What are goals when assessing a child’s language and communication skills?

Many parents and school staff are keen to understand what are the essential goals when assessing a child’s language and communication skills. These are four:

  1. to screen for language difficulty
  2. to establish a baseline for intervention
  3. to formulate appropriate goals for intervention
  4. to measure a child’s language skills over time. Westby, Stevens, Dominguez, and Oetter (1996) 

Screening

In some part of the UK clinicians screen children to separate the kids whose language skills are developing well from the children who are experiencing some form of language difficulty. The children who are identified as having a language difficulty will then usually be given a formal, norm-referenced language assessment.

Oral Language screening for children just beginning school is a very useful way of identifying kids who experience language delay or disorder, or who may have lower than average cognitive functioning. A screen is usually quite short (about 15 mins) and easy and quick to deliver. 

Establishing a Baseline

Once a child has been identified as having possible language difficulty it is important to determine how well or how poorly the child communicates in different settings. This information can be provided by teachers or parents and by observing the child in different communicative contexts. For instance, a school-age child will be assessed with a norm referenced language assessment. The child may also be observed to see how he/she interacts in the classroom and with his/her peers.

Also, how well a child reads and interprets text and a sample of written work would provide extra useful information to help plan intervention. (It’s important to add that all aspects of a child’s communication should be screened, including hearing, oral-motor skills and phonological awareness.)

Formulate Language Intervention Goals

Armed with the valuable information given by a language assessment, the clinician can then determine whether a child has language impairment or difficulty and which areas to target for intervention. For instance, if it was revealed that a child had poor semantic and syntax skills, then those areas would be the focus of intervention. 

Measuring change

Once a child has received a language assessment and intervention program they will need their language skills assessed at a later date to see if they have made progress, if they need their intervention program modified or to decide if the child is ready to be dismissed from receiving speech pathology services.

Westby, C.E., Stevens Dominguez, M., and Oetter, P. (1996) A performance/competence model of observational assessment. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 27(2), 144-156

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