Collaborative Teams for Students with Severe Disabilities Integrating Therapy and Educational Services

I read this book over the summer to receive PD credit.  Initially, I was skeptical because the copyright was 1997.  I thought, there is no way this information will be relevant today.  I could not have been more wrong.  The first thing that struck me was that we are still facing the same obstacles and beliefs about Collaborative Therapy today as we were in 1997.  That was 21 years ago people!!  The changes that we are making today in the school systems and the freedom that we now have to serve our students as a related service make complete sense!  It is time to get on board and service our students as a whole.  The traditional approach of pull out services are a thing of the past.  It lacks reality and carryover into the classroom and community.    


Related services focus on integrating occupational, behavioral, cognitive, physical and speech therapy services in the context of educational programs.  These services must directly support a child’s special education program.  We have always known that OTs support the educational setting and tie into the ECE goals.  There is no question that what they do is a related service and is collaborative with all staff involved.  This approach allows for teachers and assistants to learn, ask questions and make suggestions that support the student in real time, real situations.  I know that as an SLP in an elementary school, I have been guilty of taking my small groups into the resource room, closing the door and never knowing the impact that I am having on their learning.  It is more than data points and graphs.  Our knowledge of speech and language development/disorders is immense, but it means nothing if we don’t support students and teach staff members how to utilize what we do into the classroom.  As quoted from the text, “The culture of isolation decreases the risk taking and personal responsibility that are necessary to adopt innovations.”  The book outlines many concerns/fears that we as SLPs have if we make this type of change.  Collaboration theraapy treats the person as a whole with an understanding that all the needs of a student are interrelated.  


An area that I think most of us could work on is role release (or maybe it is just me!).  Often we think that because we have the title of SLP, we are the best ones to service impaired language skills.  The reality is, we need to integrate our techniques, educate others and release the SOLE responsibility of confining our students in the resource room.  I think we could all agree that we would not feel adequate initiating treatment for fine motor or gross motor skills without the advice of an OT or PT.  It doesn’t mean however that we ignore those areas when we are treating the students individually.  Role release allows us the ability to help one another as professionals to get the most out of treatment.  


When I thought of collaboration in the past, I only thought of staff working together.  Reading this book made me realize how important parental involvement is.  Every IEP that we develop, should involve parental/guardian input.  Trust me, I realize that not every parent shows up to every meeting and sometimes, there is no number to be found to even reach them.  But when a guardian IS present in the IEP meeting, we need to take every opportunity to be sure that they are an active participant.  Many times we meet with parents of a different race, culture and educational background than the majority of the panel.  We use professional jargon and speak too quickly.  Although we would welcome their input, at times I don’t think we give them enough credit or make them feel comfortable enough to speak their minds (see Table 3.1 and figure 4.2 in the attached documents).  (If you would like to check this out–let the speech office know and we can send you the book. We can’t post it here due to copyright laws)


Assessment was addressed as well using a transdisciplinary approach.  We have all fallen into those sesssions where the child will not respond to anything on a standardized assessment due to definance or the inability due to cognitive/motor, etc restrictions.  Transdisciplinary approach using play assessement is more timely and positive for the student/parents involved.  Discipline specific tests tend to define what a child can and can’t do in a very unnatural setting.  Attached below are general assessment guidelines, sensory systems and other suggestions for non verbal communicators.  


The question is….how do we implement this into our therapy schedules???  The book suggests block scheduling and to mark minutes per month 240 minutes per month on IEP as opposed to 30 min 2x weekly.  That way you spend longer blocks with the student(s) when needed throughout the school year.  Clearly, when making your schedule you should be aware of which IEP goals you will target and what part of the day would be most successful.  I feel like this is a wonderful opportunity for us as SLPs to finally feel like we are part of the school community and finally feel like we CAN make a difference!  Students will meet their goals!!  I am not saying this will be easy, but we won’t know if we don’t try!!  


(Remember, this applies to speech as a related service in students with severe disabilities–don’t stress do your best!)


–Courtney Brock


One thought on “Collaborative Teams for Students with Severe Disabilities Integrating Therapy and Educational Services

  1. Abby Ramser says:

    I think what you posted was a perfect representation that we all can work towards. It is a learning curve but we can succeed!

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