CA Dept. of Education


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Secondary Issues Archive 2009


Priscilla Harvell, M.A., CCC-SLP
Secondary and Speech/Language Specialist

Priscilla Harvell's expertise is supported by over 20 years in the field of Special Education as a Speech and Language Pathologist, Special Day Class Teacher and eight years as a Secondary Specialist for the Northern California Diagnostic Center.

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  • Are speech/language services required for students with Intellectual Disability/MR?



Is there any Ed. Code that requires Speech/Language services for a student with Intellectual Disability/Mental Retardation? Who makes this decision for the SLP in the public schools: professional organizations (CSHA and ASHA) or is this based on local district policy?



Hi Joy,

Your question regarding providing speech and language services to students with Intellectual Disability/Mental Retardation continues to be a topic of discussion with SLPs in school settings. As a previous SLP in the public schools, I often weighed the effectiveness of “therapy” interventions with this population. At that time, we were told not to provide services because the classroom teacher was responsible for delivering language intervention during class time. However, I determined my role based on the student’s need and ability to understand, process, and functionally use the language concepts being taught.

The Ed. Code does not specifically require Speech/Language services for a student with Intellectual Disability/Mental Retardation. However, serving this population could impact your caseload since most of these students’ speech/language skills would fall below the 7 th or 8 th percentile criteria on tests to qualify them for interventions/services. Often times, in spite of the SLP’s concerns regarding quality/effectiveness of service to this specific population, pressure from administrators and/or IEP teams to address and increase “therapy” may restrict service delivery options. Each SLP must decide when such influences begins to impact the quality and appropriateness of services provided to ALL students on his/her caseload.

I am unaware of any CSHA “formal” policies specifically related to providing services to students with Intellectual Disability/Mental Retardation. CSHA would recommend that school SLPs follow federal and state assessments (Title 5 section 3030 - - read speech or language disorder section) and IEP plans. There are research and professional information/articles available on our national association's website ASHA at

Your question appears to have personal undertones regarding high caseload and the SLP’s ability to provide effective service delivery. If that is the case and you are required by the LEA to service this population, I would focus on functional communication and teach these students the vocabulary of school (requires collaborating with their teacher(s), home (requires interviewing the family) and the community (requires knowledge of safety and travel/transportation issues). These areas are functional and critical in the student’s everyday living environment (s) and are life long skills needed regarding adult options.

Your role is to evaluate the student’s ability to communicate and make recommendations to help him/her maneuver in their environment. Once you evaluate, service delivery may look like a variety of appropriate models and procedures, e.g., coll aborative consultation, monitoring progress, use of support personnel, and new and advanced technologies. For example, Alternative Au gmentative Communication (AAC) or Assistive Technology (AT) systems may be warranted for students with moderate to severe/profound language impairment.

I am a Secondary Specialist/SLP so I primarily evaluate students between the ages of 14 through 22 years. Although Transition in the IEP is legally required at age 16, this is the age range when Transition planning is vital in IEP development and planning process. If asked to offer recommendations for this age range, I suggest that the SLP work closely with the classroom teacher either in a collaborative or consultative role to create realistic and meaningful goals that prepares the student for adult life. These goals are referred to as “measurable post-secondary goals” (MSPG). Read more about MPSG in Transition to Adult Living… at If additional intervention is deemed appropriate, strategies should focus on language and communication skills that support classroom, community, and work based environments, e.g., adult/work related vocabulary, pragmatics, social skills, etc. In an ASHA Leader article, Vol. 9 No. 9 dated May 11, 2004, the authors discuss “Practical Communication Services for High School Students with Severe Disabilities: Collaboration During the Transition to Adult Services” that are relevant across age groups. They talk about the following focuses for the SLP to consider:

  • Help the team understand functional communication
  • Document how and why the student communicates
  • Document the communication skills needed in living and vocational tasks
  • Use professional references

Keeping these focuses at the forefront of your work with the cognitively challenged student will help you meet the challenge whether your directive comes from LEA administration, or local and/or national organizations.

