Social Language Assessments Don’t Have To Be Scary

Social Language Assessments Don’t Have To Be Scary

School based SLPs have to assess a LOT of different disorders across a large span of ages. During the course of my career, I have assessed students at the preschool level all the way to high school. Feeling confident with speech assessments in so many speech and language areas is overwhelming. Have you also noticed the increasing demands to add more assessments to your reports, so that they are legally defensible? That makes doing them extra scary. Because, one, I fear that I won’t have enough time. Secondly, I want to make sure I have covered all the areas of concern. Which takes more time. That I don’t always have. Today, I want to share about how SLPs can feel more confident when conducting social language assessments. I know they can feel scary, and time consuming. Knowing how to map out what you need can make doing them less intimidating.

Social language assessments don't have to be scary when you have resources and a plan for how to do them well!

Social Language Assessments May Not Be Your Strength

Let me just clarify this for anyone looking for time hacks and ways to make these assessment go quicker: social language assessments take a lot of time. End of story. The best practices I am going to share today are going to feel like more work. I know you are probably thinking, “Girl, I don’t have time for all this extra stuff.” And guess what, I know you don’t have time. Especially if your workload is out of control.

So, if you are not comfortable with social language assessments, and this info feels like a lot, just take it one step at a time. There are still areas in the field of social language assessment that I would love to feel more confident about, like apraxia assessments for example. I have never really had a student with suspected apraxia, so I would be looking to all you SLPs for help in this area. Even though I have gained an understanding for the framework for social language assessments, it still feels overwhelming at times.

Tips For Defeating Overwhelm When Doing Social Language Assessments

  1. Start planning out and doing your social language assessment early. Do not wait until the week before the IEP to start these assessments. Your stress will skyrocket and you will be scrambling for information that you need. Additionally, the chances that you forget valuable information will increase too.
  2. Pencil in when you are going to do different parts of the assessment in your calendar. If you have a 15 minute chunk of time, pencil in that you are going to observe that student in class. Or review the case history and/or call the parent for concerns they see at home. If it isn’t on your schedule, you will find something else to do.
  3. Ask for help. I rely on my SLP colleagues and the student’s teacher to help guide my assessment tools. When I have completely a large bulk of the assessment, I will consult with other SLPs about eligibility, goals and how to word observations in my report. Along with the assessment results, the student’s teachers and parents help me determine what goals would help impact the student the most in the classroom setting. With social language, there are so many skills to assess and work on. When there are too many to choose from, I struggle with nailing down what is impacting the student the most. That’s why I rely on my team’s expertise to help me feel confident with my assessment conclusions.

social language assessments

Tips For Feeling Confident With Your Assessment Findings

  1. Get familiar with understanding characteristics of social pragmatic deficits and characteristics of students with a diagnosis of Autism. This will help you when describing the specific deficits as well as the skills the student has.
  2. Know what is typical. When you have a “moment,” go into a general education classroom for the different ages and see what is typical for the developmental age group. Hang out at recess and lunch and see what typically developing students do with each other. This will help you know what to look for when assessing. If you don’t have that time, at lunch, sit in the staff room and ask your teachers to share what is typical for their students.
  3. Use your Student Study Team (SST) or gen ed RTI process to streamline these social language assessment referrals. I typically will attend all language-concern SST meetings. At those meetings, I will try to collect as much background information from the teacher and parent as possible. This is when I will have them fill out a background questionnaire, so I have it from day one. If you need more tips about my referral process, check out my blog post HERE.

What To Look For In Interviews With Parents & Teachers

In your background section, you want to include information about the child’s developmental milestones. You also want to include previous assessments conducted as well as any other pertinent information relevant to the child’s background. If you want more tips on what should be included in this section of your assessment, check out this blog post. Here are a few things to ask and look out for during these interviews:

-Reports of language regression after normal language onset. This is unique to Autism and not found among children with other developmental delays (Lord, Shulman, et. al. 2004).

-Listen for report with concerns with the child’s early developmental milestones.

-Listen for the child having strong interests and enjoying to talk about perseverative topics (only want to talk about trains with everyone). Furthermore, other red flags may also be the student exhibiting restricted interests (really likes penguins or only plays with cars).

What other red flags do you look and listen for when collecting parent interviews?

Speech & Language Areas To Cover In Your Assessment

Based on the background section, you will know the main areas of concern. The bulk of your assessments should be focused on the main areas of concern. It is best to document informal and/or formal assessment findings in all areas even if the team doesn’t express concern. For example, if the team has expressed concerns with having conversations with peers and understanding social language, your report should mostly be addressing the areas of concern. However, you still need to document skills observed with articulation, language, fluency, etc.

It is important to include standardized language and social pragmatic assessments in your testing, but equally important to do dynamic assessment. Furthermore, documenting observations of the child in natural settings demonstrates how the student is applying social pragmatic language in real life situations.

Assessing Receptive & Expressive Language Considerations

There are a lot of standardized assessments available to help you gather information about the student’s performance. Typically, I will do a language screener if I do not have concerns with vocabulary and grammar.  If receptive and expressive language abilities are a significant concern, then I do a full battery of tests in that area.

