Editor’s note: This adaptation comes from a blog post written by Tatyana Elleseff for her Smart Speech Therapy blog.
A few days ago, my higher-ups asked for a second opinion regarding a psychological evaluation on an 11-year-old boy who was displaying a pattern of deficits with no reasonable justification. I formed a working hypothesis, but needed more evidence. So, I set out to collect more information by interviewing professionals treating the student.
I asked one about the quality of his graphomotor skills. She replied, “They aren’t so bad.”
I asked her to clarify and she said, “He can write.”
“But I’m not asking you whether he can write,” I replied. “I’m asking you to provide data indicating whether his visual-perceptual skills, orthographic coding, motor planning and execution, kinesthetic feedback as well as visual-motor coordination are on par or below those of his grade-level peers.”
This got me thinking of all the parents and professionals who hear overgeneralized phrases like, “It’s not so bad,” or “Her social skills are fine.”
I recommend avoiding such overgeneralizations if you are an educational or health professional. These vague sayings don’t help parents understand and might actually get you in hot water if you’re ever involved in a legal dispute.
Let’s take the statement, “He can read.” The act of reading entails several components, including phonemic awareness, phonotactic knowledge, rate, accuracy, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. If any of these components is lacking, then “He can read” is not an accurate statement.
- If the child can decode all the words on the page, but his reading rate is slow and labored, then he can’t read.
- If the child is a fast but inaccurate reader and has trouble decoding new words, then she’s not a reader, either.
- If the child reads everything quickly and accurately but comprehends very little, then he also isn’t a reader.
If any of the above is true for a child, then implying he does relatively well and doesn’t need treatment will do him a disservice.
The bottom line is that vague and overly general statements are not helpful to us or our clients. I recommend we avoid saying them. And if we are on the receiving end of them, I recommend we calmly ask the other professional making that statement to show us the data!
Tatyana Elleseff, MA, SLP, is a bilingual speech-language pathologist with Rutgers University Behavioral Healthcare and runs a private practice, Smart Speech Therapy LLC, in Central New Jersey. She specializes in working with multicultural, internationally and domestically adopted children, and at-risk children with complex communication disorders. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 16, School-Based Issues. Visit her website for more information or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.