Communication Disorder Eligibility

  • Guiding Principles

    As with any eligibility decision, the question of eligibility for special education under the category of Communication Disorder is an important one. Special education can provide much needed supports and insight for students with disabilities. At the same time, the identification for special education can impact the ways a student experiences school, and the mindset of the learner and those around them.

    Students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds have historically been overidentified in the area of Communication Disorder. It is essential for the team to consider language acquisition in any conversation about special education eligibility. Teams should be very cautious about identifying an Emerging Bilingual student with a Communication Disorder, particularly in the areas of language and articulation. Teams should also be aware that standardized test scores may not have been normed to Emerging Bilingual students, so those scores should not be used for eligibility decisions.


    Purpose of evaluation:

    The purpose of the speech-language evaluation is to describe the student’s communication behavior, including the nature and scope of any speech or language impairment and any adverse effect on educational performance, and to determine a student’s eligibility for speech-language services.


    Definition of Communication Disorder:

    Language disorders may be characterized by receptive and expressive difficulties across one or more domains of language: semantics, morphology, syntax, phonology, and pragmatics. Language disorders may occur in isolation or as the result of another disability. Language disorders are a risk factor for literacy and academic language development. If the language disorder is the result of another disability (for example Autism Spectrum Disorder or Hearing Impairment), the child cannot be found eligible in the category of Communication Disorder.


    Procedural Guidance

    When we do an initial evaluation, we should assess in all areas of suspected disability.

    When interpreting assessment data in the area of speech and/or language it is recommended that the criteria listed below be used as a threshold level for establishing the presence of a disability. This cut-off should be applied to overall test scores, rather than individual sub-tests. However, eligibility should not be determined solely by comparing an overall score to this cut-off. Evidence that the difference has an adverse impact on educational performance must be gathered and considered along with background information before a determination of eligibility can be made.

    Adverse impact on educational performance:  An adverse impact of a disability “prevents the student from receiving reasonable educational benefit from general education.” Educational performance refers to the student’s ability to participate in the educational process, and must include consideration of the student’s social, emotional, academic, and vocational performance.

    For an eligibility of Communication Disorder, the definition of educational performance must not be limited solely to considerations of academic performance. The student does not need to be below grade level or failing in an academic area to be eligible as speech or language impaired. There are several types of oral and written communication problems that may prevent students from participating in classroom activities that require speaking and writing for a variety of purposes with individuals, in small groups, or in large academic and social settings.

    Eligibility Criteria:

    Voice disorder (all 4 required):

    1. requires a medical statement by a licensed otolaryngologist
    2. demonstrates chronic vocal characteristics that deviate in at least one of the areas of pitch, quality, intensity or resonance
    3. evidence that the child’s disorder impairs communication or intelligibility
    4. rated as moderate to severe on a voice assessment scale

     Fluency disorder (all 3 required):  

    1. child demonstrates an interruption in the rhythm or rate of speech that is characterized by hesitations, repetitions or prolongations of sounds, syllables, words or phrases
    2. child’s fluency interferes with communication and calls attention to itself across 2 or more settings
    3. child demonstrates moderate to severe vocal dysfluencies or the child evidences associated secondary behaviors, such as struggling or avoidance as measured by a standardized measure.

     Phonological/Articulation disorder (both required):  

    1. child’s phonology or articulation is rated significantly discrepant as measured by a standardized test (< 7th percentile or < SS 76) as measured by a standardized test
    2. substantiated by a language sample or other evaluation(s)

    Language disorder (all 4 required):

    1. child’s language in the area of syntax, morphology semantics or pragmatics is significantly discrepant as measured by a global language test score that is a composite of both receptive and expressive communication (1.5 Standard Deviations or more below the mean, < SS 76, or < 7th percentile rank)
    2. the disorder is substantiated by a language sample or other evaluation(s)
    3. the disorder cannot be the result of another disability
    4. for culturally or linguistically diverse children do not use standard scores for determining eligibility determination if they were not normed on a population similar to the child.


    If the student is only eligible for articulation, the team should not add additional goals (academic, self-management, social communication, organization). See FAQ section below for questions about adding goals or additional eligibilities.

    If the team did not evaluate in an area of CD (articulation, language, voice, fluency), do not check the “no” boxes on the eligibility document, because we do not have evidence from evaluation to support that decision. Instead, draw a line through those sections of the page.

    Eligibility decisions for Communication Disorder should be based on overall core language scores (on a test like the CELF) not on the scores on a single domain.


    Considerations for Pragmatics: pragmatic disorders will rarely occur in isolation and will likely be the result of another disability, such as ASD, ED, OHI, SLD, etc. When a student demonstrates pragmatic difficulties, the team is advised to explore other eligibilities.


    In the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Communication Disorder is listed with the disability code #50



    Social Communication Rubric

    The EL/SPED page of this handbook has more detail about eligibility considerations for students who are emerging bilinguals.

    Developmental Guidelines for Parents - English

    Developmental Guidelines for Parents - Spanish

    ASHA Guidelines for Eligibility and Dismissal - American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

    Determining if There is Evidence of a Language Disorder - from the CELF-5


    Can we add academic or self-management or organization goals for a student whose only eligibility is CD?

    • If the area of Communication Disorder is language, we can add other goal areas without adding a new eligibility category. We should consider additional areas of eligibility at the next 3-year re-evaluation or sooner as appropriate.
    • If the area of Communication Disorder is articulation, fluency or voice, we should not add additional goals. Instead, we should look at additional areas of eligibility before adding additional goals.


    If the team suspects an additional area of disability, how do we track data when the Child Study tab is no longer accessible in ePEP?

    • If you have added an academic goal, you would track data in the progress notes
    • If it is an intervention that does not reach the level of an IEP goal, keep track of the data independently and include it in the Present Levels or as an attachment under the IEP tab.


    If a teacher wants to add Teacher Notes unrelated to the current IEP goal, where do they put that?

    • Because the student is currently served by an IEP, the Teacher Notes tab is no longer open in ePEP. Teachers should coordinate with the case manager to determine whether information should be attached under the IEP tab or added to the present levels in the next IEP.


    What is the process for adding Social Communication goals for a student who is eligible under a category other than Communication Disorder or Autism Spectrum Disorder?

    • As with any IEP goals, Social Communication goals should be based on data in the present levels. An SLP should be involved in gathering social communication data for the present levels and drafting goals. The SLP does not need to be present at the IEP meeting as long as they have been consulted in the process of drafting the IEP.
    • An IEP team should not add Social Communication goals without consulting with the SLP. An IEP team can also consider goals in the area of Social Skills rather than Social Communication.


    What if we suspect Communication Disorder for a student whose first language is not English?

    It is very important to consider language acquisition and acculturation when evaluating a student for any disability category. Teams should use extreme caution when considering a student whose first language is not English for Communication Disorder. Consult your Special Education Instructional Coordinator (SPED IC) before starting a CD evaluation for an EL student. See our guidance for bilingual assessment for more information.


    Can an SLP exit a student from SPED services without a formal eligibility meeting if the student has met all of their goals?
    No. Eligibility is a team decision, not the decision of a single professional. If a student has met all of their speech goals, the Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) should call a team meeting to add additional goals or re-consider eligibility (starting with Evaluation Planning). The student's data from the SLP may be enough to make an eligibility determination, but it needs to be a team decision. See the Eligibility page for more information about exiting (finding a student non-eligible).