I hope this information was helpful!

  • Tips for teaching students how to be successful as a middle school student.


I teach a special day class in a middle school. What are some tips for teaching my students how to be a success as a middle school student that also prepares them for adult life?



Middle school students are my favorite group of adolescents to work with. This is a time when they can be warm and wonderful, sometimes scary, exciting, and at times, silly! Your students are beginning to encounter dramatic changes in life experiences, body changes, intellectual growth, and emotional growth.

So, why not interject a few long-standing “tips” for future successes? Below, I list some suggestions generated from my involvement in classroom/student projects dealing with self awareness/knowledge, goal setting, the importance of communication and research. I hope these tips are useful.

Successful middle school students should learn to:

  • Be responsible and know themselves. 
    When you break down the word “responsibility”, the key words are “respond” and “ability.” Your students must begin this journey by looking honestly at their personal strengths and weaknesses, and by learning to determine their own sense of responsibility for their behavior.
  • Reflect success 
    Ask your students what kind of person they would like to become and the types of goals they want to achieve. Have them identify and interview a positive adult role model, who has achieved the same goals and reflects the same success they desire. Remind them that not every role model has to be a famous basketball player, movie actor, or singer. Ask them to look for role models in their own home, neighborhood, school, and churches.
  • Aim toward their goal 
    Do not worry if their goal is unrealistic! You want them to be successful in school and you can use their goals to motivate and inspire. First start by identifying their end goals and then identify the little steps necessary to reach their goas. 
  • Organize and prioritize 
    Teach your students how to organize their day to make the best of their time and energy. Remind them of their goal every time they get distracted by other things, i.e., negative people who are not focused, drugs, etc. Help them organize their work area, use a daily planner, create a personal “To Do” list, and regularly evaluate their progress. You will need to show them how to evaluate what is/is not working. Checklists work well with this population.
  • Communicate 
    Keep communication open and ongoing. As adults, we know that communication is the essential key to understanding. Encourage them not to be afraid to ask questions, and to listen when answers are given.
  • Stop, Look, and Listen 
    This may be one of the most important tips. Always emphasize that their world will continue to change and evolve, so they should be prepared to review, reevaluate, and renew their goals. Let them know that we all do this and that any changes should not be viewed as disappointments, but as opportunities to improve their plans for a realistic future and long term.

One final note: Do not give up on your students. All of you are in it for the long haul in what can only be a “win win” partnership. Best of luck!

  • Transition planning with students with criminal backgrounds.


Hello Priscilla,

I've been asked to submit a question to you for a course at SJSU. I am a special education teacher and I work with HS students most of which have criminal backgrounds and/or are involved with street gangs. How can I guide such students to an adulthood that is a positive part of our community and to leave behind their old ways? What transition planning might instill them with hope or confidence that they could live a life that is fulfilling and worthwhile when their fathers or other family roll models are lifers at Pellican Bay Prison or full members of gangs?

Thanks for considering my question for a response.

Michael Pressman


Hi Michael,

The needs of your students are distinct and they deserve your best effort to help them meet their goals.  Your question illustrates your desire to facilitate direction, create motivation and instill in your students the confidence and trust needed to survive in society despite the odds they have encountered.

My first inclination is that NO ONE has ever taken the time to find out the following information about or from your students:

  • Who they are;
  • What their life goal(s) is/are;
  • If they can name their strengths;
  • What their values are;

Typically adults have already made assumptions based on the student’s behaviors, background, cognitive challenges, academic performance, etc. Therefore, your students may be resistant or distrustful; however, some of them will realize that you have their best interest at heart and may begin to open up and work with you. Make sure your interest in them is GENUINE because students can detect when adults are REAL and not merely “earning a paycheck”.

