A Checklist for School Nurses
Donna D. Merritt, Ph.D., CCC
School nurses, particularly those in elementary schools, may have the broadest perspective of the students in their building, as they can observe children grow and communicate in various settings over multiple years. Their experience with typical development is a valuable reference point for appraising speech and language skills in children with disabilities as well as those presenting indications of being at risk. As school nurses have frequent contact with teachers, other student support services professionals, and families, they can be instrumental in sharing information about speech and language concerns. Their perspective and input can be influential in preventing speech and language problems, intervening early, or facilitating referral for a speech and language evaluation if needed.
During hearing, vision, and scoliosis screenings, school nurses have occasions, albeit brief, to engage in conversation. Sick visits to the nurse often result in more extended interactions. Although these situations may not reliably reflect a child’s day-to-day speech and language skills, they can yield useful information. Explaining physical symptoms or describing a playground accident are demanding communicative contexts for children, as they must be able to convey both the past and the present, what they have experienced, and what they are currently feeling, through words, gestures, or facial expressions.
A checklist of typical speech and language milestones for school-age children in preschool through grade 6 has been developed especially for school nurses as part of SERC’s professional development training, The Nursing Component of the IEP.
A note of caution for school nurses using the checklist …
- keep in mind that there are no clear dividing lines between the stages of speech and language development, and
- child’s speech and language skills must be viewed relative to the cultural norms of the community.