Supervising Bilingual Speech-Language Aides and Paraprofessionals

  • November 2, 2009
  • Sandra Márquez

Sandra Márquez, M.A. CCC-SLP, Bilingual Speech-Language Pathologist, Chicago, IL

Sandra Márquez is a Mexican-American native of Chicago. She earned her degree from Saint Xavier University in the Communication Disorders undergraduate program. Prior to graduate school, Sandra spent one year as a speech-language paraprofessional in the Chicago Public Schools. Sandra went on to receive her master’s degree from New Mexico State University where she was enrolled in Dr. Hortencia Kayser’s Bilingual Communication Disorders program. Sandra is in her tenth year as a bilingual speech-language pathologist, of which all has been spent working with Bilingual Therapies. She currently works in the Summit, IL school district as a supervisor for two speech-language paraprofessionals.

With the increasing demand for Speech-Language Pathologists (SLP) across the country, school districts face the challenge of meeting the needs of students identified with speech, language, and overall communication impairments. Compounding this challenge is the increase of English Language Learners (ELL) requiring speech-language services as the population increases in the United States.  As the demand for speech-language pathologists grows so do the demands for district administrators to meet the needs of all students requiring speech-language services, their school district, and to work within the legal guidelines delineated at the state and federal level.  To meet these demands, many states across the country have passed legislation allowing Speech-Language Aides (SLPA) or Speech-Language Paraprofessionals (SLPP) to provide varying levels of support in the field of speech-language pathology under the direct supervision of a certified and licensed SLP.  As the description of both an SLPA and SLPP vary from state to state, general descriptions will be discussed as well as general guidelines for supervising bilingual SLPAs and SLPPs working with a linguistically diverse population.

It is important to note that the acronym SLPA also refers to a speech-language pathology assistant whom many states use interchangeably with speech-language pathology paraprofessional (SLPP) or speech-language pathology aides (SLPA).  It is important for clinicians to seek out the description and responsibilities for a SLPA and SLPP for the state in which they practice, as there is great variance among states and may differ from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s (ASHA) descriptions and scope of practice.

Speech-Language Pathology Aide (SLPA)

For the purpose of this article a SLPA has a narrower scope of responsibilities and is defined as those individuals that receive on the job training and have not received an associate degree from a technical training program specific to a speech-language paraprofessional job or a bachelor’s degree in Communication Disorders.

Responsibilities –

A SLPA’s  responsibilities can include, but are not limited to, preparing materials, maintenance checks for equipment used, clerical work such as ordering supplies and filing, preparing therapy rooms for a work session, and making phone calls to confirm appointments etc.  A SLPA works under the direct supervision of a certified SLP.   Responsibilities delegated to the SLPA typically reflect the level of training they have received, the needs of the supervising SLP, and individual state legal guidelines.

Speech-Language Pathology Paraprofessional (SLPP)

For the purpose of this article, SLPP will refer to a speech-language assistant or paraprofessional who completes course work, fieldwork, and on-the-job training specific to speech-language pathology assistant/paraprofessionals job responsibilities and workplace behaviors (ASHA).

Responsibilities –

A SLPP also works under the direct supervision of a certified SLP and follows the student’s IEP.  The SLPPs roles and responsibilities can include those listed for an SLPA but can also include direct therapy services (once trained), screenings without interpretation once trained, meeting with parents without interpreting goals or making judgments regarding prognosis, collaborating with teachers to provide services, assisting in diagnostic evaluations, documenting student performance and progress, scheduling students, and act as an interpreter for non-English speaking students and their families when appropriate, trained, and competent to do so.

A SLPP may be considered for a position once completing coursework to either receive an associate’s degree from a speech-language pathology paraprofessional training program or a bachelor’s degree in Communication Disorders.  State laws vary pertaining to the approval and certification of SLPPs who have received an associate degree in a technical training program specific to SLPP jobs.  It is equally important to note that as of Spring 2003, ASHA discontinued its registration program for SLPPs receiving an associate’s degree as well as its approval process for such training programs in December of 2003 for financial reasons.  Despite these decisions, ASHA continues to provide guidelines for the training, use, and supervision of SLPPs as many states across the country continue to hire paraprofessionals to alleviate the work load of a certified speech-language pathologist.