A good place to start is to help your students explore and develop THEIR voices so others’ “see” and “hear” who they are via their account of personal information. My first suggestion is to find out what is most important to each of your students, e.g., life goals. Then, have them discuss what is preventing them from reaching their life goals.

From there, I would help your students develop the following self-determination skills:

  • Goal setting
  • Personal choice and decision making
  • Self-regulation capacities
  • Interpersonal problem-solving competencies
  • Personal advocacy
  • Prerequisite social skills
  • Self-evaluation
  • Persistence and appropriate risk-taking

These self-determination skill areas are not new; however, they are critical in order for your students to make the successful transition from school to work and experience positive community options. All individuals, with/without disabilities, deserve and need to develop a sense of self-dignity and self-worth that is a by-product of these self-determination areas.

The following resources may help you develop approaches to facilitate a planning process for your students so your goals and theirs are met.


Students’ can complete information about their dreams/goals, strengths, challenges, accommodations, learning style(s), supports, and steps to their dreams.

Interview students about their plans, interests, strengths, challenges.

View the High School Transition Portfolio teacher’s guide and student portfolio for specific strategies. Students can use their portfolios at their IEP meetings, meeting with probation officers, and future employers.

Student’s learn what employers expect on the job, e.g., being on time, following directions, accepting feedback, working with others, etc. These expectations correspond with school expectations.

This is a great resource that includes discussions on legal issues, driver’s license, drugs and alcohol, etc. from a teenager’s perspective.

  • California Career Zone - There is an interest survey titled Assess Yourself and a section for students to complete a Reality Check related to expenses incurred when they live on their own and/or with a roommate. Double click on “flash version” to enter the site.

Good luck!

  • Resources for ADA information for students to use.


I have found your Middle School and High School Transition Portfolios on-line! They are terrific and contain much of the important information needed for students to start on their transition to the adult world. The presentation format is well adapted for student interest.

I am the transition coordinator for 9-12 graders with disabilities at a high school here in Honolulu, Hawaii and am currently looking to update my senior Transition Information and Resource folder.

Part of this portfolio contains information on self determination, namely ADA. What I would like to do is present ADA information to small groups of our disabled students. I have some of the information regarding ADA, but would think there must be a format such as your transition portfolios that I fount on-line. Something that is about ADA and high school student with disabilities and is user and reader friendly.

Would you have a resource I could go to on-line or from your department that would break down ADA information for students with disabilities to use?

Thank you, Laura


Hi Laura,

I wish I could personally come to Honolulu and discuss my answer with you; however, , I will do my best via Ask a Specialist web site!

Our Middle and High School Transition Portfolios (M/HSTP) were developed for student with mild to moderate disabilities. However, since I am not sure of the ability levels of your student population, I will take a cue from your phrase “the presentation format is well adapted for student interest.” to mean that they function within the mild to moderate ability levels. It is great that you want your students to understand the various federal laws that will/may impact their adult lives at school and on the job. Understanding these laws can be confusing for adults, yet alone students.

Now, my response to your question is yes and no. There are many resources, but few are student friendly. I did found web sites that may meet your needs but they require that you create a document for your students at their ability levels (see web sites below). The web site offers student activities on various disability rights topics.

Another thought may be that you create a collaborative research project for your students. For example, have them gather general information on ADA and create a question and answer document, collage, short essay, or true/false quiz. Using this approach helps develop student “buy in” to what might otherwise be a mundane and/or boring lesson (In their mines at least!) This should be fairly easy to accomplish.

I know my response did not give you a document that is written and ready to use, but the resources below and option described above may provide the impetus to generate a document that works for you and your students. Let me what you come up with.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) web site resources:

    ADA Regulations and Technical Assistance Materials – This site appears to be all inclusive from general documents, publications and information, and state/local government.
    ADA home page – This web site offers information of federal resources and ADA publications.
    U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – At this site the focus is on ADA and employment concerns. The format is in question and answers form.
  • How can I convey the value of a high school diploma to a disabled student?


