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Published on June 21st, 2022


On the Same Page Using Universal Design for Learning

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that when people work together to face a challenge, they can achieve amazing results. Along with the challenges, there have been opportunities to try new approaches and look at service delivery in a different way, especially in schools and childcare settings.

Providing speech and language service in childcare settings is likely to become more challenging, as recent government initiatives to fund childcare may result in increased demand for service. As services are stretched, it may not feel like we are getting the most out of our time and efforts when working collaboratively with educators to support development of young children.

This is where Universal Design For Learning (UDL) can help. UDL is a framework for designing inclusive social and learning environments (CAST, 2016) that provides common terminology and guidelines to support all children’s communication skills (Waller, 2012).

The idea isn’t new. In a previous Communiqué article, Campbell & Gaines (2015) discussed UDL and how speech-language pathologists (S-LPs) could implement its use in schools. UDL presents a model with which S-LPs and teachers collaborate in order to meet the needs of both professionals, as well as making lasting changes in the classroom to support communication goals of all the students. (Communiqué, March 2015).

The same might be true for childcare settings and working with Registered Early Childhood Educators (RECEs). When evaluating an existing adaptive, integrative, and collaborative speech-language service delivery model at Ottawa-Carleton Headstart Association for Preschools (OCHAP) centres, RECEs shared that they wanted more support to promote communication skills in all children and more opportunities to exchange ideas with S-LPs (Mander & Moore, 2015). UDL seemed like a perfect answer. It offered a way for S-LPs and RECEs to work together to meet the varied communication needs of children from underserviced areas.

In collaboration with OCHAP, a pilot study was undertaken to implement UDL with S-LPs in the preschool setting, since it had not been evaluated in this context. Our intent was to discover the experiences of RECEs and S-LPs when collaborating to support children’s communication skills using UDL.

Guided by a study with occupational therapists using UDL (Campbell, et al., 2012), we worked with RECEs previously trained in UDL and implemented UDL in 4 preschools. Two S-LPs participated, with each S-LP visiting 2 preschool sites, from 9 to 10 times, to implement UDL with the RECEs.

S-LPs and RECEs collaborated to establish language goals for preschool groups and applied UDL to support preschoolers’ communication skills. UDL principles also guided discussions between S-LPs and RECEs during regular meetings and sharing activities.

In terms of the time commitment for implementing UDL, RECEs took an average of 9.55 minutes to plan their activities. Each S-LP and RECE consultation after the activity required a mean of 10.22 minutes. An average of approximately 11 children participated in chosen activities.

At the end of the pilot study, RECEs were interviewed about their experiences. Interview transcripts were analyzed using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). On an ongoing basis, S-LPs documented the process quantitatively and through reflective journals.

The UDL model was generally well received by RECEs and thought to facilitate RECE and S-LP collaboration. Lessons were learned on how S-LPs could improve the process of collaboration when implementing UDL with RECEs in preschools.

We identified 10 themes from the RECE interviews and 7 are presented here:

  1. Benefits of implementing UDL in the Headstart preschools were highlighted.RECEs found UDL to be helpful for all children and saw improvement in all. RECEs paid more attention to meeting all the children’s needs. Better collaboration was perceived by RECEs between S-LP and RECE.

RECEs said:

“I was thinking about all the kids” 

“It [UDL] helped us collaborate with each other”

  • Challenges of implementing were reported. RECEs expressed wanting more time for training other staff and to connect with the S-LP. A small RECE team and staff turnover made implementing UDL a challenge. Young children’s reduced attention span and reduced language skills made it difficult to see or effect change.

RECEs said:

“It would have been nice to have the whole Centre be involved in the UDL, and even support staff…”

“It was really hard maybe in our age group because toddlers don’t speak a lot”

  • Effects on collaboration between S-LPs and RECEs: A number of RECEs felt they already had a good rapport with the S-LP but implementing UDL allowed more opportunities and time to work more closely together. RECEs reported, with UDL, they collaborated with S-LPs to set common goals. They received guidance from the S-LP, which increased their comfort level with UDL.

RECEs said:

“I feel like we definitely collaborated more…on a more regular basis…there’s definitely more feedback between us.”     

“I think that the speech-language pathologist was a big support in that because she would remind us of the UDL principles and how we were already implementing them.”

