Each state puts out data every year about special education students. I’m a data and policy nerd, so I love looking at it. One of the data points is how many kids are in each eligibility category for IEPs.

Not surprisingly, SLD or specific learning disability and speech are the two most common kinds of IEPs. But, despite being really common, parents (and sometimes even IEP teams!) don’t fully understand them.

A young boy and a woman reading a book together, the boy is pointing at the page while the woman looks on attentively as part of his speech-only IEP activities.
A young boy and a woman reading a book together, the boy is pointing at the page while the woman looks on attentively as part of his speech-only IEP activities.

There’s a lot of false information out there about speech only IEPs, so let’s dig in.

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What is a Speech Only IEP?

A Speech Only Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a specialized plan developed for students who primarily require speech-language therapy services to address their educational needs.

This type of IEP is tailored specifically to support a student’s speech and language development, and it typically outlines goals, objectives, and interventions related to improving communication skills. While it focuses solely on speech and language services, it may also incorporate strategies to support the student’s overall academic and social development as well.

That is, this IEP will only focus on speech and language. Assuming a comprehensive IEP evaluation was done, the evaluator(s) only found skill deficits in the areas of speech and language.

If you do not believe this to be the case, then you either want to request more IEP evaluations or an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE). I have covered both of those topics in other articles.

Speech Eligibility Category

This is the exact wording on speech eligibility from IDEA: Speech or language impairment means a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

If your child is eligible under that category and ONLY that category, those are the only learning disability issues they should have.

Processing, sensory, organization, executive functions (I could list dozens!), problem solving, reading, comprehension, decoding, math, physical endurance or stamina issues….are all examples of things that DO NOT fall under a speech only IEP.

Again, these are the cheapest IEPs to “do” so they get overused. And I find that it’s not fully explained to parents if they do not ask.

How is Speech Eligibility Different from the other Categories?

Speech Only IEPs differ from other eligibility category IEPs primarily in the area of focus for the student’s needs and the services provided. Here are some key differences:

  1. Focus on Speech and Language Needs: Speech Only IEPs specifically address speech and language needs. Other eligibility category IEPs may focus on different areas such as learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, or other developmental delays.
  2. Scope of Services: Speech Only IEPs primarily include speech-language therapy services, which may involve interventions to improve articulation, language comprehension, expressive language skills, fluency, voice, or social communication. Other eligibility category IEPs may include a broader range of services, such as academic accommodations, behavioral supports, occupational therapy, physical therapy, or specialized instruction.
  3. Evaluation Criteria: The criteria for determining eligibility for a Speech Only IEP typically involve assessments related to speech and language development, such as standardized tests, observations, and evaluations conducted by speech-language pathologists. Other eligibility categories may require assessments from various professionals depending on the specific disability or developmental concern.
  4. Goals and Objectives: Goals and objectives in a Speech Only IEP are tailored to address speech and language deficits and may include targets for improving specific communication skills. In contrast, goals in other eligibility category IEPs may target a broader range of skills related to academic, social, emotional, or behavioral domains, depending on the individual student’s needs.
  5. Team Composition: While both types of IEPs involve a team of professionals working collaboratively to support the student’s needs, the composition of the team may vary. A Speech Only IEP team typically includes professionals such as speech-language pathologists, special educators, parents/guardians, and may also involve other specialists as needed. Other eligibility category IEP teams may include professionals from a wider range of disciplines depending on the student’s needs.

The primary distinction lies in the specialized focus on speech and language services within a Speech Only IEP compared to the broader range of services and eligibility criteria encompassed by other eligibility category IEPs.

Let me blunt here–speech only IEPs are the cheapest ones to develop and implement. And as such, they are overused in my professional opinion.

Can You Add Academic Goals To A Speech IEP?

Yes, academic goals can be added to a Speech Only Individualized Education Program (IEP) if deemed necessary to support the student’s overall educational progress. While the primary focus of a Speech Only IEP is on addressing speech and language needs, it’s important to recognize that communication skills play a crucial role in academic success.

Therefore, if a student’s speech and language difficulties are impacting their ability to access and participate in academic instruction effectively, it may be appropriate to incorporate academic goals into their IEP.

Academic goals can certainly be integrated into a Speech Individualized Education Program (IEP) to create a more comprehensive and well-rounded plan for a student. 