Ms. Harvell,

An 12th grade student with fewer than 20 credits said she is not interested in working towards a high school diploma because she has heard that when she turns 18, she can apply for state disability insurance and then she can stay at home and not have to work after she turns 18. I explained to her that state disability insurance is funding that can be cut and that the state requires students to have transition training as part of their IEP to better support them to become independent contributing members to society. How do I explain to her the value of a high school diploma for greater employability options and independence during her lifetime than depending on government hand-outs?

Thank you,



Hi Ann,

Yours is a perplexing question for a couple of reasons: the student is in the 12 th grade and has only 20 credits! A high school diploma may be out of reach for her right now and require the district to pursue additional options.

In a previous Ask a Specialist posting, I responded to a similar question; however, it was the parents who expressed little interest in whether their daughter worked, went to college or attended a training program after high school. Refer to my response for suggestions that may help you solve your dilemma. Go to

Now let’s take a look at your student. You have started to provide information to her by informing her of the tenuous predicament of state disability funding issues. In addition, she needs to know that not everyone qualifies for state disability programs. She may be confused so find out what her REAL concern may be. Is she afraid she will fail to be successful? What you need to do is to help this young lady process her choice, rather than telling her it is not the best one.

Start by talking about making choices and that people make choices everyday and that their choices do not always have positive outcomes.

Next, help her process her goal to collect disability insurance and stay at home after age 18. Use these questions, and develop others, to help her problem solve the pros and cons of her choice:

  1. What is the application process to apply for disability insurance?
  2. What are the criteria for receiving funds?
  3. What if I do not qualify?
  4. How long will the services last if I qualify?
  5. What if the agency cuts back on allocated funding and my check is decreased?
  6. Will there be enough money to pay my monthly expenses, e.g. rent, food, clothing, medical, and leisure activities?

Although your student seems to have given up and made her life choice to live off of disability insurance, do not let that stop you. Through transition assessments, with parent input being beneficial in this situation, hopefully some interests in a career or field will emerge, that can then be included in the IEP. Remember that even if a student has no desire to seek further education or training to become employed in the future, measurable post secondary goals need to be developed and included in the IEP of a transition-aged student.

Her IEP should document that everything has been done to help her explore possible choices in the area of education/training, employment and independent living. These are the transition areas that must be addressed in a student IEP at age 16.


Introduce your students to the following resources to help her explore possible interest that may lead to a more informed personal life choice.

  • The Youthhood website was built to help youth plan their future. Here, youth can start thinking about what they want to do with their lives and begin planning for the future.
  • CareerZone http://www.cacareerzone.orgUsers may search by job cluster and select an occupation or search by job title to access occupational information based on the O*NET database. A guided tour, self-assessment, featured career, and additional resources are also available. Make sure your student completes the REALITY CHECK SURVEY EXERCISE. I am sure she will be surprised, overwhelmed and hopefully motivated to rethink her life option.

  • Should students be upfront about their disabilities to potential employers?


Ms. Harvell,

When working with our districts transition partner, the form asks the Resource Specialist to fill in what needs or modifications a student might need in the work force.  Should students let potential employers now they may have difficulties with multiple directions?  Will this follow a person around in a negative way?  Should the Resource Specialist suggest to the students to let potential employers know their disabilities upfront?

Thank you for your time,



Hi Suzanne,

Yours is an excellent question! Much discussion occurs around whether a student should/should not divulge difficulties with a potential employer. Many students already do not want anyone to know they are in special education, let alone that they have a “disability”.

The Resource Specialist and others who work with the student can best serve him/her by facilitating self-exploration, self-awareness, and research activities so that they can make an informed choice. My approach with students on this subject is to first help facilitate their self-awareness regarding their strengths, challenges, and what accommodations are available for current and future successes. Self-knowledge in these areas and how they may impact their performance on the job may help them decide if informing a potential employer is the way to go. Along with self-knowledge/awareness, your students should have a basic understanding of what the law says about an employer ’s responsibility when considering hiring an individual with a disability.