  • Use of Strategies that reflected UDL principles: Although RECEs did not use UDL terminology in the interviews, they discussed using strategies that fell under “multiple means of representation” (e.g. use of visuals, props, speaking slower, and being repetitive) and those that reflected multiple means of engagement (e.g. focus on the child’s interests, gain their trust, and the trust of the family).

RECEs said:

“You just shift your gear into speaking slower to them, and making sure you have the prompts up, like the picture cards…”

  • Process of implementing UDL in the preschools: RECEs commented on how time was spent, and working as a team to share ideas, figuring out and getting familiar with UDL in order to customize it to their program. They said part of the process included meetings to set goals, discuss what was working, and figure out next steps. They worked as a team to share ideas.

RECEs said:

“It’s how you interpret it [UDL], and take it and use it how you feel your group would benefit from it and make it custom to your centre or program”

“We made sure that when we met as a team and we looked at our goals and how we were going to tweak it, that it was manageable. It was something that was doable across the team”

“…having ideas or sharing my concerns – not concerns but difficulties on how to implement it, she [S-LP] helped a lot.”

  • RECE perceptions of UDL included comments on the S-LP support, the function UDL served, what the model provided to RECEs, and general impressions/evaluations.

RECEs said:

It’s just a good reminder to look at the children that are in your classroom and are you meeting all their needs, and it’s just a good refresher to, again, look at each individual child and say, ‘Is there a better way that I can meet their needs’

This gave us a classroom goal and it put all educators on the same page.”

            “It really gives us a lot of information, a lot of experience.’’

  • Links to UDL and other curriculum guidelines were identified. RECEs linked UDL to the provincial curriculum framework for early years and what they were already doing.

RECEs said:

It’s complementary to other guidelines that we use, like How Does Learning Happen framework…


Providing speech-language service to school and childcare settings can be challenging and collaboration is increasingly more important. This pilot study provided insight and a better understanding of the experiences of RECEs and S-LPs when collaborating to support children’s communication skills using UDL.

The RECEs reported that this model initially takes time and commitment, but it ultimately increases collaboration between RECEs and S-LPs. By building on the expertise of both RECEs and S-LPs, UDL can support meeting new and ongoing demands by providing speech-language support to young children. UDL provides a common focus in order to better meet the communication needs of all the children in the program. The use of UDL appears to be a worthwhile collaborative initiative that could be implemented in more preschool settings as a way to improve and enhance quality care.


With the support of a SAC research grant, of the OCHAP preschool staff and families, and the guidance of Wenonah Campbell, Ph.D., Robin Gaines, Ph.D., and CHEO research assistant. This work combines a poster submission to SAC and our 2019 Summary of Findings from our SAC research grant report.

Author Biographies

Nicole Moore is a Speech-Language Pathologist (Reg. CASLPO) with the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). Nicole worked 15 years in the Ottawa-Carleton Headstart Association for Preschools (OCHAP) and continues to support children/youth and their families within the CHEO Quebec Preschool Speech and Language Program and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Diagnostic Team.

Deirdre Mander is a Speech-Language Pathologist (Reg. CASLPO) with the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and the First Words Speech and Language Program. Deirdre provided speech-language service to the Ottawa-Carleton Headstart Association for Preschools for 18 years.


Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77-101, http://dx.doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

Campbell, W., & Gaines, R. (2015, March). Universal design for learning: What is it and what is the value-added for the school-based SLP? Communiqué Blog, Speech-Language Audiology Canada. Retrieved November 24, 2021 from https://blog.sac-oac.ca/universal-design-for-learning-what-is-it-and-what-is-the-value-added-for-the-school-based-s-lp/

Campbell, W., Missiuna, C., Rivard, L., & Pollock, N.(2012). “Support for everyone”: Experiences of occupational therapists delivering a new model of school-based service. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 79(1), 51-59.

Center for Applied Special Technology. (2016). About UDL. Retrieved April 11, 2016 from http://www.cast.org

Mander, D., & Moore, N.D. (2015). Speech-language service delivery model in low socio-economic status preschools: An exploratory evaluation. Canadian Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, 39, 214-236.

Waller, J. (2012). Preparing speech-language pathology students for school-based practice: The importance of graduate clinical experiences in universally designed classrooms. SIG 16 Perspectives on School-Based Issues, 13, 130-135, https://doi.org/10.1044/sbi13.4.130

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