Typically, at the start of the school year, most teachers are just getting to know their new students. By about the end of October or beginning of November, I start to get requests from teachers for some speech and language screening forms. Teachers have now spotted those kids in their classes who are hard to understand or who struggle with following directions. I seem to get the most screening requests for children in kindergarten through second grade.
The most frequent cause for the request is for articulation, or speech sound errors. I also get screening requests for more language based delays (auditory processing, vocabulary, etc.)
WHAT IS A SCREENING?
A “speech and language screening” is a 10-15 minute, one-on-one session with the Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and the child. During this time, the SLP meets with the child who has been referred by their parent or teacher. If the teacher is referring the child, the parent is first contacted and must agree to the screening by giving written permission (i.e. signing a screening form). Other times, parents may contact me directly if they have concerns about their child’s speech and would like me to screen them.
During this brief session, the SLP listens to the child speak by asking questions or engaging them in a short discussion about friends, family, and favorite activities. Sometimes, for a very shy child, a picture, game, or interactive activity may be used to elicit verbal communication. It usually becomes fairly clear what is atypical about the child’s communication within the first few minutes of hearing them speak. The SLP will listen to how well the child is understood, their sentence structure, grammar use, social language skills, fluency, and voice quality.
After an informal conversation, the SLP may choose to use a standardized screening instrument to measure specific skill areas such as vocabulary, auditory comprehension, and articulation. All of these methods are aimed at identifying those children who may need further testing due to a significant communication delay. Some children may only need more time to develop their communication skills, but are still within the average range of normal development. A speech and language screening helps an SLP identify who may be at risk during the preschool, kindergarten, and early elementary years. The earlier a delay is identified, the earlier your child will receive the appropriate support or services.
If your child is referred for a speech and language screening by their teacher or by you, this is most likely what will happen. Methods of conducting the screening may vary depending on the speech therapist.
Remember, a screening can help us to identify those children who may need the extra support and/or services that the speech and language program can provide. It is much better to begin working on remediating any delays as early as possible.
Talk with your child’s teacher and/or school speech therapist if you have concerns. A short screening may be able to ease your worries or start your child on the path to getting the services and support he or she may need. Most children really enjoy speech therapy and look forward to their sessions when they are in elementary school.