This is what the law says about employment and persons with disabilities:

“The employment provisions of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibit dis crimination in all job-related practices and activities. The ADA requires that all employment decisions be made without reference to the existence or consequence of disability.

Employers are required to provide "reasonable accom modations" for workers with disabilities when such accommodations would not impose any "undue hardship" such as significant difficulty or expense to the overall business operation. The term "reasonable accommodation" may include such things as:

• Making the workspace physically accessible;

• Acquisition or modification of equipment or devices;

• Job restructuring, or modified work schedules;

• Appropriate adjustment or modifications of training materials or policies; or

• Provision of qualified readers or interpreters.

If an individual does not request an accommodation, an employer is not obligated to provide one.”

Read more about ADA at

Once the student makes the choice to divulge his/her disability to a potential employer, suggest the following do’s and don’ts when participating in an interview:

During the interview, the student should:

  • Talk about your strengths and past successes (list a few).
  • State that you have challenges but have successfully applied accommodations to enhance your performance (list a few).
  • If appropriate, make them aware of your past successes, and suggest how they could enhance your future success
  • Make it clear that you are a serious, motivated individual who will succeed on the job if a reasonable allowance is made for a specific problem you may have in a specific area.
  • Be on time for the scheduled interview.
  • Be calm and courteous, and do not interrupt.

During the interview, the student should not:

  • Quote ADA or dictate policy
  • Get mad
  • Cry on their shoulder
  • Request unreasonable adjustments, or make demands for large amounts of their time

The idea is for the student to sell their STRENGTHS, not their limitations and how they have learned to work SMARTER, not HARDER.

Good luck.

  • When is it appropriate to dismiss a student.


Hi Priscilla,

I was at one of the transitional seminars given at San Mateo County Office of Education in December. I am a speech therapist at a high school. I have an 18 year old Down’s syndrome boy that currently has speech. He will be moving on to another program at the district office when he graduates. When is it appropriate to dismiss students that fit his profile?

Thank you for your feedback.


Your question poses a dilemma school speech therapists encounter when working with secondary students with moderate to severe disabilities. My initial response to your question was “I can not realistically answer this question”. Why? There is missing information for me to offer an appropriate response. Therefore, I ask you to consider the following questions which may allow you to make a decision that meets everyone’s (student, family, school) needs/expectations. These questions should only be viewed as examples and not all inclusive.

  • What is his cognitive ability? Is he able to generalize the skills he is learning from your interventions?
  • When you say “has speech”, do you mean “language/communication therapy”?
  • What are his speech goals? Are they realistic in light of his disability?
  • Can he tell you his choice (yea or nay) for remaining in “speech class”?
  • What are the communication needs of his current environments (school, home, work, community)? Future program?
  • How are speech services delivered, e.g., push in, pull out, or consultation with his teacher and/or IEP team?
  • Is he receiving a certificate of completion vs. a diploma? You say “…when he graduates”. District special education services end when students graduate with a diploma.
  • What is the special education policy? Is there precedent for keeping students on your caseload even if they do not benefit from your interventions?
  • What does his family say? He has reached the age of majority, 18, and is considered an adult unless his parents have conservatorship.

After considering these and other questions, evaluate your goals and activities for best practices. Your student should be able to communicate using verbal means of expression or with the support of an appropriate AT device.

