled me. They were intelligent and had obvious concerns in regard to speech. One had a slight lisp and trouble with the R-sound. The other had a severe stutter. It seemed as though a new falling through the cracks has emerged--one affecting students with speech only problems.

Consider the student affected by a stutter. (We'll call him Bobby). Bobby is an A/B student, has no major discipline problems, has involved parents, yet he made it all the way to 3rd grade with a severe stutter and no interventions in place. When Bobby's parents were questioned about it, they though he would just grow out of it. Bobby's precious teacher thought the same thing.

We referred Bobby to the school speech pathologist. His stutter, which affected not only communication, but reading fluency and self-esteem, was so severe that the speech therapist was "appalled" he had not been referred until now. Unfortunately for Bobby, because he had passed the point if therapy really affecting much change for him. Her prognosis was he would continue to struggle for the rest of his life.

So how does this happen? How can students get halfway through elementary school before receiving needed therapy? Why are speech-only students falling through the cracks? I have a few theories.

1. Lack of information. Teachers receive a plethora of training on philosophy, methods, curriculum, and technology; however, teachers are not encouraged to clue in to speech problems or educated as to what is age appropriate. For example a kindergarten teacher will commonly hear stutters, lisps, and mispronunciations. A second grade teacher should not. Most teachers assume incorrectly that the student will grow out of it, when in reality the pattern has already been set. Early intervention is key.

2. Overloaded teachers. Now, I want to use a disclaimer here. I do not mean ALL teachers here. My opinions are heard on my personal experience. But when I started he process for Bobby, my mentor teacher said, "why are you going to do almost paperwork for a student that just has a speech problem? He's doing fine with his academics, right?" At first it might sound incredibly uncaring, but really it speaks from an overwhelmed educator. You see the underlying problem is teachers are so overloaded with ridiculous amounts of paperwork, state tests, benchmarks, lesson plans, meetings, high levels of accountability, and demands to be an expert in areas that teachers 20 years ago wouldn't have dreamed of. Because of that a speech-only student doesn't get priority.

So what's to be done?

Parents, be your child's advocate. If you have a concern about your child's speech development, voice it. Talk to their teacher, the speech therapist on campus, the principal, if needed. You be their advocate.

Teachers, I know what it is like in there. I know what you deal with on a daily basis. I know the pressure and the long days. But please, don't forget the speech-only kids. They might be doing well
academically, but they might need some help. Don't let them fall through the cracks. It's hard to be that kid. I know. I was one. I mispronounce the letter R-sound which results in me sounding like my
two year old. It's taken years to overcome and it sneaks out sometimes. I wish one of my teachers would have gotten me help instead of letting me fall through the cracks.

Kate is a former elementary language arts and special education teacher turned stay at home wife and mom to two littles. She blogs at ohgreenpea.blogspot.com where she hopes to inspire and encourage. Her passion is her family and faith. Her love is reading, writing, and sewing. She also has an excessive enthusiasm for all things British.


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