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How to Get School-Based Therapy

Updated: Jul 8

Written by Amanda Villamar, Education Advocate


Many parents want to know how to get school-based speech services for their child. This article outlines the criteria that must be met for a child to receive speech and language therapy at school.

Talk Time Speech Language Therapy and Amanda Villamar | Color Picture of girl working on speech sounds

First, it is important to understand the referral, evaluation, and eligibility process for finding a child eligible for an individualized education plan (IEP). This blog will then examine what criteria must be met for a child to be found eligible to receive speech services as one component of their IEP. Lastly, we will discuss what "speech-only" services mean and how a child is found eligible for speech-only services within a school setting.


Identification, Evaluation, and Eligibility Process for School-Based Therapy


When a child is suspected of having a disability that impacts their ability to access the educational curriculum, that child should be referred to the Child Study Team (CST); the following steps outline the process from identification to eligibility.

  1. Identification: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires all states to identify, locate, and evaluate children with disabilities who may need early intervention services or special education services. The primary purpose of the Child Find Law is to ensure that children with disabilities are identified and provided with appropriate services as early as possible to support their development and education. Under the Child Find mandate, school districts are responsible for actively seeking out and evaluating children who may have disabilities, including those who may be homeless or wards of the state. This includes children who are not currently attending school or are in private schools.

  2. Referral: If a child is identified as having a suspected disability, the child should be referred to the Child Study Team for an evaluation. Referrals can come from various sources, such as parents, teachers, or healthcare professionals who suspect that a child may have a disability and could benefit from special education services. The referral is typically made to the school's special education department.

  3. Evaluation: Once a referral is made, the school district is required to evaluate and assess the child's needs. Children have the right to be evaluated in all areas of suspected disability. The comprehensive evaluation may include assessments in various areas, such as academic skills, cognitive abilities, social-emotional development, behavioral concerns, and communication skills. Parents have the right to receive a full copy of all assessment reports at least ten days before the eligibility determination meeting. Parents must be regarded as equal members of the Child Study Team. Parents have the right to be informed and participate in the decision-making process. Therefore, having copies of all assessments is fundamental to becoming informed and preparing for the eligibility determination meeting.

  4. Eligibility determination: A team of professionals comprising the child study team, including the parents, will review the evaluation results to determine if the student meets the criteria for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). For New Jersey, you can find the eligibility criteria for each classification here: https://www.nj.gov/education/code/current/title6a/chap14.pdf

  5. IEP development: If the student is found eligible for an IEP, the team will work together to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) tailored to meet the student's unique needs. The IEP outlines the student's strengths and weaknesses, academic goals, special education services, accommodations, and modifications. The development of IEP should be based on the results of the evaluations, other expert and doctor reports, and any other relevant data collected.


Finding a student Eligible for Speech and Language Services


If a child is found eligible for an IEP, they will be classified under one of the 14 categories of classification. New Jersey has added classification through what is commonly called eligible for "speech only" services or a "speech only IEP." Let's look at this in a little more detail:


New Jersey has 14 classifications under which a child can be found eligible for any IEP, not including the "speech only" eligibility. It is important to remember that eligibility criteria for each classification area are different. Here is a chart listing the areas of classification.

Auditorily Impaired

Multiple Disabilities

Specific Learning Disability

Autistic

Deaf/Blindness

Traumatic Brain Injury

Intellectual Disability

Orthopedic Impairment

Visual Impairment

Communication Impairment

Other Health Impairment

Preschool Child with a Disability*

Emotional Regulation Impairment

Social Maladjustment

Eligibility for Speech/Language Services Only**

In order for a child to receive speech and language services under one of the 14 identified classification categories, a child must meet the criteria for language impairment. The impairment can come in morphology, syntax, semantics, or pragmatics/discourse. This impairment must show that it adversely affects the student's educational performance and that such communication impairment is not primarily due to an auditory impairment.


To determine if a student has a communication impairment, the impairment must be demonstrated through functional assessment of language in a situation other than a testing situation and performance of 1.5 standard deviations below the mean on at least two standardized language tests. At least one of the two standardized tests must be a comprehensive receptive and expressive language test. It is also important to note that when there is a suspected language impairment, an assessment must be conducted by a speech-language specialist.


Some students may not be eligible for an IEP under one the 14 identified classifications. However, they may be found eligible for speech-only services. In cases like this, a student must have a speech disorder in articulation, phonology, fluency, voice, or any combination unrelated to dialect, cultural differences, or the influence of a foreign language. The speech disorder must also demonstrate an adverse effect on the student's performance and a language disorder that meets the definition and criteria of "Communication Impaired," Again, the requirements for communication impairment are described in the above paragraph. When it is decided that a child has a language disorder and only requires speech-language services, they may be found eligible for speech-only services.


What does it mean to have a Speech and/or Language Disorder?


The New Jersey Administrative Code defines a speech and/or language disorder as:

  1. A speech disorder in articulation, phonology, fluency, voice, or any combination unrelated to dialect, cultural differences, or the influence of a foreign language that adversely affects a student's educational performance and

  2. A language disorder that meets the criteria of the communication impairment classification, and the student requires speech-language services only.


If a student is suspected of having a speech and/or language disability the school district must conduct a speech and language evaluation. The student's teacher must provide documentation of the educational impact of the speech problem, and the speech disorder must meet the criteria of articulation/phonology, fluency, or voice disorder. These criteria are summarized below and can be found at: https://www.nj.gov/education/code/current/title6a/chap14.pdf.


  1. Articulation/phonology: On a standardized articulation or phonology assessment, the student exhibits one or more sound production error patterns beyond the age at which 90 percent of the population has achieved mastery according to current developmental norms and consistently misarticulated sounds in a speech sample.

  2. Fluency: The student demonstrates at least a mild rating, or its equivalent, on a formal fluency rating scale and, in a speech sample, the student exhibits disfluency in five percent or more of the words spoken

  3. Voice: On a formal rating scale, the student performs below the normed level for voice quality, pitch, resonance, loudness, or duration, and the condition is evident on two separate occasions, three to four weeks apart, at different times.


Determining if a child is eligible for school-based speech services can be complicated or confusing. Individual factors should be considered, and all areas of a suspected disability should be evaluated. If you want to know how to get your child appropriately identified and assessed for school-based speech services, go to my website https://www.aveducationadvocate.com/ and sign up for a phone call, or contact me for more information.

Talk Time Speech Language Therapy | Headshot of Amanda Villamar, Education Advocate

Amanda is a professional Non-Attorney Education Advocate serving families throughout New Jersey. As an experienced social worker, sibling to someone on the spectrum, and mother of three (two of whom have disabilities on their own), she understands the relentless dedication and perseverance it takes to secure appropriate educational services. Amanda now dedicates her work to professional advocacy because of her love for children and the fact that she, too, has had to walk this path.

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