June 1, 2021

SLPs, unlike many classroom teachers, have the unique benefit of getting to “keep” a student for years at a time. This leads to wonderful relationships - the inevitable connection between SLP and family and the “Remember when I just wished he’d say ANYTHING? Now he never stops talking!” moments between SLP and parents as the speech journey comes to an end. For this reason, it can be hard for both parties to let go at dismissal time.

In Iowa, students spend varying amounts of time on IEPs fully dependent on student progress, discrepancy, and need. IEPs are tied to students demonstrating an educational discrepancy from peers, and sustained as long as that need is present and impacting their educational success or access to curriculum, peers and adults in their environment.

In the area of articulation, this often means looking at a student’s performance in reading, writing, class participation, and investigating whether any social aspects related to their speech sound errors are present. Language has more obvious implications in all aspects of educational success. Likewise, fluency, social communication, AAC, voice, and everything else in our broad scope of practice, requires taking a look at educational impact and accessibility.

Dismissal conversations require a convergence of data. In Iowa, we take data and input this into a graph within the IEP system every 2-3 weeks. Each graph has a built in aim line from beginning to end and multiple points above or below the aim line requires a modification of some sort - whether that is in instructional/procedural strategy change, increase or decrease in support minutes, or materials change. This is a great way to know in real time just how students are doing and project how progress toward a goal may be achieved. It allows conversations about next steps to happen often and regularly.

While at times, let’s be real, it feels exceptionally tedious to input data for so many students so frequently, this not only allows, but requires, conversations about how to change instruction if there has been stagnation or lack of progress. Graphing opens up the door to ask what we can modify in order to encourage change. How does our specially designed instruction need to be made more accessible, difficulty level increased, or frequency/duration modified?

When you begin with the end in mind, it becomes common practice to start to have a “graduation conversation” at the initial IEP. This doesn’t mean SLPs come with a magic ball designating the exact time of dismissal, but it does mean the conversation about focusing on that celebration of dismissal is one that is initiated at the beginning and revisited at least annually. For example, when staffing in an articulation student just beginning work on /r/ at the word level, the SLP can walk parents through the process of what work looks like now, what it will look like next, and how we will all know when the student is ready to be done with specially designed instruction provided by the SLP and ready for more generalized practice with teachers and family.

Having these conversations right from the get-go enables parents to see the big picture and understand why dismissal is a reason to celebrate. There are times in annual meetings it can even be beneficial to remind parents the IEP may not even make it the full course of the year if dismissal is within sight. Our primary responsibilities as school-based SLPs are to provide the unique instruction specifically designed to support educationally relevant speech-language/communication concerns. As we pass the torch for the generalization of skills, we can supply materials to support continued practice and maintenance of learning targets in the classrooms and at home. It is critical to keep parents and teachers informed about this transition of instruction and practice to solely practice. This helps us avoid those difficult dismissal conversations when students may still sound different or lack carry-over of learned skills in all situations.

One way that has been beneficial in helping ease the transition from “speech student” to “speech graduate” is to allow graduates to become “speech coaches.” As graduation approaches, students are made aware of the impending celebration and are given the opportunity to become a speech coach. This job description entails being paired with a younger student (speech student) who has recently begun work on the targeted area in which the graduate (speech coach) has recently achieved expert status. A few times a year the coach is invited into a speech session with their buddy and asked to give tips and tricks, as well as gentle feedback. When they see one another in the hallway, they can wave and offer encouragement. This is a wonderful opportunity for our former speech students to take on leadership roles, impart their wisdom, and allow the SLPs to keep an eye on generalization and maintain the relationship with students.

Years of experience and a difficult conversation (or seventeen) have helped me hone my dismissing skills. With graduation aspirations clear from the beginning, open conversations about what support looks like when we relinquish traditional pull-out services, and an option to become a coach, those end of intervention conversations should feel a lot smoother. And that calls for a celebration!

About the Author

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Abbie Keibler is a Speech-Language Pathologist at Mississippi Bend AEA in Bettendorf, Iowa. She is a non-traditional SLP graduate with undergraduate degrees in German and Psychology and taught preschool prior to (and during!) the acquisition of her Masters of Arts in SLP at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Currently, Abbie is in her 14th year working in the schools where she serves the preschool and elementary population and is a member of the Assistive Technology Department. Abbie is an adjunct instructor at St Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, and has a special interest in comprehensive literacy for complex communicators. When not “speech-ing,” you’ll find Abbie taxi-ing her children from activity to activity or reading. She reads over 80 fiction books a year as a necessary escape.