Last year during winter break, I found myself reflecting on the public’s general confusion about the SLP scope of practice and how that lack of clarity may be impacting my junior high students.
If students believe that speech-language pathologists are the same as teachers, why would they treat therapy sessions any differently than their other classes. My students have anywhere from 5 to 8 teachers in one day. Nearly all of them give assignments and homework and ask the students to work hard during their classes similarly to what an SLP in a school would do. However, since we know that therapy is so different than a class in a multitude of other ways (including not being able to give students the incentive derived from letter grades), I knew I had to tap into their motivation in other ways. If kids see me as one of their teachers, I’m just one out of 9 people. If they see me as the SLP that I am, I’m the one and only.
Acting on a hunch that students might treat their therapy sessions a bit differently if they knew more about my role, my educational background, and how I intend to help them, I decided to spend our first therapy session after break explaining it.
In our 40-minute discussions, I asked students to tell me what they know about teachers. Then I asked them to tell me what they know about therapists like Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists. We compared and contrasted the role of a Speech-Language Pathologists to those professions. Highlighting that SLPs don’t have classrooms or give grades like teachers but they do diagnose and treat problems like physical and occupational therapists. For that reason, I insisted that they not call me a “speech teacher” anymore as they might have done in younger grades and that they help teachers and parents in doing the same. “The term ‘speech teacher’ confuses some parents, teachers and even students,” I explained “into thinking that speech-language pathologists have the same job as teachers when really SLPs provide therapy, not teach. I know that speech-language pathologist is a long and difficult to say title though, so you can call me the SLP or the speech and language therapist.”
In our discussion, we also included talk about the educational requirements for each field and some of the coursework I had to take in order to be able help students with a variety of communication difficulties, including a course in the study of the brain, a course in the anatomy of the mouth, a course in how to help kids that have trouble understanding language, etc.
I informed my students that no one else in our entire school is trained to do what I do. I am the only speech-language pathologist in the whole building. I also let them know that there are speech-language pathologists in other settings, like Hospitals, Clinics, Nursing Homes, and Private Practice but in those settings either insurance, parents, or clients have to pay for these services directly (which can be very expensive), but as long as they are in our school system they get to get their speech and language therapy for free. I encouraged them to take it seriously now to help avoid paying for it out of pocket later.
Of course, our talk also opened the door for student questions. “Does that mean I have a disorder?” one of them asked. “Technically yes” I replied honestly. “It’s a communication disorder that just means it’s harder for you to do… (X, Y, and Z). That’s okay, though. We all have things that are harder for us and things that are easier for us. For me, understanding maps is very difficult. I get lost frequently. Sometimes I feel like I want to cry. Luckily for me though, I have things that can help me. My husband is very good at directions, so I call him if I need help. Knowing when to ask for help is very important. I also bought myself a GPS – which is a tool that can help me navigate. Things are much better now that I have those supports. I don’t let it get me too down that I have problems with that, because I know I’m good at other things – like helping students understand and use better communication skills. Just like I have tools and tricks for helping me with my map skills, I’m going to give you tools and strategies to help you with your speech and language skills.”
For each student, I then asked for examples of communication skills that were difficult for them and explained which ones we had goals for an why but offered to help them with any other communication skills they thought were tricky.
To end on a positive, I also asked for examples of things they were good at (like subject areas, sports, talents, and personality traits). We talked about how great those attributes are, how special that made each of them, and how we can use those positives to help with the communication areas that are difficult.
After each session, both the students and the therapist left with better understandings of each other and a foundation from which to frame future therapy sessions.
Today, I still hear some of my students correcting others “she’s not a speech teacher, she’s a speech and language therapist!” Accordingly, I also continue to experience a change in the therapy climate in terms of student understanding of why they are in therapy and student-motivation.
Gotta love that 🙂
I use this PowerPoint to explain the role of SLPs to school staff and I can see such a big difference in how the SLP is treated at buildings that have had this discussion and how they are treated in schools that have not. Feel free to modify it for use with parents or students.
While designed more for staff and parents than for students, this free comparison grid can help you pick out points to highlight with students in your discussion of the SLPs role and how it differs from that of a teacher.