The Forgotten Skill: Problem Identification

April 8, 2022 – Problem Solving in Speech Therapy

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: we spend so much time on problem solving in speech therapy, but… how can we expect our students to use their problem solving skills if they don’t even know that there’s a problem?

It’s the forgotten prerequisite to problem solving: problem identification.

Without it, students may never even get to the point where they start implementing those skills. That’s true no matter how much practice in solving problems a student has had.

Your student may breeze through exercises where they’re asked to read a problem and come up with a solution. But it’s our job to think functionally, right? In real life, there’s no flashing banner saying “Look, here’s a problem – now try to solve it.” In real life, to enter the problem solving stage, someone has to identify on their own that there even is a problem first.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example…

The thing is, most of our students are never trying to hurt someone else. They’re never trying to get into a situation where they’re so behind on classwork that they can’t catch up. For the most part, our students want to do well and they want to build connections.

So think about this: to some of our students, telling a classmate, “Your new jacket is ugly,” is simply stating a fact. There’s genuinely no ugliness intended. They’ve been taught that “honesty is good,” and they’re just being honest. So, if that classmate then reacts poorly, student A now has no idea what went wrong. In their mind, they’re just in a world of confusion. Maybe they’re even thinking, “Wow, everyone just dislikes me, even when I try to go everything right.”

So is it any wonder why autistic and ADHD students tend to have lower self-esteem (2)?

Of course, if students want to go on their merry ways and live brutally honest lives, they’re welcome to. Still, they deserve to be able to make that choice. Further, they certainly deserve to be able to understand why something they said or did might make someone else upset.

It all starts with problem identification. It’s a skill that requires students to put their perspective taking, inferencing, and predicting into practice… and all too often we skip right over it and jump straight to problem solving.

Resources for targeting problem identification

In my everlasting quest for inclusive, neurodiversity affirming speech therapy resources, I’m always learning and adapting. With these thoughts in mind, I looked around for problem identification resources and found, unsurprisingly, that there were just about none available.

So, I took it upon myself to make sure there’s something out there to target this crucial prerequisite to problem solving. It’s a recent version of my Spring “Escape the Video Game” series, a Super-Mario style game series for therapy. In this game, when you jump up and smash a question box, you read the social situation and determine the problem from a field of four options.

Here’s a peak at what the questions look like! They automatically take data too – just play with a student and view their accuracy percentage in your Medley classroom:

Here are the links to the game on Medley and TPT:

Whether or not you use this game as a starting point, I hope this has helped you think about working on problem solving goals from a different angle with students who might need it! 😊

I’d love to hear your thoughts on problem identification and problem solving in speech therapy – feel free to leave a comment below!

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