child development

Pondering the dynamics of “what children really need”

Dr. Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

I am hearing so much discussion and debate about the impact of standardized testing that takes place in schools throughout the year. Naturally, I’ve studied this issue from an academic perspective for a long time. More recently, I’ve been exposed to family perspectives, and this makes me wonder about speech-language objectives, which I’ll come back to in a moment.

Parents want to know how their children are performing and progressing, which test scores can show very objectively, yet many are increasingly concerned with stress associated with testing and that the heavy test emphasis on two specific areas, reading and math, may be narrowing the scope of academic instruction to benefit results on paper. Therefore, to paraphrase what I am often hearing, many are concerned that kids are not learning “what they really need.” Clearly, the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in life, personally, professionally, economically, and so forth, are extremely broad.

So of course, because language is a critical foundation for success, I see parallels between the issues and concerns related to education and what we as speech-language pathologists do in language intervention. Specific goals and objectives are important for accountability and for evaluating our clients’ progress in language intervention. Yet, similarly, I wonder if the specificity of our objectives may also limit our focus on teaching the child “what they really need” to succeed. Are some kids in the therapy group kept busy by coloring for a few moments while the clinician targets a specific discrete skill with another child? I think many of us have seen that. Is a child who meets that objective of 90% accuracy on past tense –ed ready to graduate from speech-language therapy? Does marking that objective as “achieved” mean that we have “fixed” the child’s impaired language system? Are we focusing primarily on discrete skills or are we integrating skills into relevant activities such as discourse? Just as I see the benefits of discussing the dynamics of “what children really need” to learn in school, I also encourage SLPs to discuss with each other the dynamics of what language skills children really need to be successful socially and academically, and to talk about how our goals and objectives truly help “fix” an impaired language system.

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Bullying: On Our Radar

There is a good chance that each of you remembers at least one school bully while growing up. You’ve also probably heard one or more horrendous stories in the news about children who have been bullied. Bullying is a problem that occurs not only in the U.S. Just recently, Chilean newspapers reported a shocking story about a nine-year-old boy who died following cerebral hemorrhage which resulted from a gruesome act of bullying. This entry is for him and for all who suffer from bullying.

In our profession, bullying needs to be on our radar. I think back to when I worked as an SLP in the schools and wonder how many children on my caseload might have been affected by bullying without my knowledge. It’s an issue that I’ve always discussed with students in my fluency classes, but having learned more about the relationship between bullying and other disabilities, I will definitely be integrating the topic into other courses as well.

According to a review of research by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, children with disabilities are at significantly higher risk of being bullied than children without disabilities. According to the Massachusetts Advocacy for Children (2009), for example, 88% of children with autism sampled were reported to have been victims of bullying. Even in typically developing children, bullying has a negative impact not only on social-emotional development, but also on academic achievement. Therefore, it is a serious problem that further compounds the difficulties which children with disabilities already experience.

Because bullying can interfere with children’s access to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE), the PACER Center has put together a document on The Individualized Education

Program (IEP) and Bullying which provides valuable strategies that can be included in a child’s IEPs to help stop the bullying that he/she experiences. For example, strategies may include allowing the child to leave class early to avoid the bully in the hallway between classes, holding in-services for staff and students about policies regarding bullying, and shadowing of the child in the lunchroom or playground where the bullying typically happens.

Again, bullying is a common problem for which SLPs should be on the lookout. Hopefully, we will see more research conducted to better understand what drives people to bully and how professionals can help them while enhancing prevention.

Additional helpful websites:

In Other Languages

www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/publications/spanish-materials.asp

www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/publications/somali-materials.asp

Policies and Laws by State

www.stopbullying.gov/laws

Helping Kids Deal with Bullying

http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/bullies.html

Autism and Safety

www.nationalautismassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/NAA-Bullying-Brochure.pdf

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes: Bullying and the Child with Special Needs

www.abilitypath.org/areas-of-development/learning–schools/bullying/articles/walk-a-mile-in-their-shoes.pdf