Better Speech & Hearing.
May is “Better Speech & Hearing” month. I celebrated this by adding the ribbon and border to this bulletin board. I know, you’re impressed.
It seemed as good a time as any to share a bit more about being a speech-language pathologist (often informally referred to as a “speech therapist”). I’ve seen a couple of reader comments asking how I got into this field and what duties it really encompasses. I’ll start off with the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s (ASHA’s) description of a speech-language pathologist’s (SLP’s) scope of practice: The speech-language pathologist is the professional who engages in clinical services, prevention, advocacy, education, administration, and research in the areas of communication and swallowing across the life span from infancy through geriatrics.
So, for me that will mean working with children ages 3-5 who have either been defined as “at-risk” (roughly 15% of the preK program’s population) or who quality for special education services (85%). Communication, much more than swallowing, is my interest area (though I have completed coursework and clinicals on swallowing/geriatrics as well). For children in this age range, language is probably the most targeted area (in layman’s terms: receptive/expressive vocabulary, sentence structure/grammar, being able to answer what/where/why/how questions) . Phonological awareness, which involves understanding how letters/sounds go together, is a big focus when working with preschoolers (it’s a huge predictor of later reading/writing ability). Articulation/Phonology (how speech sounds are produced) is also in there a bit, but some sounds are not expected to be mastered at this age range, so it’s usually not the main focus of therapy (those tricky “/r/”s don’t usually make it onto the therapy agenda until 2nd grade). Fluency (stuttering) is something else that might be targeted more indirectly (e.g. praising/reinforcing fluent speech), but would not likely be directly targeted for a three-year-old. Pragmatics (social use of language) also makes it in there, especially when working with clients on the Autism Spectrum. This might mean teaching turn-taking, eye contact, or identifying emotions. Some of these objectives can be achieved in a larger group setting, and others frequently involving pulling kids out of the classroom in groups of 2-3.
As for how I got into speech-language pathology, there’s really no magic answer or amazing tale. When I was very young, being a teacher very much appealed to me. I was a complete bookworm, which somehow led me to believe that teaching could be the field for me. In high school I began volunteering in the special education classroom and also observing my mom, who is an occupational therapist in the public school system. Working one-on-one or in small groups with students looked infinitely better to me as I was a bit shy when it came to large groups (and I don’t think they’re always the right place to target individual needs). When it came time to apply for undergrad, several of my choices required that I declare some sort of major (University of Illinois, considering its many colleges, was one of these). Marquette’s “career catalogue” of sorts really caught my attention, and speech-language pathology stood out among all the other fields. I’ve always loved communication in written or spoken form, and helping those who struggled with any aspect of this really felt right to me.
So I declared a major of Speech and Hearing Science at 17-years-old and have never looked back. I really feel like I got lucky. I’ve never stumbled across something that felt like a better choice, and more and more this has actually turned into something I’m really excited about. Honestly, I’m not someone who envisioned my career being my passion; the ideas of marriage/kids, lots o’ world travel have always had a stronger pull. I’ve always wanted to work to live, not vice-versa. But this really is turning into something like that. I think it’s pretty impossible to be responsible for helping a four-year-old with Autism develop communicative intent and not get darn jazzed about it when they request something (using your name and eye contact!). I’ve come to really enjoy the challenge of figuring out what motivates all different kinds of kids and using it to help them communicate more effectively.
If you’re up for it, I’d love to hear why you chose your current field of study or profession! I hope this post gave you a little glimpse into my motivation and what on earth a speech-language pathologist is. If you have any further questions, I’d be happy to answer them! Didn’t want to turn this into a novel, but really I realize it’s a pretty brief overview.