Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Speech Pathologist Speaks: Part II

Here's Part II of our interview with Theresa Donohue, a licensed Speech Language Pathologist in the state of New York. As this week’s Profession of the Week is Speech Language Pathology, who better to talk to than a practicing professional? Be sure to check out Part I if you haven’t, as we learned about what she does in a typical day & the diverse types of work experiences she has had so far in her career. Today, we’ll delve into why she became a speech pathologist & how that choice has changed her life. I’ll let Theresa take it from here!

Why should someone consider becoming a speech pathologist?

Typically we are in demand, especially in schools. I did not have to search too long to find a job after I finished my Masters. I think one of the best parts about the field is that there is such a wide variety in types of settings and populations. My job is drastically different from that of an SLP working in an inpatient or acute rehab setting, but technically we are in the same field. I love working with kids, but there is also plenty of work for people who prefer working with adults. There are SLPs who work strictly with people who have voice disorders, or foreign speakers who want to modify their accent in English, or people who stutter. Also, if you do one thing for a while and want to try something else, you can. There are so many different subareas to the field that there is always something to learn.

What made you choose the profession of speech pathology?
 Great question since technically I got my BA in music, so it was a very drastic change for me. I also studied Spanish in college and through those classes I realized that my interest was really in language acquisition and development. I took a few classes in the school of education that centered on foreign language education, bilingualism, and ESL (English as a second language). I thought about going the ESL/TESOL route and then I found the SLP program at Teachers College, which has a bilingual focus. Luckily I got into the program! Also, I have always loved working with kids and knew I would definitely want to work in an educational setting down the road, which is what I do as a school-based SLP.

What is your proudest moment as a speech pathologist?
So hard to pick just one, but in general, it is always super rewarding to watch the little ones start to make significant progress, start to put more words together, be able to sit in their seats and pay attention for a longer amount of time. When kids gradually overcome serious behavior issues, that’s one of the most rewarding moments, even if it just means the kid stayed in his seat the entire time and took turns well. I would say one of my biggest successes was a little girl I worked with who was a selective mute, meaning she withheld language in certain situations due to anxiety and other psychological issues. I started with her at the beginning of the summer 2 years ago and after about 4 weeks of therapy, she started talking to me, mostly single words, but it was a huge breakthrough. Then I got to work with her at her preschool and I saw her make huge progress, which was partly me but also she had fantastic teachers, and a big part of it is just natural development. But by the end of the year she was consistently talking to her peers and familiar adults. She was still a little delayed in speech and language, but it was night and day from the year before.

What is the hardest part about your job?
When working with the little ones (preschool, kindergarten), for me one of the most challenging parts was behavior management. For a lot of kids who started at 3, they were not accustomed to having any sort of structure or needing to follow an adult’s directives. I had a few students who had really intense behavior issues and it could be physically and mentally draining. But when I made progress with these kids, it was one of the most rewarding experiences. Kids would run away, shut down, cry, hit me, because they weren’t used to having to wait or not immediately getting what they wanted. I had a really helpful workshop on behavior management at my old job and it changed the way I approached those types of kids.

How has becoming a speech pathologist changed your outlook on life/the world?

Well for one thing, I can’t listen to a kid speak in the same way – I find I’m always evaluating kids’ speech and language, even outside of work, which I guess is a good thing because it helps me to continue to fine-tune my clinical judgment. It has definitely changed the way I view people with disabilities and has made me more patient when I notice that someone has a hard time communicating something. It has also unfortunately opened my eyes to major problems that exist in the public school system, and big problems with over-referral of minority and diverse populations into Special Ed because there is not enough research and general awareness of the distinction between a cultural or linguistic difference and a developmental disorder or delay. It has definitely helped me to understand the way kids think; I feel like I really understand 3-5 year olds now, I am no longer afraid of dealing with a temper tantrum, and I do not judge any parent whose child is having a meltdown on the subway.

What advice would you give someone who is considering entering the field of speech pathology?

Keep an open mind, because there are so many different possibilities and directions within the field and sometimes people who think they know exactly what kind of population they want to work with end up finding something else they are passionate about, so don’t be afraid to try something new or a little scary,
especially as a student when you have someone there to help you. Maybe consider taking an intro to linguistics class before you start. Reach out to professors or current grad students, or practicing clinicians, maybe observe sessions if you can. I sat in on a couple of classes and talked to a few professors when I was deciding between programs. People are generally happy to share information. We’re all teachers, we like to talk about our work and to help.

That’s it for our interview with Theresa Donohue, but please check back here & on our social media pages for plenty more entertaining, informative, and useful content about our Profession of the Week, Speech Language Pathology!


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