School-Based Speech Therapy {The IEP Process Explained}

Now that school is thoroughly underway, some parents are beginning to receive paperwork requesting permission to have their child complete a speech screening with the school speech-language pathologist (SLP). This can evoke reactions of fear and worry, maybe even feelings of guilt. Many teachers send these home on any child they feel might maybe sorta kinda have a speech issue, and some are sending them home because they truly see a child struggling in the classroom. Some parents may even be expecting these forms (dis me) because they noticed some of the signs of a speech and language delay at home.

So what the heck is a speech screening?

school based speech therapy

A SLP will perform a speech screening at the request of a teacher or parent, with parental permission, to informally and quickly assess articulation and language skills. The SLP will be looking for speech sound errors (articulation skill deficits) and various difficulties with language use (think using him for he, me for I, difficulty using past tense, etc.). It’s a “quick and dirty” assessment that can let the SLP know if the child should be further evaluated to begin therapy. 

Ready for some complicated information? Thinking caps on. Let’s go. 

  1. A child may NOT qualify for an evaluation, BUT the SLP and teacher may recognize some deficits that may negatively affect learning. This would be a case for beginning “interventions” or “Response to Interventions” (RTI) therapy. This child may receive therapy services for a limited number of weeks to assess progress, and maybe fix their few errors before ever needing an IEP. Once these errors are fixed, RTI is complete, and Junior continues on with life and forgets his small stint in speech therapy. 
  2. A child may qualify for an evaluation AND be placed into RTI. This will allow the child to begin receiving some therapy help while waiting for the evaluation/IEP process to muck on along at its painfully slow pace. 

Let’s say Junior is in RTI, making some progress, and the evaluation process begins.

Get your good pens ready, and put your carpal tunnel brace on, because you are heading for paperwork city.

Some children are solely evaluated by a SLP to determine speech skills, and those evals are generally completed at a faster rate. If there are other issues cropping up, an entire team of education professionals will assess your child to determine strengths and weaknesses to best determine what services may be needed, how often the child should receive them, and in which direction therapy will need to move. There are many disciplines that may be involved including: speech, occupational, and physical therapy; special education; adaptive physical education; alternative/augmentative communication; nursing; hearing; vision. Once completed, the evaluation team will meet with you to discuss results and begin to determine the plan of care for your child. You will receive a copy of this evaluation report. 

First comes screening, then comes eval, then comes Individualized Education Program (IEP). 

This hunk o’ paper is a parent’s insurance policy. It contains portions of the evaluation results as they pertain to your child’s academic performance in the classroom. You will find specific goals to target for one calendar year, as well as objectives, which are just smaller steps to achieve on your child’s way to their goals. Goals will target your child’s specific deficits as they relate to their curriculum. Providers will also identify specific strategies they will use to help your child achieve these goals and objectives. There will be information on how many minutes of intervention each provider will provide services. You will also receive a document containing YOUR RIGHTS AS A PARENT! Put this in a safe place. Study it. KNOW it. NEVER be afraid or too intimidated to assert your parental rights during this process. 

This IEP is a working document. It can, and likely will, be modified multiple times throughout the year to ensure that the document is accurate and best-serving your child. As a parent, you should not be afraid to request IEP team meetings to ensure that this document is meeting your child’s needs. 

Therapy in a school setting can look very different from therapy in an outpatient clinic setting. As it should. It is serving a different purpose there: to facilitate academic learning in the classroom. Skill development is ultimately targeting improving academic performance as it relates to school curriculum. Sometimes this means therapy will be in a small group setting of 5-10 children; sometimes it involves the entire class; sometimes therapy takes place on a field trip or in a swimming pool; sometimes therapy is one-on-one for just 10 minutes. Therapy settings and amounts should always be justifiable by their provider. 

Learning that your child is not learning at the same rate as their peers is difficult to hear. But by embracing the lengthy process, and building relationships with your child’s IEP team, wonderful things can happen. 

Sarah Keating
Sarah is a 30-something mom of four children under six and wife to her high-school sweetheart. She returned to Acadiana two years ago following her husband’s completion of medical school and residency in Shreveport. After the move, Sarah switched gears from full-time pediatric speech-language pathologist and working mom to full-time stay-at-home mom to her brood. Her current hobbies include “speech-therapizing” her children, re-reading the Outlander series, catching up on her Netflix queue after the kids go to bed, completing XHIT videos at naptime, and taking her medication every morning. She loves and respects the sacredness of motherhood, but sometimes you just have to let go and laugh it out. Motherhood has been the most humbling, and empowering journey she has experienced.