Pragmatic Language Assessment Tools

Here are some standardized assessments I have used to formally evaluate social pragmatic language understanding and use:

The Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals – 5th Edition (CELF-5) has a Pragmatic Profile checklist that you can fill out with parents and teachers. It also has a Pragmatic Activities Checklist that provides the clinician with a criterion reference score. I prefer to do the Pragmatic Activities Checklist because you get to see how the student applies his/her language skills in real time social interactions. The Pragmatic Profile checklist has a lot of great descriptive information to help you narrow down the child’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Clinical Assessment of Spoken Language – 2nd Edition (CASL-2) has several subtests that look at figurative language in the areas of Inferences, Pragmatic Language, Meaning From Context, Nonliteral Language, and Double Meaning. These subtests can help you determine if the student struggles with using context clues to figure out the language meaning.

The Test Of Narrative Language – 2nd Edition (TNL -2) assesses how a student can comprehend a story and tell a story. Based on the results from this assessment it can tell me if they can shift perspective and explain the character’s thoughts, motives, and actions. It also allows me to evaluate how well the student can see the big picture of the story or if they lack important details about the story. When the student is missing big chunks of the story, this can also demonstrate how or why the student has weaknesses with following the main idea of a conversation.

Receptive, Expressive & Social Language Assessment – Elementary looks at understanding and expressive use of language in the areas of vocabulary and syntax. It also has a social language component that gives you good information and is relatively quickly to give. The RESCA – E has a social communication observation scale to help determine how the student is performing in naturalistic settings.

Standardized Social Language Assessments

Clinical Assessment of Pragmatics test battery is a video-based assessment tool that elicits responses from the student about real-life social situations. You can obtain information about what the student’s ability to pick up on perspective taking, non-verbal and verbal cues from these video based situations. I learned about this standardized measure at CSHA 2018. This year, I am using it with a few students.

There are a lot of assessment tools available for completing social language assessments.

You can download a free assessment report template for how to write up your findings in your report. For your students that may “know” the right answers for social situations, this assessment may be able to elicit the weaknesses with applying social pragmatic language in a real life context.

Social Language Development Test – Elementary measures the language needed to make inferences about how someone is thinking or feeling based on the social context. This assessment also measures how well the student can make multiple interpretations of situation, if they can take on the perspective of others in problem situations and negotiate and support their peers. There is also the Social Language Development Test – Adolescent for older students.

Test of Pragmatic Language – Second Edition is a standardized measure that evaluates social communication in context, telling you how well students listen, choose appropriate content, express feelings, make requests, and handle other aspects of pragmatic language. If you do have to use formal assessments, this one is great because it tests language skills up to the age of 18.

Informal Pragmatic Language Assessment Resources

Social Thinking has an informal assessment framework called the ILAUGH model. It provides a framework for how you can report informal assessments to explain the skills a student is or is not exhibiting. The following is the acronym for ILAUGH: Initiating communication, Listening with the eyes and brain, Abstracting and inferencing, Understanding perspective, Getting the big picture (gestalt), and Humor and human relationship.

One powerful informal assessment is completing the Double Interview that I learned about from the book by Social Thinking – Thinking About YOU, Thinking about ME. Using this method, you conduct an interview with the student and observe how they respond to your questions. Then, you let the student interview you and see what types of questions they ask and what social behaviors they exhibit. One time, I showed a picture of my dad and myself on my wedding day. The student thought he was my husband. The double interview helps with figuring out if students can use background knowledge/cues to make social inferences and so many more skills! You can get a free checklist to use while doing the double interview and sample questions to ask HERE.

To informally evaluate a child’s theory of mind, you can administer the Sally – Anne Test to see if the child can shift perspectives and has a strong theory of mind.

Classroom Observations of the Student

I would recommend that you perform at least two observations of the student during naturally occurring situations. I like to watch the student at recess or lunch. Another good time to watch the student is during a collaborative instruction time. Here are some other times when you can observe the student:

  • Structured vs. unstructured times
  • Desired vs. undesired activities
  • Adult-directed vs. student-directed
  • Easy vs. difficult activities
  • Familiar vs. unfamiliar
  • In small groups, large groups
  • With family and peers

Here are some things to look for when observing the student

  • Use of eye contact (be mindful of the student’s cultural background and customs)
  • Topic maintenance and conversation
  • Language flexibility (understanding non-literal language)
  • Gestures and non-verbal language
  • Prosodic differences
  • Stereotyped, perseverative speech and echolalia
  • Ability to initiate, and close a conversation

If you are short on time and can’t observe the child. I recommend getting feedback of observations that the teacher is seeing in the classroom. Furthermore, I would also rely on the parent’s observations at home. That said, it I highly recommend doing observations of the student in a natural environment. You are the clinician that can determine the child’s social pragmatic understanding and use.

Social Pragmatic Checklists To Help You Identify Presence Of Skills

There is a checklist on the RESCA -E and the CELF – 5. Another comprehensive checklist to look into is the The Social Skills Checklist (Quill 2000).

If you are conducting social language assessments for minimally verbal students, I highly recommend using The Communication Matrix to informally assess the student’s functional communication. What checklists have been helpful for you to determine presence of skills?

What Assessment Tools & Resources Do You Use For Your Social Language Assessments?

I would love to hear about your expertise in conducting social language assessments. Share below resources that you have found helpful! I would love to know how you streamline your social language assessments too.