“So, you’re the reading teacher, right?”
“But their speech is clear, I don’t understand why they need to see you.”
“I don’t hear any speech impediment.”
I hear these phrases quite a bit and am sure other speech-language pathologists do, too.
As this year’s Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM) draws to a close, I want to share common misconceptions I face, and strategies I use to educate families and colleagues about what exactly we SLPs do.
What’s language got to do with it? Everything is language—from the sounds embedded in a phonics program to the multi-step directions in a math word problem. When it comes to both oral language and written language, SLPs can help. Some parents, professionals and educators don’t quite grasp all the issues we treat within our scope of practice.
AAC and that’s it. I cannot begin to calculate the amount of time I spend training other professionals that augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) goes beyond simply giving a child a device and teaching them skills for effective use. Our training includes treating the whole child to improve all aspects of communication, not focusing on disparate skills.
Evaluate, and get out of the way. Sometimes when you work in schools, you can feel as though you are valued primarily for the assessments you provide. You get time to work with students, but perhaps not as much or as focused time as other professionals are allotted.
I know this already, what can I do about it?
- Educate: It’s easy to say we can educate parents and other professionals, but much harder to do it. The value of BHSM helps me draw attention to our profession at my school. Each year for the past several years, I request a dedicated bulletin board and post numerous ASHA handouts, which can generate helpful conversations. For teachers, we hand out water bottles or throat lozenges to remind them about the value of protecting their voice. This small investment—around $30—goes a long way the rest of the year. When we build connections based on information and concern, we increases awareness in a positive way.
- Listen: Peers and parents often approach me with speech-language–related questions. Is this normal? What should my child be doing at this age? My grandkid does this, what do you think it is? As busy as SLPs always are, taking the time to inform and empower others makes a difference.
- Inform: I always try to give parents and caregivers more information. I find articles—check out The Mighty, Understood.org, and Leader Live—written in lay language and easily accessible. Families appreciate additional information or seeing perspectives from others going through similar experiences.
- Share: I think SLPs should share our successes. I know some people might feel uncomfortable talking about their accomplishments. When I attend a committee on special education meeting for a student declassification, I often share how speech-language sessions contributed to the student’s success. Promoting what we do might seem self-involved, but if you do something well, be proud to talk about it!
The balance between being an advocate and a braggart comes when we take time to answer questions about what we do and share specific examples of our successes. Being a sounding board to parents and peers also gives SLPs a platform through which we advocate for our profession.
I feel that even incrementally breaking down preconceptions provides enormous value. I know by educating, listening, informing and sharing, I can work to shift minds. Over time, these small steps equate to a big change.
Dan Fitch, MA, CCC-SLP, works in schools and private practice. He blogs at Everything is Language, consults for AAC companies and presents on incorporating technology into school classrooms. Follow him at @itsalllanguage. firstname.lastname@example.org.