Self-report of Language Abilities: A Performance Improvement Initiative

Background: Language plays a critical role in human interactions and adequate communication is essential for successful outcomes for the individuals served by human service professionals. Yet little attention is given to evaluation of communication and language deficits in typical health and mental health settings or in the training of professionals working in those programs.

Objective: To describe the prevalence of self-reported communication deficits in two adolescent clinical populations and the implications for diagnosis, formulation, and treatment planning; to share a preliminary effort for quality improvement in identifying youth with communication deficits

Methods: A questionnaire was given to youth ages 11 through 18 years, served in an inpatient unit or a therapeutic day school, in a forced-choice format about the extent to which they have trouble with: understanding what teachers, parents, or peers say; what they read; and with saying or writing what they think. The extent of anger experienced when unable to communicate effectively, and whether help had been received or wanted in specified areas were determined.

Results: Two hundred youth completed the forms. Simple frequency counts are presented for each type of perceived deficit, degree of reported frustration with the deficit, and desired services by the youth. Significant deficits in communication skills were noted that exceeded expected frequencies. Significant correlations are presented for reported self-perceived deficits, frustration, and need for help. Differences in prevalence between the two services are noted but not significant. The scale has high internal consistency and is easy to administer.

Conclusions: Many youth in restrictive clinical settings report substantial communication deficits. Few had been identified previously. Youth are aware and can report such deficits. Youth in clinical settings should be routinely screened and formally assessed as indicated for communication deficits. The scale appears to be psychometrically sound and may provide a quick and reliable screen for language/ communication disorders.


Theodore A Petti

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