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Summer “Work:” Ponder Your Screening Programs

Ok, it’s summer. No one wants to think about the fall and going back to school. I get it. But here’s the thing: summer is a perfect time to plan and to reflect on your work. One of my favorite quotes is from da Vinci:

“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgement will be surer, since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgement. Go some distance away, because then the work appears smaller, and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.”

Summer, for most of us whether we work in a school system or not, is for “going away” and reflecting on your work from a distance. Admittedly, I’m the type of person where my work and my play are all mixed up together in one joyous melting pot in my life, so work feels like play to me most days. But even if you’re not built this way, you can use moments across your summer to consider a key part of your work and let it “simmer” while you’re resting from the busy school year or doing other things.

So how about considering your screening program(s) across your school system? Read a little, think a little, jot a note from an idea that comes to you on your favorite restaurant napkin in your own town or abroad.

Screening is a brief look at one or more domains of interest. The results are similarly brief and often use a binary result to establish risk status—”at risk” or “not at risk.” Using a fishing analogy, the goal is to cast a wide net and grab every fish that you want—those that should be in the net. Yes, you will get some that don’t belong in the net, but in our context it’s typically better to get more than you want rather than miss those who need to be caught. Further work will establish those truly in need of early support that ultimately changes the outcome of school success.

This is the crux of early identification. I was on the phone recently with another SLP who commented, “You know, these kids who are getting diagnosed with dyslexia at age 8 (and later)… we knew about them at age 3. Every time one of my students gets that diagnosis at that later point, I know we’ve missed five years of team-based pre-reading and reading intervention.” She commented on the number of different programs and professional hand-offs in the system between ages three and eight, and the need for better, more collaborative, early identification and intervention systems.

Five years. Five. Years. Of course, ​this time gap can occur​ not ​only in written language/reading. The need for early identification and intervention cuts across the domains of our scope of practice. Our evidence base will continue to benefit from more data, but what we have today tells us essentially, “Don’t wait. Find them sooner.”

I know ​ what you might be thinking—there ​is the ideal and there ​is​ the reality. Roadblocks ​exist
everywhere. We know we have abundant opportunities for continuous improvement. ​The complexity of our service delivery models, regulatory requirements, and early student needs call ​ us​ to ​a ​leadership​ perspective as well as deep clinical expertise​–because of the central role communication plays in school and in life, many of our thought leaders ​argue that we are one of the best professional groups to lead as change agents on behalf of students. Ponder away on early identification and intervention this summer, and map out a new plan, or look for ways to improve what you already have in place!

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