By Sara Tischauser
Students in the Seymour Community School District can benefit from services provided by the district’s speech and language pathologists.
The SCSD has five speech language pathologists. These pathologists Jenni Weyer, Alexa Woodward, Julie Ritter, Kristen Diermeier and Denise Feirer work with students to help them succeed in school and beyond.
Ritter said one of the misconceptions about the speech language pathologists is that they are thought of as speech therapist who help students who are having a hard time pronouncing the letter “r.”
“We are speech language pathologists because we work with articulation errors, language use and understanding, dis-fluency (stuttering) and cognitive skills,” Ritter said.
Woodward also said they work with students who can’t communicate verbally and need to use alternative devices to communicate.
Diermeier said speech language pathologists are limited by the state of Wisconsin as to who they can see.
“School district becomes responsible for kids at age 3,” Diermeier said. “We [speech language pathologists] have birth to death certificate, but at school only work with students age 3 to 21.”
In order for the students to receive speech and language services at the school, the student must meet criteria set by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). This criteria and also exclusionary criteria can be found at https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/forms/pdf/podelg-spl-001.pdf.
Woodward said some students benefit from also having outpatient services at a facility separate from the school.
“Sometimes outpatient services can provide services sooner than what school is allowed to because of state mandates,” Diermeier said. “We have some pretty strict restraints on how and when we can see students. Private practice can supplement what we do and they have different rules.”
Woodward said a good time to see what a child’s needs might be is to attend the early childhood development days which is for students 3 to 4 years old before the child starts school. This is a free screening parents can bring their child to. At the screening, Woodward said there is a speech therapist, occupational therapist, school psychologist and early childhood teacher all present.
“[They] are all there as a team to work with each child and then from there decide if the child needs services,” Woodward said. “We can give advice to parents on what they need to do before school to get child more prepared to start 4K.”
Once students are in school there are different ways to receive help if needed.
Diermeier said the speech language pathologists are on student support teams. These teams consist of a group of people who work together to problem solve an issue a student is having.
“If student is already enrolled in district and teacher or another staff member has concerns about student, they bring [concerns] to [student support] team meeting,” Woodward said. “The speech [pathologist] can be involved in that and we can share ideas, because we don’t necessarily know if we want to start with speech right away.”
Diermeier said they will not evaluate or start any type of treatment without a parent’s consent.
“We can’t do evaluation without parent permission,” Diermeier said. “Parents are in full control of who gets to be with their kid.”
Before any child can start with speech language pathology at the school Diermeier said the school will first get two signatures from a parent for the child to be part of the program. She said the parent(s) are a very important part of the process and the school wants parent(s) to be very well informed.
This process to start speech language services does take time.
“Process doesn’t happen over night,” Woodward said about start speech language services for a student. “If student requires evaluation they don’t start speech next day it can take up to 60 days. Unfortunately it isn’t a fast process but it’s necessary.”
If a parent has concerns about their child’s speech language development the parent can talk to the classroom teacher (if elementary student) or to the homeroom teacher or school counselor (if middle or high school student).
Diermeier said they see students over multiple years if necessary. But Weyer said their goal is to always help students so the student no longer needs speech language services.
Diermeier said while the process can take a while, she likes that they are able to see students speech and language improve over time. She said she has had students start as not being able to speak and can now verbalize their needs.
The goal of the pathologists is to help students be ready for life after school.
“We prepare for life after graduation,” Ritter said. “We start looking at what they need to be able to do to succeed.”
Ritter said they help students learn how to do interviews because language is such an important piece of interviews.
One of the increased issues that impact children’s language and speech development is the amount of screen time a child has each day.
“Children who use handheld screens—smartphones, tablets and electronic games—before they begin to talk may be at higher risk for speech delays, according to research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting,” stated the article “Handheld Screen Time Linked to Delayed Speech Development,” found at https://leader.pubs.asha.org/doi/10.1044/leader.RIB1.22082017.16.
Diermeier said children learn communication skills from a social environment. She said communication is not only about what is said but also the reactions of other people from that communication. She said the problem with using electronic devices is that the screen doesn’t respond to what the child says or does.
When children spend more time on electronic devices, Diermeier said they are missing the social interaction and learning how to effectively communicate with others.
Woodward said children who have more screen time have a harder time showing their emotions. She said these children will make less eye contact when communicating
Also, Woodward said reading at a young age or being read to helps in a child’s language development. She said this is how children learn new words and how to form sentences. In addition, she said imaginative play helps in language development. All of these things Woodward said are becoming less common as children spend more and more time on electronics and this shows up in the child’s language development.