Supervising Speech-Language Pathologist

It is the supervising speech –language pathologist’s responsibility to ensure that they as well as their supervisees are working within state and ASHA guidelines and Code of Ethics.  It is the responsibility of the supervising SLP to research, review, and abide by these guidelines and to delegate responsibilities that are in accordance to the level of training each supervisee has received.  As previously mentioned, ASHA provides guidelines for supervising and training speech-language paraprofessionals. State educational departments provide clear descriptions of allowed and prohibited duties of SLPAs and SLPPs.

Supervising Bilingual Speech-Language Pathologist

For the bilingual speech-language pathologist who works with a linguistically diverse population and supervises bilingual SLPAs and SLPPs the roles and responsibilities are expanded.  Overseeing bilingual SLPAs and SLPPs requires additional supervision, collaboration, training and support in order to provide appropriate services to this population.  Supervisors are responsible for researching and educating both themselves and their supervisees on best practices for servicing ELLs.

The following are suggested guidelines for supervising bilingual SLPAs and SLPPs:

  1. Keep printed copies of:
    1. All state guidelines
    2. ASHA guidelines.
    3. Recommendations for best practices in working with ELLs.
  2. Follow ASHA’s guidelines and Code of Ethics
  3. Follow state guidelines
  4. Discuss areas of strength and areas in need of improvement before delegating responsibilities.
  5. Ensure that the SLPA or SLPP has a clear understanding of:
    1. their role/s and responsibilities
    2. direct vs. indirect supervision
    3. at least a basic understanding of similarities and differences in working with a linguistically and culturally diverse population vs. mainstream culture and monolingual English speaking population
  6. Check the supervisee’s levels of proficiency in the non-English language in speaking, reading, and writing.
  7. Delegate appropriate responsibilities according to all guidelines, the supervisee’s level of training, and proficiency in the second language
  8. Develop a plan and schedule for:
    1. Direct and indirect supervision according to state guidelines
    2. Training
    3. Observations
    4. Reviewing progress for areas in need of improvement
    5. Planning and prep time to develop task lists for the following week or as needed.
    6. When tasks/skills/responsibilities will be observed and/or completed
    7. Process and procedure for providing:
      1. Instructions
      2. Feedback pertaining to
        1. Professional behaviors
        2. General communication
        3. Planning and work completion
        4. Therapeutic skills if applicable
        5. Management of therapy sessions if applicable
        6. Student progress if applicable
        7. Data collection and therapy notes/logs if applicable
        8. Language usage
      3. Recommendations
      4. Documenting direct and indirect supervision dates, times, skill/task observed, and student/s observed.
  9. Provide
    1. Additional training pertaining to working with ELLs
    2. Accessible information regarding working with ELLs as a reference
    3. Clear descriptions and instructions for carrying out tasks and therapeutic services
    4. Clear models and examples of therapy strategies, techniques, and cues
    5. Clear instructions for language usage and language models for both the first and second language
    6. Clear instructions for modifying English materials to fit the language needs of each student
    7. Verbal and written instructions for the proper documentation of data collected and progress logs. Progress logs should include qualitative information (if applicable to the supervisee). Examples of such information are:
      1. Activities/materials, models, cues, techniques, strategies, modifications, reinforcement/s, and language/s used.
      2. A brief statement regarding the student’s participation, behavior, or health that may have positively or negatively impacted the outcome of a therapy session.
    8. Recommendations for translating materials and interpreting for non-English speaking students and their families.

Overseeing bilingual SLPAs and SLPPs is rewarding for both the supervisor and supervisee as there is much to be learned from each other. Keeping an open-mind will facilitate the learning process and allow for an efficient working environment.  The experience can be a positive one keeping in mind that this responsibility is a valuable part of the process of servicing not only ELLs but all students requiring speech-language services in school districts across the country.

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