Supporting Students with Communication Disorders in Public Schools

May 18, 2023By: Kimberly Barnes, M.Ed., CCC-SLP 

It’s estimated that 1 in 10 American children experience some form of communication disorder, which can hinder their ability to express themselves clearly. With that said, it is extremely important that students with communication disorders are supported. Learn about the impact of speech and language difficulties, how to collaborate with speech-language pathologists, and create an inclusive classroom environment to empower every student in this blog.

What is a Communication Disorder?

Communication disorders are defined as a group of neurodevelopmental conditions that persistently affect the production and comprehension of speech and language. Since 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has mandated free and appropriate education for public school students. Data collected to monitor IDEA compliance during the 2020–21 school year revealed that 7.2 million students, constituting 15% of total enrollment, received special education services under IDEA. Among these students, 19% received services due to speech and/or language impairments.

Speech VS Language

Speech refers to the way sounds and words are formed, while “language” refers to the use of words to receive and express information. With speech disorders, students can have difficulties with articulation (production of speech sounds), voice (the quality of pitch, resonance, or loudness), and/or fluency (the rhythm and flow of speech).

Meanwhile, language disorders negatively affect someone’s ability to understand or be understood with verbal, nonverbal, and/or written language. This can cause affect someone’s comprehension of the meanings of words and the organization of words to form clear ideas. This can also affect a child’s pragmatic or social skills. Children may have difficulties communicating with peers, making friends, navigating everyday social situations, or simply making their feelings understood.

Supporting Students with Speech and Language Difficulties

These common speech and language difficulties can cause anxieties for children, which can make it even harder for them to talk and express themselves. This could decrease their participation in class activities or make them less likely to ask for help when needed.

Here are some ways teachers can support a child with speech and language difficulties:

  • Consult with your school’s speech-language pathologist (SLP) about concerns regarding a child’s ability to communicate. The SLP can give support and strategies within the classroom and possibly begin any intervention processes as appropriate.
  • Your student may speak slowly and should be given ample time to express their thoughts. It’s not helpful to interrupt or complete a sentence for the student. This can be quite embarrassing and frustrating for a child.
  • Allow students additional time to complete assignments or makeup work when needed.
  • Be mindful of where students are sitting in the classroom. Move them closer to a teacher’s desk or in the front of the class so it’s easier to assist them with questions and assignments.
  • Always check for understanding. This means doing more than just asking “Do you understand?”. Many students have a hard time admitting they don’t comprehend an assignment. Have a student restate the directions or demonstrate comprehension before assuming they understand the task at hand.
  • Be patient and encourage students to ask for help. Never shame or punish a child for needing assistance.
  • Encourage their peers to be kind and use patience with their classmates. Be vigilant about addressing bullying and other unkind comments and behaviors.
  • Discuss and celebrate differences. Students with speech and/or language difficulties want to be accepted just like everyone else.

Final Thoughts

Overall, communication disorders can significantly impact a child’s ability to express themselves clearly, understand others, and navigate social interactions. The prevalence of these disorders emphasizes the need for inclusive educational environments that provide appropriate support and resources. By consulting with speech-language pathologists, giving students ample time to communicate, providing necessary accommodations, promoting understanding, and fostering a culture of acceptance, teachers can create an environment where children with speech and language difficulties can thrive. Let us embrace and celebrate the differences in our classrooms, ensuring that every student has the opportunity to communicate effectively and reach their full potential.

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