Special Needs Students Where ESL is a Factor

by Tom Kloiber on October 19, 2012

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 Special Needs Students Where ESL is a Factor

Students with speech and language difficulties, hearing or cognitive impairment, physical limitations, or neurological disorders are always a challenge, but what happens when the student’s native language is not English? Add ESL issues, and treatment can really get sticky.

Making generalizations is difficult, because Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students come from diverse ethnic, economic, and home environment backgrounds. Some potential factors that affect a student’s ability to respond to therapy include:

  • Age – Older children will have a harder time adapting to a new language and an unfamiliar environment. Children under 12 typically acquire language more easily. Than older children and adults.
  • Native language – the language spoken at home is a factor. Some languages are closer to English in origin, structure, and pronunciation and inherently easier to understand as a result. Another factor is the student’s literacy in his native language.
  • Literacy in the home –  The education and literacy level of the parents can have a direct impact on the student’s ability to assimilate a new language. Illiterate parents are often unable to provide support at home in their first languages…much less in English.
  • Psychological factors – The reason for the student’s immigration might provide valuable insight into the fears and anxieties students may exhibit.

Approaching Therapy

Helping ESL students with speech-language barriers requires a highly sensitive and individualized approach. Visual apps for tablet  computers will be invaluable.

Understand that most LEP students go through an adjustment phase where verbalization is rare. While they need verbal practice, allowing them time to adjust and get comfortable in their new surroundings is ultimately more valuable.

It’s important to consider modeling language over language correction, and to expect patient repetition of even the simplest concepts. At the same time, respect the student’s age by choosing age-appropriate materials. It may be tempting to use a preschool program like Dora the Explorer to work with a 10-year-old Spanish speaker, but insulting a child’s intelligence is a certain path to therapy failure. You may even consider asking the student his preferences. His answers may reveal likes and dislikes, dreams and ideas that can open new avenues for communication and valuable insights into the mind of the student.

Where to start? Want to share some pointers on this difficult subject? What would you do in this situation?

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