Ever wonder how to help assess, differentiate, treat and document “expressive language” delays for 3- and 4-year-old bilingual or multilingual children whose first language may or may not be English? Does the child need an IEP, a Tier-2 intervention, a re-screen or just more time and exposure to English? The speech-language pathologists in my district created a collaborative team with the English as a Second Language (ESL) staff to address these complicated cases.
Data show at least 32 percent of students in the Watertown, Massachusetts, school system are “First Language Not English” and at least 8 percent English-language learners. In our preschool classrooms, data show up to 38 percent of children use another language in the home. There are more than 27 languages spoken. Young children are often referred to our early childhood program for expressive language delays from early intervention or pediatrician offices.
Years ago, our team of SLPs recognized the need to get ESL teachers involved. Initially, elementary school ESL staff volunteered to participate in some of our preschool evaluations. They’d observe a child, talk to us about the child’s needs and review the history. We eventually began to work on professional development together and finally, we added an ESL teacher to the official team.
In accordance with ASHA best practices, we interview, obtain extensive language history, evaluate, observe, use normative data and consider cultural implications. The ESL teacher may include the Pre-IDEA Proficiency Test or World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment performance definitions. Together, we develop appropriate recommendations that meet the needs of the child.
Our collaboration increased from meeting a couple of hours each week to working as a team two full days each week. What a difference this teamwork makes! Our instincts as SLPs generally resulted in the correct assessment, but now we incorporate our ESL teacher’s expertise and relevant data to decide whether a child needs an IEP, Tier 2, re-screen or just playgroups for exposure to language.
The added input and cooperation from our ESL colleagues also provide valuable insights and information at meetings with families or referral sources. We now provide better rationales as to why or why not a child qualifies for services. Collaboratively, we developed a system that’s still a work in progress, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction.
Working with the superintendent and ESL district coordinator, we developed a campaign for local agencies, early intervention programs and pediatricians, so families receive consistent and correct information about how bilingual and multilingual children develop language. Next, we plan to spread awareness within our community about what a wonderful gift bilingualism gives children!
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Maryann MacDougall, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist working at an early childhood center for the Watertown, Massachusetts, school district. She’s worked with young children for more than 30 years. email@example.com