Early diagnosis of student speech impairments needed

Data determines most issues aren’t identified until kids start school

Less than a third of Primary students with speech impairments on the South Shore were identified as having them before heading off to school in 2013.

According to the response from the Early Development Instrument (EDI) data, of 405 students tested, 30 were identified with speech impairments, and only nine of these students knew of their disorder prior to coming to class.

“This kind of indicates that when the children enter the building, we’re having to catch up,” said Mary Chisholm, coordinator of French second language programs, who presented this response to the South Shore Regional School Board on January 30, 2015.

In addition, 14 students were diagnosed as having a learning disability in the same measured group, but only one had been diagnosed beforehand. And of the 25 students identified by their teacher as having a behavioural problem, only one was identified before entering the school system. “I think that some of these children were not in a childcare facility that would perhaps pick up on that right away,” said Ms Chisholm providing a possible explanation for these results.

She hopes the instrument, which measures children’s readiness for school, will continue to be a community capacity-building tool, mobilizing community services and policy-makers to positively impact children’s development in specific areas by further integration of services.

“Really, the data is most relevant as we share it with our health-care partners and our primary partners that work with children zero to four,” said Ms Chisholm.

If challenges were identified earlier, plans for the child could be initiated.

Created in 2000, the research tool has been used in Canada for the past 14 years.

“One thing that’s really powerful about this document is that Primary teachers are given the voice to say what they’re seeing in the classroom,” said Ms Chisholm.

The EDI is a questionnaire completed by Primary classroom teachers to assess children’s developmental health at school entry and to help predict how children will do in elementary school.

It gathers information from five core areas of development known to be predictors of later health, education and social outcomes: physical health and well-being; social competence; emotional maturity; language cognitive ability; and communication skills and general knowledge.

“When we bring our primary teachers in, we spend a day with them. We go over with them the way they should interpret what’s written,” said Jeff DeWolfe, director of programs and student services.

“So the behaviour would be one of the questions that’s asked, and we do some training on what that looks like, and what each of the categories means, so that there is some degree of consistency based on the EDI. But there is a great deal of information to support the judgments that the Primary teachers are making.”

The results show that the top 75 per cent of Primary students in the South Shore Regional School Board are considered to be on track. Ten to 25 per cent of Primary students in the region are considered at risk – it is assumed they would find school challenging. The lowest 10 per cent are considered vulnerable – these children would definitely find school difficult.

“We’re a small board and what we can do is look at the information and deal with it at the community level,” said Ms Chisholm.

“We have to work together as a community. This is community data to offer rich learning environments for preschool children.”

She wants the board to identify resources in place for children in their communities, what is happening in other provinces, how to work with other school boards in the province and community partners.

Both British Columbia and Ontario have successfully improved their early childhood development programs thanks to EDI data.

The next EDI implementation in Nova Scotia takes place over this month.

As originally published in the LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin.

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