Is speaking words by using your mouth a true measure of our level of understanding? If we have challenges doing oral reading does it mean we cannot read? If we only answer questions with yes or no responses or with three word sentences does it mean we are not capable of more? If it takes us longer to answer a question or give a comment does it mean we have cognitive challenges? During our day do we only communicate by speaking? Do we just stand and present a neutral body position and facial expression? Do we keep our hands completely still?
As a good friend of mine reminded me last week when she was sharing her son’s success at school that “any difference that involves speech issues leads to unfair assumptions about abilities.”
Johnny’s Daddy and I had all of these concerns in our hearts and in our minds when we went to our son’s school for the “Parent/Teacher Curriculum Night.” Its an opportunity for parents to hear a presentation from their child’s teacher about the expectations for the school year and hear about the teacher’s own way of approaching teaching. In the days leading up to this night, we had asked for feedback from Johnny’s teachers on how he is doing speaking at school with his peers and with teachers and staff. Johnny has motor speech challenges (Apraxia of Speech) and we are trying to advocate strongly for a specialized SLP to come into the school and work with him so that he can work on speaking more clearly as well as be able to master his ability to read better by producing sounds better. The school board gave him two blocks of this specialized therapy but as per ministry guidelines closes the file for one year. I have no idea why because he needs the extra help but I presume funding is the reason. So as we try to access speech therapy elsewhere, we advocate for his file to be re-opened before the end of 2014 when his case is scheduled to be re-addressed. The school board SLP who specializes in Autism has helped us by sending in a referral asking for Johnny to be seen earlier but I have gotten a message from the agency re-stating the service guidelines and there would have to be new concerns for him to be seen earlier. So I decided to pose some questions to staff at Johnny’s school and check in with them what their concerns were. Here are the questions I asked them:
1) Is he understood at school by his peers and his teachers?
2) Does he need to repeat himself a lot?
3) Does his speech sound choppy?
4) How is his pitch or volume of speech at school?
5) Is he asked to speak up more often?
6) Is he able to maintain speech sound accuracy when he says longer words or sentences?
7) When Johnny talks at school to the other children do they understand him most of the time or sometimes?
Here is the compilation of what four different staff members wrote me about how Johnny speaks at school:
Is he understood at school by his peers and his teachers? He will speak when prompted and usually 1 word utterances, which are clear
Does he need to repeat himself a lot? Not really
Does his speech sound choppy? During multi-word utterances it becomse more choppy, partly due to his elevated emotion (e.g. excited)
How is his pitch or volume of speech at school? It tends to be low volume, that can be heard in his small classroom with limited ambient noise, but more difficult in his intergrated class.
Is he asked to speak up more often? See comment above re: volume
Is he able to maintain speech sound accuracy when he says longer words or sentences? He is able to be accurate with his speech sounds at the 1 word level, it breaks down during multi-word utterances.
How does he sound when he does his oral reading exercises at school? With prompting, i.e. teeth together, for the /s/ sound he is able to do it, it is not there spontaneously yet.He is not volunteering to answer questions or to read.
When Johnny talks at school to the other children do they understand him most of the time or sometimes? Sometimes they understand him. Sometimes we have to get him to repeat himself.Staff 3:I am responding to your concerns re: Johnny’s speech. Johnny spends part of his day in our grade 2 class. He will generally produce limited language when prompted. He is very soft spoken so he needs to often repeat his response. If a question is answered for him he will sometimes repeat the answer which can sound choppy. Johnny is encouraged to speak up to be heard. He rarely uses more than 3-4 words in a sentence and does not tend to initiate.Staff 4:We just started the Bridge Reading program this week. Thus far Johnny has pronounced every word taught so far with good clarity. I was especially impressed with the f sounding words like fruit and find. I can speak more about the reading program at curriculum night, but suffice it to say that it works on picture-word association, not the phonological approach.
“For those who think I can’t, stand back and watch me do it”.