Reflections on Being a Speech Language Pathologist
May is Better Speech and Hearing Month. What better time to reflect upon my journey as a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) than now? I graduated six years ago from New Mexico State University with a masters degree in Communication Disorders. I did my clinical fellowship in Harrisonburg, Virginia working in Early Intervention full time. When that job ended, I moved back to Ohio and began my work with preschoolers as well as continuing to work with the birth to three population. Over the course of my career so far, I have provided services in a wide variety of areas. I have kids who cannot say their speech sounds well such as their L’s and R’s which actually gets pretty complicated rather quickly. I have kids who have issues with language in general. There are kids who are not talking yet and I need to figure out some way for them to communicate. There are kids with feeding and eating challenges. One child has had concerns with their voice. Cognitive challenges arise. There are kids with diagnoses such as autism, cerebral palsy, deafness and hearing loss, vision impairments (yes, one child was blind), chromosomal diagnoses, PKU, and plenty of standard developmental delays with suspected other diagnoses not yet confirmed. I have worked with bilingual, monolingual English, and monolingual Spanish speaking children and families. I so enjoyed working with interpreters and continuing to develop my own Spanish skills when I was in Virginia.
I am so blessed to have had so many people pour into me as a grad student, clinical fellow, and new clinician. Clinical supervisors helped train me as a SLP, supervisors gave me a chance, and other therapists helped me become a holistic SLP. Co-treating with physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapy assistants has taught me so much about big body movement and how it really does relate to thinking and talking and communicating. Having the PT guide movements and assist with stationary positions while I work on speech and language skills has been amazing! Did you know that big body movements can actually encourage kids to talk?! And the deep pressure of standing in water during aquatic therapy can help calm kids and allow them to focus better. I am currently having my students ride a tricycle from their classroom to my therapy room and the results have been astounding! They ride on some tile flooring but mostly they have to ride over rugs. And they have to make a few turns. This hard work of pedaling
and steering helps get wiggles and extra energy out as well as making their brains work in a different way. It is a wonderful movement break! They arrive in my therapy room ready to dive into the activities and speech/communication tasks. I’m looking forward to my preschool hopefully purchasing a sensory path to help give them the needed guided movement throughout the day. For kids who have more severe mobility challenges, co-treating with PT can help ensure the best positioning so that they can eat and drink more safely and have the needed support to communicate more effectively.
I also have gotten to co-treat with Occupational Therapists (OTs). I have learned quite a lot about fine motor skills such as writing and cutting. Learning about motor planning and using two hands together has also been eye opening and so relevant to my work with communication. In addition, I have learned a lot about sensory needs and body regulation. If a child is not regulated, then they are not able to be as effective communicators. As I learn about dealing with different behaviors (often challenging ones!), the root causes seem to be related to sensory needs, dealing with emotions (and being regulated), and attempts at communicating something.
Every system within the body is related to and affects the others. The only way we can change the brain is by outside stimuli. If we can change how the brain processes things and functions, then we can change how a person moves (gross motor and fine motor) and we can change how a person communicates.
I’m a holistic SLP. I endeavor to set my students up for success by helping ensure that they are as regulated as possible, they have their basic needs met, and that their communication attempts will be recognized and acknowledged as I teach them how to be better and more effectively communicate. I endeavor to create a peaceful environment where they are cherished and delighted in. They are given appropriate control to choose motivating activities for themselves and where I foster appropriate independence. A partnership is developed where we each have our own roles and responsibilities but the goal is to help each of my students to find and develop their voice.
Their voices are worth my time and my effort. As we journey together, I delight in the milestones along the way no matter how small or large. Recognizing the growth of each student and imagining a future where they will be a competent communicator spurs me on when I am thick in the trenches with my little warriors. Their joy, innocence, curiosity, and creativity keep me on my toes and keep me thinking outside of the box. These little ones are begging someone to see their potential and to believe in them. This is my population - these babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. I want to change the world to be a kinder and more just place for these children because these children are going to change the world. If I cannot imagine a non-verbal autistic child communicating his thoughts and ideas and sharing his knowledge with the world as a young adult gainfully employed, who will? Our future truly is in these little ones.
The American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA), much like the rest of the world, is dealing with big issues such as diversity, racism. the justice system, and autism. We SLPs are being encouraged to take part in social, judicial, and political activism. We are encouraged to accept individuals on our caseloads and within our communities. I admit that there are times I do not know what more I can do. I do know that big systemic changes have to start small and at the grassroots level. It has to matter what I do as an SLP in a preschool that services children from all over our county. It has to matter that I tell low-functioning autistic students that I am glad they are here and that I get to play with them. It has to matter that I am concerned if a child has had enough to drink that day. I do not know how to be more accepting of each of my students than I already am. I am just a rural, small town SLP but how I practice has to matter. It has to impact my community. It is not easy raising children. It does indeed take a village and I am glad to be a small part of that village. I have to believe that I matter and that what I do matters. It might not matter in the grand scheme of systemic change. If it does not matter to my caseload and their families, then I am not doing what I need to be doing as an SLP. I am working towards each of my students having and using their voice. They deserve to have their voice heard. Are we willing and ready to listen to their voices? I hope when they do use their voices, they will testify that I have empowered them to be the best and the most that they can be.
Finally, over the last few years, I have been surprised to find how my work as an SLP influences my answers to so many Queries from Ohio Yearly Meeting. For example from Query # 2: Are we ever mindful to love our neighbor as ourselves? From Query # 5: Are we sensitive to the needs of those around us who may be in less fortunate circumstances? And finally from Query # 6: Do we endeavor to cultivate good will, mutual understanding, and equal opportunities for all people? Quakers have traditionally and continue to currently be involved with social justice. The acronym SPICE puts these values succinctly - Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality. These qualities of following Christ have also shaped me into the SLP that I am today and give me passion and compassion for the children and families that I serve and have served. I will continue to advocate for each one’s voice no matter their socio-economic status, race, gender, disability, etc. My job as an SLP is not simply a job, but rather a high calling from God to minister unto others.