Maria Adelaida Restrepo Ph,D, CCC-SLP, is an associate professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science at Arizona State University. She currently heads three funded projects on intervention for English Language Learners through Tier 2 interventions or professional training of preschool teachers, and one funded project in assessment of Spanish-speaking children. She is a bilingual Speech-Language Pathologist who has worked in schools and a variety of settings with Latin-American children and families. Her research and writing focus on best practices in speech and language assessment and intervention with bilingual populations and prevention of academic failure in children at risk due to language or environmental issues.

What is a bilingual speech and language assessment? Children who speak a language other than English and children who are bilingual need to be evaluated in their native language or the languages that they speak. When children are evaluated only in one of the languages, or in the language in which they are least proficient, such as English for English Language Learners (ELLs), they are often misdiagnosed with speech and language problems when they do not exist, or the nature of the child’s difficulty is not determined accurately (Artiles, Rueda, Salazar, & Higareda, 2005). Some times, however, we find that the monolingual speech-language pathologist (SLP) evaluating a child who is learning English overcorrects for the lack of knowledge of the child’s native language and culture, and misses that the child has a disability by attributing low performance to cultural and linguistic difference.

So what are the advantages of the bilingual assessment? For example, a child who speaks Spanish as a native language and is entering the school with English-only instruction will have to be evaluated in Spanish if there is parent or teacher concern about his/her development. The bilingual SLP will evaluate the child’s native language skills and check progression of English as a second language acquisition. If a bilingual child is tested in only one language, test results will only demonstrate partial knowledge, especially in terms of vocabulary development. Conversely, if the child were evaluated bilingually, the child would demonstrate a whole range of vocabulary knowledge in the two languages and possibly not appear as having a disorder. A bilingual assessment provides a better understanding of the nature of the difficulty, or helps determine whether the child presents with a language difference due to linguistic or cultural differences.

What about if a child presents with a medical diagnosis of Down Syndrome or autism, do we really need a bilingual SLP to evaluate the child? A good bilingual SLP would evaluate the child’s strengths and weaknesses in each language. For example, the child may present with low syntactic development or comprehension skills in English when those skills may be a strength rather than a weakness in the child’s native language. Because the child was evaluated in his/her weakest language, accurate determination of the nature of the difficulties would not be possible and the child may end up receiving the wrong quantity and quality of services to be successful academically.

What about providing services to the child; what is the role of the bilingual SLP? Although some systems across the country advocate for English-only schooling, ELLs with disabilities must navigate the home language and culture as well as the school’s language and culture. Emphasis on developing only one language often results in a child with limited ability to communicate in the home language (Restrepo, 2003). Many parents, however, tell me that their child’s teacher or SLP told them to speak English at home to “help” their child. A bilingual SLP not only understands that the research does not support the view that speaking only in the school language will help the child, but can provide communication to the home on how to best help the child in the languages that he or she speaks. Focusing on language use in only the school language can have detrimental effects on the child’s home communication and the language that the children use with parents. This results in parents with limited tools to communicate with their child, to support their overall cognitive and emotional development, to educate them, to mediate school, and to transmit values, culture, and language (Kohnert, Yim, Nett, Kan, & Duran, 2005).

Providing bilingual services to ELLs with disabilities has many benefits to the school, the child and the family:

  • It will help the child develop skills in all the languages that he or she speaks, which in turn will improve communication at home and at school for better learning of culture and home values, better development of language and cognitive skills, and better emotional support (e.g., Restrepo et al., 2006; Restrepo & Dubasik, 2007).
  • It will provide the school with a better home-school connection that acknowledges and values the whole child, which includes the home language and culture.
  • It will enhance the ELL’s learning of skills that transfer from native language to the second language such as conceptual development, phonemic awareness, narrative structure, and comprehension monitoring, for example (e.g., Dickinson, McCabe, Clark–Chiarelli, & Wolf, 2004).

The bilingual SLP, therefore, has an integral role in evaluating and providing intervention support for bilingual and ELL children with disabilities. Additional roles the bilingual SLP play in the schools include to connect, collaborate, and consult with the other school professionals and staff to ensure that ELLs are not left behind in curriculum development, response to intervention, and family access to school events. The bilingual SLP has a critical role in understanding native language development and English as a second language development and techniques to promote development, language learning disabilities, and the interrelations among all these with culture. Collaborating with special education, regular education, and ELL teachers is a natural place for the bilingual SLP to provide strong support and to benefit the whole child. Research on such collaboration indicates that these interactions benefit all involved (e.g., Hadley, Simmerman, Long, & Luna, 2000). Although finding bilingual language providers is difficult, the benefits to the school and the children pay off in the long run.


Artiles, A. J., Rueda, R., Salazar, J. J., & Higareda, I. (2005). Within-Group Diversity in Minority Disproportionate Representation: English Language Learners in Urban School Districts. Exceptional Children, 71, 283-300.

Dickinson, D. K., McCabe, A., Clark–Chiarelli, N., & Wolf, A. (2004). Cross-language transfer of phonological awareness in low-income Spanish and English bilingual preschool children. Applied Psycholinguistics, 25.

Hadley, P. A., Simmerman, A., Long, M., & Luna, M. (2000). Facilitating Language Development for Inner-City Children: Experimental Evaluation of a Collaborative, Classroom-Based Intervention. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 31, 280-295.

Kohnert, K., Yim, D., Nett, K., Kan, P. F., & Duran, L. (2005). Intervention with linguistically diverse preschool children: A focus on developing home language(s). Language Speech and Hearing Services in the Schools., 251-263.

Restrepo, M. A., Castilla, A. P., Arboleda, A., Schwanenflugel P.J., Neuharth-Pritchett, S., & Hamilton, C. (2006). Sentence length, complexity and grammaticality growth in Spanish-speaking children attending English-only and bilingual preschool programs. Language, Speech, Hearing Serivces in the Schools.

Restrepo, M. A. & Dubasik, V. (2007). Language and Literacy Practice for English language Learners in the Preschool Settings. In L.Justice & C.Vukelich (Eds.), Achieving Excellence in Preschool Literacy Instruction (pp. 242-260). New York: The Guilford Press.

Restrepo, M. A. (2003). Spanish language skills in bilingual children with specific language impairment. In S.Montrul & F.Ordoñez (Eds.), Linguistic Theory and Language Development in Hispanic Languages. Papers from the 5th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium and the 4th Conference on the Acquisition of Spanish and Portuguese (pp. 365-374). Summerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

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2 Responses to “Supporting Bilingual Assessment and Intervention for ELLs and Bilingual Children by Maria Adelaida Restrepo”

  1. deb chitester on 4/12/11 3:46 PM US/Eastern

    perhaps we can link together and

  2. deb chitester on 2/10/14 4:33 PM US/Eastern

    would like to talk to you about working with us

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