As children with Down syndrome (DS) grow older, independent communication skills become more important in school, vocational and social situations . Therefore, interventions and strategies must be realistic and include best practices. Examples of communication intervention include the following areas:

  • Communication skills at school (collaboration with teacher, vocational teacher, and other involved staff persons is critical)
  • Communication skills at home & in the community (necessary for leisure and self-help skills leading to independence)
  • Conversational skills/pragmatics (how to start & end conversations, take turns, stay on topic)
  • Assistive technology (AT)/augmentative alternative communication (AAC) for communication. Using a variety of communication methods may help your student interact with others in different settings.
  • Following directions, understanding a sequenced task and performing new tasks (these rely heavily on language comprehension and social awareness needed for daily interaction with others)
  • Social interaction skills (greeting teacher/employer, conversing with peers/coworkers)
  • Social survival skills for success in vocational settings/adult activity centers (recite full name, address, telephone number or know how to access this information)
  • Speaking clearly enough to be understood by someone by the second repetition (supported via AT or ACC if needed)
  • Initiating contact with peer or co-worker when needing help on a task
  • Communicating emotions (interacting with people becomes more complex as students with DS grow older; using gestures and facial expressions are just as effective as verbal means or picture boards)
  • Teaching choice-making (options for choice making include nonverbal means (pointing to pictures), e.g., fast food restaurants offer picture menus which provide alternative ways to order food. A picture board could be made to allow choices for activities like bowling, going to the movies, or shopping.
  • Role playing can be used to help people learn and practice social and communication skills for specific situations. This strategy is useful for building a variety of verbal and nonverbal interaction skills in social, educational or vocational settings. AND the students love it!

In conclusion, the student with DS requires appropriate communication skills which are critical in determining success in leisure, educational and vocational settings. Even though I do not know your students level of communication skills, he can be helped to use verbal, nonverbal, or AT/ACC communication techniques to accomplish various tasks in his daily life.

Let me know if I was on the mark; if not, contact me at 510-794-2500 ext. 154.


  • How to help students set realistic and meaningful goals.


I am a special education teacher in a high school and am preparing to conduct 16 year old students IEP. His special education eligibility is specific learning disability (mild to moderate ability range). I am pretty sure my student will not pass the high school exit exam and am worried that his parent’s expectations for his future exceed his learning and intellectual capabilities. What can I do before or during the meeting to let them know how important it is that my student’s IEP goals and activities are realistic and meaningful? Also, is there some resource(s) that will help them understand what is important for their son’s future success?

Thanks for your help,


Hi Lois,

This is a great question and one I hear all often. I have a couple of tools you might find useful before or during the IEP meeting to keep your student’s planning “student-focused” and not solely “teacher or parent-focused”.

One tool is called the Transition Planning Profile. This document is used to interview the student about his/her dream(s)/goal(s), interests, strengths, accommodations, supports, and steps toward achievement of the goal(s). This information is then shared at the IEP meeting and gives the student a “voice” in the planning process and helps him/her develop self-advocacy skills. Here is an example:


Transition Planning Profile

Another strategy to use consists of questions for the IEP team to evaluate the potential outcome of the goals/activities they develop for a student. Of course these questions vary depending on the student; but here are a few examples:

  • Does the student have the opportunity to actively participate in the development of his/her plan?
  • Is the student’s voice heard? How is his/her voice heard?
  • Do family and/or friends (if appropriate) with an interest in the student’s future have opportunities to participate?
  • Does the plan include statements about the student’s needs, interests, learning style, preferences, and future lifestyle choices?
  • Do the goals/objectives reflect the opportunity to learn self-determination skills and independence?
  • Do the goals/objectives reflect movement toward the student’s chosen future lifestyle?
  • Do the goals/objectives provide opportunities for developing self-advocacy skills?
  • Do the goals/objectives promote acquisition of prevocational skills (if appropriate)?
  • How will services meet goals/needs?
  • What are the student’s opportunities to develop relationships and participate in community?
  • What services/supports will be obtained from agencies or natural supports?

Using these tools can help the IEP team, parents, and agencies stay focused and remember why they are there, e.g., planning for the STUDENT not themselves!

Refer to the resource below for additional links and information to address your question:

Transition to Adult Living: A Resource and Information Guide (2007 revised edition; great resource for Transition information)