speech therapy and mental health therapy sinking ship

A Very Difficult and Complex Problem

The latest results of the tests known as the Nation's Report Card released last month offer a mostly grim view of academic progress in U.S. schools.

"Over the past decade, there has been no progress in reading performance, and the lowest-performing students are doing worse," said Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

"In fact, over the long term in reading, the lowest-performing students—those readers who struggle the most—have made no progress from the first NAEP administration almost 30 years ago." Since 2017, reading performance has dropped significantly across grades 4 and 8, with math performance mixed, based on the results of the 2019 NAEP.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos considers the results a "wakeup call." "Every American family needs to open the Nation's Report Card this year and think about what it means for their child and our country's future," said DeVos. "The results are, frankly, devastating. This country is in a student achievement crisis, and over the past decade, it has continued to worsen, especially for our most vulnerable students."

Root Causes That are Being Overlooked

1. Speech-Language Disorders

Speech-language disorders will likely impair a child's ability to learn. Children diagnosed with a speech-language disorder, especially receptive language disorder, may struggle with understanding, processing, and retrieving verbal information.

This handicap in remembering or even understanding verbal information or instructions will take its toll on the child's ability to complete assignments and tasks.

Also, children who have speech-language deficits are more likely to struggle with learning how to spell and read. Research has consistently shown that verbal skills are an accurate predictor of reading skills development. Segmenting letters and words, a necessary skill for reading, can be very challenging for these children.

2. Mental Health Disorders

Mental Health Disorders disrupt academic performance in different ways. The following is just a partial list:

  1. Screening out external stimuli – an inability to block out sights, sounds, or smells that interfere with the ability to focus on assignments or tasks

  2. Maintaining concentration – reduced attention span, easy distractibility, being restless, difficulty focusing on or remembering verbal directions

  3. Sustaining stamina – struggling with having the energy to put in a full day in school due to sleeping issues or drowsiness caused by medications

  4. Inability to juggle multiple tasks and deadlines – preoccupation with anxiety, fears, and thoughts interfere with completing tasks and assignments

  5. Social difficulties – problems interacting with peers, grasping social cues, and fitting into a group

  6. A healthy response to negative feedback – comprehending and interpreting low grades or criticism, being paralyzed by low self-esteem

  7. Adjusting to change – due to internal unsettledness, finding it challenging to cope with or integrate changes in assignments, substitutes, and deadlines

Teletherapy: A Game Changer

Speech-Language Therapy

Here are three areas where speech-language teletherapy can help children succeed in school:

Executive Function Skills

Executive function and self-regulation skills are crucial to a child's ability to execute daily functions and tasks. Children who have difficulty planning for upcoming tests, scheduling their time, or remaining focused on the teacher's instructions benefit significantly from an SLP (Speech-Language Pathologist) who teaches them how to focus and organize their thoughts. Improving in these areas is at the core of academic success.

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Auditory Processing Disorder

Sometimes children, especially in noisy environments, can hear words being said, but their brains have a hard time processing what they are hearing. SLPs can help students distinguish, recognize, and understand auditory information, which is invaluable to academic achievement.

Language Skills

Language skills are building blocks of conveying thoughts and ideas. Being proficient with these skills is essential to both social and academic success. Language skills encompass both expressive language (communicating thoughts) and receptive language (understanding others' thoughts). These are some ways that an SLP can be helpful:

  1. Following directions (simple, one-step, multi-step, and complex directions)

  2. Grammar (proper verb tense, grammatically-correct sentences, subject-verb agreement, etc.)

  3. Vocabulary (comprehending and using age-appropriate vocabulary)

  4. Understanding what, where, when, why, and how questions

  5. Conveying thoughts both orally and through the written word

Mental Health Therapy

School psychologists (also social workers and counselors) work with children, teachers, and families to facilitate academic success, appropriate behavior, and the mental health of all students, in particular children whose learning is handicapped by mental health issues.

These psychologists have been trained extensively in assessing children, monitoring their progress, child development, and child psychology, consultation, counseling children, responding to a crisis, evaluating programs, and working with data.

Providing those mental health services that lower learning barriers is at the very core of the mission of these teletherapists. The success of their efforts can be measured by the healthy psychological development, academic achievement, and responsible citizenship of the students with whom they work.

These are some of the ways that school psychologists can help via teletherapy:

  1. Together with teachers, school psychologists work to motivate children to more fully engage in learning. The psychologists' interventions are designed to improve the academic success of the students and their enjoyment of learning.

  2. School psychologists work together with teachers to craft and implement both behavioral and academic interventions. Research has shown that these interventions reduce behavior problems and improve academic performance.

  3. These teletherapists often work with school administrators to design and implement mental health programming for the entire school. These programs enhance academic success by improving attendance, reducing discipline problems, and improving test scores.

  4. In collaboration with SLPs, school psychologists help children develop social and communication skills. Improved ability to problem-solve, control anger, self-regulate, and be more optimistic all have a direct bearing on increased academic success.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, we are dealing with a very difficult and complex problem. The continuous decline of our schoolchildren's ability to read threatens the efficacy of our entire educational system. It doesn't matter in what form the written material is delivered, the old-fashioned way, or via the latest technology. Our children must be able to read and understand what they have learned.

Other solutions aside, speech and mental health teletherapy will undoubtedly be suggested. Providing great value, these become invaluable as part of the solution. Let's not forget something so basic as empowering our children with the speech and mental health therapy they so richly deserve!

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