Here are some examples of academic goals that can be added to a Speech IEP:

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Reading Performance:

Students will improve reading comprehension skills by accurately answering questions related to their grade-level text, using appropriate vocabulary and articulation.

Oral Presentation Skills:

Students will enhance oral presentation skills by using clear speech, appropriate pacing, and effective articulation when presenting information in class.

Written Expression:

Students will improve their written expression skills by writing readable and organized written responses, using proper grammar and vocabulary.

Vocabulary Development:

Students will expand vocabulary knowledge by learning and correctly using a specified number of new words each week, promoting effective communication in both spoken and written language.

Participation in Classroom Discussions:

Students will actively participate in classroom discussions by expressing thoughts and ideas clearly, using appropriate speech sounds, and contributing to the overall academic discourse.

Note-Taking Skills:

Students will develop effective note-taking skills during lectures, ensuring the ability to capture and retain key information for academic success.

Understanding and Following Directions:

Students will improve their ability to understand and follow verbal and written directions in various academic contexts, minimizing misunderstandings and enhancing task completion.

Reading Aloud Fluency:

Students will enhance reading-aloud fluency by practicing and improving word pronunciation, intonation, and overall speech rhythm.

Critical Thinking in Written Assignments:

Students will demonstrate critical thinking skills in written assignments by analyzing and synthesizing information, organizing thoughts coherently, and presenting logical conclusions.

Participation in Group Activities:

Students will actively engage in group activities, collaborating with their peers through effective verbal communication to achieve common academic goals.

These examples demonstrate how academic goals can be seamlessly integrated into a Speech IEP, promoting not only improved communication skills but also enhancing the student’s overall academic performance and participation. 

It’s crucial to make these goals based on the specific needs and abilities of the individual student.

Here are some scenarios where academic goals might be included in a Speech Only IEP:

  1. Speech and Language Support for Academic Tasks: If a student struggles with verbal expression or comprehension, goals related to participating in class discussions, understanding academic vocabulary, or following multi-step directions may be included.
  2. Reading and Writing Skills: Speech and language difficulties can often impact reading fluency, comprehension, and writing skills. Goals targeting phonemic awareness, reading comprehension strategies, writing mechanics, and composition skills may be incorporated to support academic achievement.
  3. Content Area Learning: Academic goals related to accessing and understanding content in specific subject areas (e.g., science, social studies, math) may be included if speech and language deficits are hindering the student’s ability to comprehend and engage with academic material.
  4. Study Skills and Strategies: Goals focusing on executive functioning skills, organization, time management, and study strategies may be relevant if speech and language challenges impact the student’s ability to effectively manage academic tasks and assignments.
  5. Assistive Technology Integration: If appropriate, goals related to the use of assistive technology tools to support academic tasks (e.g., speech-to-text software, text-to-speech programs) may be included to enhance the student’s access to the curriculum.

Incorporating academic goals into a Speech Only IEP should always be done with careful consideration of the student’s individual needs and the impact of speech and language difficulties on their academic performance.

Collaboration among the IEP team members, including speech-language pathologists, special educators, general education teachers, parents/guardians, and other relevant professionals, is essential to ensure that the goals are meaningful, measurable, and aligned with the student’s overall educational objectives.

Issues I See with Speech Only IEPs

Since speech only IEPs are some of the most common IEPs out there, I see a lot of them. And I see a lot of families experiencing the same issues over and over again.

Here is a sample.

  1. The child actually needs more than speech services. If this is the case, ask for comprehensive evaluations.
  2. Parents agree to a speech only IEP because they’ve been fighting for an IEP forever. So, they’re just happy to get something and agree to this even if it’s not enough.
  3. The child has other issues, but they are not listed in IEP present levels. So, the child achieves their speech goals and the team determines an IEP is no longer needed. Advice is same as above–ask for comprehensive evaluations
  4. SLP only focuses on articulation. There are so many more speech issues besides articulation! Make sure that the speech evaluation assessed everything, not just articulation.
  5. Child doesn’t have any speech issues, but a few minor things are highlighted to warrant a speech only IEP. This is a financial windfall for schools in some states–get the money for the IEP, but don’t provide services and keep the money.

As always, go with your gut and pursue issues if you believe that a speech only IEP is not what your child needs.

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