Speech-Language Pathologists and Education Transitions

croweThe issue

Transitions between settings are important milestones in the lives of children and young adults, as well as for their families, and have important implications for academic and social development. Transitions occur at many times in children’s lives such as between different levels of education, education settings, and from education to employment pursuits. The communication needs of deaf and hard-of hearing (DHH) children and young adults and their families means that a transdisciplinary evaluation team approach to transition planning and implementation is often needed. Professionals who specialize in communication difficulties such as speech-language pathologists are important members of the transition team for children with hearing loss, especially where children have delayed or disordered communication skills and diagnoses in addition to hearing loss.

What we know

Periods of transition can be times of heightened stress for many children and families, more so when children have needs and characteristics that impact on their ability to fit seamlessly into a school or work environment. This includes children with hearing loss and can be heightened when there are additional complexities such as being multilingual or having an additional diagnosis. Current research indicates between 20% and 40% of children with hearing loss have a diagnosis in addition to hearing loss that may impact on their speech, language, communicative, and/or cognitive development. DHH children’s transition experiences are also impacted by factors such as type of education setting, gender, popularity, acceptance by peers, and children’s relationships with their teachers.

The speech, language, and communication needs of DHH children and young adults mean that a transdisciplinary evaluation team offers a best practice solution to planning and implementing transitions for these children and families. Speech-language pathologists are professionals uniquely positioned to engage with children, families, and transition teams to ensure that the speech, language, and communication skills needs of DHH children are well understood as well as the speech, language, and communication demands of environment into which children are transitioning.

Speech-language pathologists have expertise in evaluating, treating, and supporting people with communication disorders, including difficulties with speech, language, fluency, voice, social communication, and swallowing. Speech-language pathologists work within the framework of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) and consider many factors that impact on an individual’s ability to function within their environment. The ICF has four parts and speech-language pathologists examine children’s functioning considering each of these parts when determining children’s current speech, language, and communication skills and functioning as well as the environments and activities that children interact in.

  • Body Functions and Structures: Consideration of individual differences in anatomy and physiology of the human body, for example, degree of hearing loss, vocal fold function, craniofacial structure, speech sound disorder, language impairment, and stuttering.
  • Activity and Participation: The execution of tasks/actions (activity) and involvement in life situations (participation), for example, participating in classroom discussions, playing games, making friends and buying a bus ticket.
  • Environmental Factors: The physical, social, and attitudinal environments in which children and their families interact, for example, communication partners/peers, classroom acoustics, and attitudes to use of assistive technology.
  • Personal Factors: Internal influences/characteristics that impact on individual functioning, for example, age, gender, and cultural and linguistic background.

What we don’t know

There is currently little research describing the transition planning and implementation of transition plans for DHH children, especially children moving between different education settings. There is no prescriptive formula for a successful transition and no test, score, or measure which can stand alone as a means for guiding parents and professionals. However, the uniqueness of each DHH child, family, and the environment they engage with mean that speech-language pathologists can bring an important and unique perspective to decision-making about placements and transitions.


Planning education, post-secondary, and employment placements and transitions for DHH children is a complex endeavor that requires input and perspectives from many sources. Speech-language pathologists should be included in these discussions are they can provide a unique perspective on children’s speech, language, and communication skills, the impact of these skills on children’s activity and participation, and how these skills interact with the environment to which the child will be transitioning.


Posted on Jan 5, 2017 by
Kathryn Crowe
Center for Education Research Partnerships
Rochester Institute of Technology
Charles Sturt University
kccerp {at} rit.edu


Further reading

Cupples, L., Ching, T. Y. C., Crowe, K., Seeto, M., Leigh, G., Street, L., . . . Thomson, J. (2014). Outcomes of 3-year-old children with hearing loss and different types of additional disabilities. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 19, 20-39. view details

Curle, D., Jamieson, J. , Buchanan, M., Poon, B.T., Zaidman-Zait, A., & Norman, N. (2016). The transition from early intervention to school for children who are deaf or hard of hearing: Administrator perspectives. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 22, 131-140. view details

Moeller, M. P., Carr, G., Seaver, L., Stredler-Brown, A., & Holzinger, D. (2013). Best practices in family-centered early intervention for children who are deaf or hard of hearing: An international consensus statement. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 18, 429-445. view details

Poon, B. T., Jamieson, J. R., Zaidman-Zait, A., Curle, D., Norman, N., & Simmons, N. (2016). The transition from early intervention to school for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. In M. Marschark, V. Lampropoulou, & E. K. Skordilis (Eds.), Diversity in Deaf Education. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. view details

Wolters, N., Knoors, H., Cillessen, A. H. N., & Verhoeven, L. (2012). Impact of peer and teacher relations on deaf early adolescents’ well-being: Comparisons before and after a major school transition. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 17, 463-482. view details