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Communication: Special Factor Considerations

Communication is all the different ways in which a learner understands and communicates. Language development supports many other aspects of development including literacy, social, and cognitive development. In this special factor IEP teams should consider how the learner communicates throughout the school day,  during instructional routines and embedded opportunities throughout their day.

Does the learner’s communication or language skills interfere with their education?
The IEP team may review the learner’s progress towards meeting Iowa Academic Standards within the areas related to communication, language and literacy.  These include Reading, Writing, Speaking/Listening and Language.  If the learner is not progressing similarly to same aged peers, the IEP team should consider if the learner requires services and supports to meet age expectations/grade level standards. An implication for the learner, who is not making progress, may be they are not able to comprehend grade-level content.  The IEP team shall first consider, does the child have access to grade level content?  Access to grade level content means the learner can:

  • Use a text reader
  • Participate in reading instruction with accommodations
  • Independently read content  

If access is a concern then the team should consider ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY as an additional Special Factor. If the learner is not making progress due to comprehension difficulties and has had access to the content, then the team may consider COMMUNICATION as a Special Factor. Within the special factor of Communication a learner’s expressive language skills are also considered. Data regarding the learner’s academic interactions with peers and adults could be reviewed. In addition, the IEP team could review information related to the learner’s oral and written communication, such as:

  • Appropriate form (is it understandable and grammatically correct?),
  • Appropriate content, and
  • Appropriate use in social and academic contexts. 
Does the learner’s communication interfere with participation in social and extracurricular interactions?
Learners may exhibit communication difficulties which require involvement in the IEP. The learner may have difficulty: 

  • initiating conversation,
  • responding on topic,
  • maintaining conversation, or
  • answering a question that was asked. This may be due to the learner’s limited verbal skills or the vocabulary not being available on one’s communication device/system.

If the learner is not able to participate and engage in reciprocal social interactions with peers and adults, communication may be a special factor that is incorporated into the plan.

Does the learner’s mode of communication impact their academic progress?
The IEP team needs to identify the mode of communication that the learner uses for both expressive and receptive language. Mode of communication refers to the way a learner communicates such as with symbols, sign, spoken word or an AAC device. When a learner uses an alternate form of communication, additional support may need to be provided to increase their participation and access to core content.

If the IEP team answers NO to all questions, then the consideration process would stop. COMMUNICATION would NOT be a special factor. If the IEP team would answer YES to any of the considerations above, then the IEP team should identify COMMUNICATION as a special factor. When Communication is a special factor to be addressed throughout the IEP, consideration should be given to how the learner communicates during routines and embedded opportunities throughout their day, and how all team members can impact progress related to the Iowa Academic Standards related to communication. 

Additional Resources

Further resources are available on the i3 special education resources page.