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Relation of Developmental Skills to Service Eligibility

Evidence from research has shown that all individuals can benefit from appropriate communication services to improve the effectiveness of their communication. A child's cognitive age relates to where along the continuum of communication he or she will begin the communication and language process. A child's cognitive age should not be used to deny communication services and supports.

People used to believe that individuals had to demonstrate certain cognitive skills before they would be able to benefit from communication services. Recent research has shown that communication and language develop from early infancy along with cognitive and thinking skills. In fact, sometimes teaching new communication skills can help a child develop other thinking skills.

The use of "discrepancy" between measured cognitive and measured language levels is not an acceptable approach to eligibility decisions. It is appropriate to provide communication services to an individual whose language age is commensurate with his or her mental age. The relationship between language and cognition is neither simple nor static. Tests that purport to assess either cognitive or language skills often measure the same fundamental skills. Research has shown that individuals with disabilities whose cognitive and language skills were measured as equal nonetheless benefit from language intervention.

Bottom Line:

It is important to remember that communication is not just speech: All children can and do communicate from the moment of birth. There are many ways to communicate, such as crying when hungry, tugging on mother's skirt to get juice, and speaking in sentences.

Return to the National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of Persons With Severe Disabilities (NJC) topic areas list.

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