Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Speech Pathologist Speaks: Part I

We have a special treat for you today to coincide with our Profession of the Week, Speech Language Pathology. We interviewed a current, practicing speech language pathologist (SLP) from the state of New York to ask her about the profession, her experiences, & what advice or tips she has for anyone currently considering pursuing speech pathology as a career. Our conversation was long & quite in-depth, so it has been split into 2 parts. Check back later this week for Part II. Now, without further ado, I’ll let our speech pathologist Theresa Donohue take it from here!

Could you describe speech pathology as a field in layman’s terms?

In general, we work with populations across the lifespan (birth through geriatrics) to improve people’s ability to communicate. With kids, we usually address developmental disorders/delays in speech and language, meaning the problem has existed since birth and they’re not developing at the same pace or as completely or “typically” as their peers. With adults, we typically treat speech and language disorders that have been acquired due to traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke, neurological disorders, etcetera, but we also treat adults with developmental disabilities. Another aspect of the field is feeding and swallowing. We work with kids and adults who have developmental feeding issues (they can’t tolerate certain textures, they never learned to chew or swallow adequately) or swallowing issues that result from a neurological problem (stroke, TBI, etc.).

What is the process for becoming a licensed speech pathologist like?

Nowadays, a Masters is really considered the entry-level degree for the field. Typically Masters programs are full time and take 2-3 years depending on how many courses you’ve already taken, or if you have a bachelors in SLP. ASHA (the national organization for SLP) requires 400 hours of clinical work as part of the Masters. After you get your Masters, most people do a Clinical Fellowship, which is required for state licensure and your ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence. You also have to pass the Praxis exam, which is a national exam and required for license and certification. After you finish your CF (usually takes about 9 months to a year and you have to be supervised by a licensed and ASHA certified SLP), you can apply for your state license and ASHA Certifications. To work in a public school, you also need a teaching certificate, which you can apply for right after you finish the Masters. In NY it’s called a TSSLD (Teacher of Students with Speech and Language Disabilities). I also have a bilingual extension to my TSSLD, which means I am allowed to treat kids who have a mandate in their IEP (Individualized Education Program) for speech therapy in Spanish or bilingual Spanish/English. To get the teacher certificate you have to take 2 tests (plus a 3rd for the bilingual extension), get 50 hours of school-based clinical work during your Masters, and get your Masters from an approved program. Getting licensed is also a very expensive process, even after paying all that tuition.
What are some of the jobs or internships you personally have had in the speech pathology profession?

We have a clinic at Teachers College, which was my first actual experience as a clinician. I had an adult with aphasia and 2 kids with developmental speech/language disorder. I did three different externships as part of my Masters program: one at a preschool in the Bronx for students with mild-moderate developmental disabilities; one at Jersey City Medical Center (inpatient: mostly adult bedside speech and swallow evaluations, plus NICU feeding; and outpatient: mostly pediatric developmental speech and language, some ASD, some outpatient post-stroke adults), and one at Bellevue Hospital (outpatient pediatric, developmental speech and language, plus some at-risk birth-3 which was mostly parent counseling). I also did some international work during grad school. I worked at a school for the deaf in Bolivia and worked as part of a cleft palate surgical mission in Colombia (Blog from the trip can be found here).
In terms of jobs, I did my Clinical Fellowship at Premium Therapy Speech Services, which is a private practice in Inwood. I saw almost exclusively preschool students (which I LOVED) through CPSE (Committee for Preschool Special Education), which is part of the Department of Education. So these kids were getting their DOE mandated special ed speech services, just at an outside practice or agency with a private contractor (me) since they weren’t in public school yet. I also worked at 2 Headstart programs in Washington Heights as a private contractor, through this same private practice. Now I work at PS. 132 in Washington Heights as a DOE employee. My school is K-5 and it is a community school, which means it serves general education students and special ed students with mild-moderate needs. I have about 30 students on my caseload right now that I see individually and in small groups.

Is helping others a big part of your job? Can you give some examples?

Yes it’s pretty much the most important part. Right now I work in a public school. The educational model of SLP is to help kids with speech and language impairments to access grade-level curriculum. Basically I identify their deficits in speech and language and try to give them strategies and practice to help overcome those deficits as they relate to what they are learning in school. Everything I do with my students is meant to help them achieve academic goals by addressing their individual academic needs and to “close the gap” as much as possible between them and their non-disabled peers and help them reach their full potential, basically the fundamental principle of all special education services.

What is your average day like?

I work in a public elementary school right now, so I teach 8 half-hour speech therapy sessions every day. Usually the sessions take place in a separate classroom but sometimes I work with the kids in the classroom, depending on how it is specified in their IEP. The time during the school day when I’m not seeing kids directly is my “prep” time, where I plan for future sessions, create materials, write up progress reports, etc. I also write notes for each child I see after every session. In the morning I usually check in with teachers, create or find activities for my students, review IEPs, and catch up on administrative things. I also spend a bit of time after school doing this, since I’m a new teacher and everything takes me a little longer to get done. The students are in school from 8:10-3:30; I usually get there around 7:30 and try to leave by 4:30.

Thanks for reading & be sure to check back here later this week for Part II of our insightful interview with Theresa to learn more about why she became a speech pathologist & how it has changed her outlook on the world!