Spice Up Your IEPs with SALSAS

Writing goals for a child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) can be stressful.  This document, which is legally binding, spells out the child’s goals for the year.  While it can be changed and altered as needed, the process of doing so can be time-consuming and difficult.  How can you make sure you’ve written a comprehensive, appropriate IEP for your child or student?  I’ve thought about this questions for a while, and then it came to me… SALSAS!

  • SPEECH: Can the child produce age-appropriate phonemes (speech sounds)?  Does the child have phonological processes (“rules” for sound and syllable patterns) that are not developmentally appropriate?  Check out the research-based articulation and phonology norms and work from there.  Remember, treatment should take a developmental sequence.  If the child has good access to the speech signal, lots of good speech input, and lots of “talk time” to practice speech, the hope is that these sounds will develop in a typical succession.  The goal is for the child to have age-apprpriate speech, not perfect speech at a prematurely young age.  Think about sounds at all levels — in isolation, syllables, words, phrases, sentences, and conversational speech.

  • AUDITION: Hearing and listening are KEY to the development of a host of other skills — speech, language, reading, and academic success.  A focus on audition is essential if the goal is a listening, speaking child.  Hearing comes first.  For a child of any age or skill level, daily equipment (HA, Baha, CI, FM, Soundfield, etc.) and Ling checks should be built into the program.  You can frame auditory goals based on the levels of Erber’s Hierarchy, which moves from the detection of sounds (did you hear it or not?) to comprehension of complex information (did you understand the information that you heard?).  Look for goals that target speech sound discrimination to ensure that the child is perceiving the differences between the sounds he hears.  One resource for this hierarchy is The Listening Ladder with Dave Sindrey, but there are many more.  The general idea is that children move from discriminating between things that are grossly different (e.g. learning to listen sounds oooooooooooo vs. b-b-b) to nearly the same (sheep vs. sheet).  Also consider the child’s ability to follow directions presented auditorily.  How many critical elements (details) can the child follow (e.g. “Give the black(1) cat(2) five(3) chocolate(4) cookies(5)”)?  Is the child choosing from a small, closed set of options or following open-set directions without prepared options from which to choose?  What concepts are being targeted (“give X to Y” is much easier than “place X between Y and Z in the farthest box” etc.)?  Concepts can be locational prepositions (above, behind, between), temporal/ordinal (first, next), conditional (if), and more!  Also add in goals that monitor the child’s comprehension of auditorily presented stories and paragraphs.  Can the child answer questions about an auditorily presented story with an illustrated reference?  Without?  These listening skills, from the most basic to the most advanced, build a solid foundation for development of more complex skills.

  • LANGUAGE: Consider both receptive (understanding) and expressive (speaking) goals.  The American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) offers developmental milestone charts for language development from birth to fifth grade in both English and Spanish which may be helpful.  For receptive language, consider not only the list of words your child knows/understands, but also his ability to comprehend sentences, paragraphs, stories, and longer information.  Consider the complexity of information as well — does your child follow 1-step directions or demonstrate an understanding of grade-level reading materials?  For expressive language goals, focus on increasing both the amount (number of words, length of sentences, etc.) and complexity (sentence structure, grammar, etc.) of what the child says.  For both receptive and expressive language, consider both spoken language as well as reading and writing.  For very young children, goals might include increasing core vocabulary (think “First 100 Words” kind of words — general categories, everyday items, etc.) and “power” words and phrases (“No!” “Stop!” “Go!” “I want _____”).  For children with more developed language skills, goals might include academic vocabulary, grammatical morphemes, or complex sentence structures (subordinate clauses, dependent clauses, etc.).

  • SELF-ADVOCACY: Children, even young toddlers, must learn to be good self-advocates.  If you don’t help them advocate, no one else will!  Remember, if the goal is to raise indepenent, self-sufficient, listening, speaking deaf adults, we must give our children the tools to get there!  Self-advocacy can range from small things like replacing a CI headpiece after it falls off, to alerting adults when batteries die, to changing your own batteries, all the way up to conversational repair strategies and teaching others about your hearing loss.  Ultimately, the child should be able to explain his hearing loss and assistive devices, maintain them or alert appropriate professionals for help with troubleshooting, understand what he needs to be successful in the classroom, repair conversational breakdowns, and advocate for his rights under IDEA/ADA.  Take small steps to get there year by year!

  • ACADEMIC:  Of course, the purpose of the IEP is to help the child be successful in school.  Work with general education teachers and special educators/teachers of the deaf to help your child achieve his maximum potential in academic areas.  Use school curriculum and state standards as guidelines.  Consider how speech, language, and listening skills impact all subject areas, and build in support where necessary.  Pre-teaching vocabulary and concepts and post-teaching comprehension checks can help support the child’s in the mainstream classroom.  While hearing loss can impact a child across the curriculum, literacy is of special concern.  Learning to read is essentially an auditory process made visible.  Children with hearing loss CAN learn to read using a developmental, phonics-based approach IF they have adequate access to the sounds of speech and plenty of exposure and practice.  In early elementary grades, children learn to read, but starting in about third grade, they use reading to learn.  Establishing literacy skills is of the utmost importance, so be sure to emphasize this in the IEP.  Whether it’s phonological awareness activities for a preschooler or extra tutoring time in reading comprehension for a middle schooler, think literacy, literacy, literacy!

  • SOCIAL: The social component of school cannot be underestimated.  We can think of social skills as pragmatic language goals (rules of using language in social situations) as well as behavioral goals.  Can your child initiate, join, and continue a conversation?  Does he understand how to work together with other children in a group?  Is he well-integrated with his peers?  Consider your child’s present performance (classroom and recess observations are a great way to gather this information) and add goals to help increase or maintain positive skills.  For young children, social skills can also mean play skills.  The development of play skills is an important step in cognitive development — for young children, learning happens through play!

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