On Dec. 19, 2012, after a long day, I allowed my children to watch a little TV rather than doing our regular after school chore routine. My 4-year-old turned on the TV and started playing. As I sat there unwinding from the day, I began to realize that what was being reported on the news was yet another school shooting. How sad that it seemed so common to me, that it took me awhile before I realized I needed to turn this off while my own children were present.
I started to process this tragedy and use my professional speech therapy thought process to try and find a rationale. The ability to communicate is the single most important thing we do as human beings. Communication is complex and not only limited to the words we say to one another. Social language includes the ability to process non-verbal language (facial expressions, body language, tone) and in persons with disorders such as Asperger’s, Autism, and Emotional Behavioral Disorders (EBD), communication can be quite difficult and this lack of ability can often lead to violence. These individuals have trouble understanding non-verbal language cues such as facial expressions, body language, and innuendo.
According to the United States Department of Education, almost 450,000 children and youth suffer from emotional disorders. I have treated many children, adolescents, and adults with emotional and behavioral disorders and understand that poor communication skills and violence often go hand in hand. An article by The National Association of School Psychologists indicates children with EBD are under-identified within the educational system, and only a small number receive the mental health services they needs.
As a speech therapist we can use role-playing, scripting, and games to teach necessary skills such as: peer relationship skills, self-management skills such as listening to others, making friends, offering help, dealing with peer pressure and feelings, and taking another person’s perspective. We can also assist with the learning the language needed to control and express emotions such as anger, deal with teasing, and positive self-talk.
The federal public learning laws are supposed to provide funding for this underserved population. Offering mental health services and speech language therapy for these children/adolescents in our school is imperative so these kids can maintain learning in the least restrictive environment and allow safety for everyone.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association released an article in 2004 based on a study that investigated the professional opinions of Speech-Language Pathologists and their role with education and training serving students with communications orders who were involved in violence. The results of the study showed that the truth is many schools and professionals are not well equipped to deal with these types of communication issues such as social language and emotional behavioral disorders.
I’m not even going to pretend to understand the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school as there are many variables in this tragedy. My heart goes out to this community and hopefully we can learn from this experience to try and advocate for children’s, adolescents’, and young adults with disabilities and mental health issues.
Lisa Moore is a speech pathologist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. To learn more about how SVMC and Dartmouth-Hitchcock are working together for a healthier community, visit www.svhealthcare.org. "Health Matters" is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public matters and public policy as it affects health care.