Navigating Public School Services for Speech and Language Therapy

4 Things Parents Should Know

Does your child receive speech and language services through your local school district? If they received early intervention services or private speech and language therapy, you might be realizing that services in the schools look a little different. This article will highlight four important things to know about school-based services. 

4 Important Things to Know

Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) in the schools use eligibility criteria that are different from medical-based eligibility for services.

Children who receive special education services in the United States must qualify under one of 14 eligibility categories. One of these categories is Speech and Language Impairment (SLI), making a child eligible for speech/language services in public schools. While your child may qualify for speech and language services through your insurance, they may not be found to be eligible under SLI when assessed by your local school district (and visa versa!). In California, you can find the specific qualifications for SLI in Section 3030 of the Educational Code Section 5: Eligibility Criteria (page 5). 

SLPs in the schools must follow these strict guidelines when assessing students and only qualify a student as having the disability of Speech and Language Impairment when a student meets these factors. Your child may qualify under other eligibility criteria, such as Autism, Traumatic Brain Injury, Intellectual Disability, etc. Your child may still qualify for speech and language services if they are found eligible during the assessment process, even if their IEP does not list SLI as their primary or secondary eligibility. 

2. School-based services are designed to enable your child to access their education - not necessarily completely “cure” a disability.

According to the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association, the role of a school-based SLP is to help children access their education. As referenced in the point above, it’s entirely possible that a child might display some difficulties with communication while not qualifying for school-based services. This would be because their communication difficulties do not significantly impact them educationally (i.e., they can still access their education without special education services). 

For example, your 10-year-old child who has difficulty with their “r” sound may not qualify for services because the child does not have any academic or social challenges related to their “r” sound errors. You may still be interested in pursuing private or medical-based speech therapy services; however, school-based services would not be warranted since there is no impact on your child’s education.

3. SLPs in the schools use a variety of service delivery models.

Therapy provided 1:1 outside of the classroom is not always the most efficient way to provide services.

If your child qualifies for speech and language services, your child’s SLP may offer services in a 1:1 or group setting in their therapy room, also known as being “pulled out” of the classroom. While this model is traditional and maybe what you think of when you hear the term “speech therapy,” this kind of service delivery can have detrimental effects on your child. Every time a child is “pulled out” of the classroom, they miss core academic instruction. For example, at one hour of “pull-out” therapy per week, your child will miss about an entire week of classroom instruction over a school year! 

Your child’s SLP may offer services via a consultation model that might provide training and tools to you or your child’s teacher. Another type of service delivery model is referred to as “pushing-in” to the classroom itself to deliver direct services to your child by teaching a whole-class lesson or by running a small group within the classroom. Your child’s SLP will be able to work with you and the entire IEP team to determine the service delivery model that is most appropriate for your individual child’s needs. Don’t be alarmed if the team offers to provide services in the classroom or via consultation.

4. Your child may be exited from speech/language services if they no longer qualify (even if they continue to receive other special education services).

When a child initially qualifies for a special education service, the ultimate goal is to eventually exit or graduate from that special education service. Every three years, your child will be assessed in all areas of concern (e.g., Speech/Language, Health, Academic, etc.). If your child has been found to no longer meet the eligibility criteria for a certain service after an evaluation, your child may be exited from services.

As children get older, their needs often change. For example, while a child may initially only qualify for speech/language services, as they grow, the IEP team may assess and determine they need academic support as well. Similarly, an IEP team may assess and determine that while academic support continues to be needed, a child no longer qualifies for speech/language services. 

Rest assured, though, the IEP team must discuss any proposed changes with you and provide you with an opportunity to give feedback and give your consent for any changes to the IEP.

Written by Jillian Hall

Written by Jillian Hall

M.A., CCC-SLP

Check out Susan’s story. Their parents of a 17-month-old and found help through my online course.

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