This is part of the series of blog articles called “A Writer’s Guide…”, check out this article by writer Tara Ross to being a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP).
Being a Speech-Language Pathologist
(Focus of school-based SLP)
by Tara Ross
Qualifications needed to become a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)
In North America, you must to complete a four year undergraduate degree, typically within the health science, science, linguistics or psychology faculties.
A two or three year master’s degree would then be completed either as a clinical Masters or a research Masters. Most SLPs work within a clinical context. However, it is entirely possible to do both.
Some super keen SLPs continue on after a clinical masters and receive a PhD to complete research and clinical work at the same time. Your credentials would look something like this:
Jane Doe , B.Sc. (hons), M.H.Sc. CCC (for US) or
John Doe, B.H.Sc. reg. M.H.Sc. CASLPO (for Canada)
What do SLPs learn in school?
In the clinical Master’s program, SLPs train in anatomy and physiology (usually centered around the head and neck), speech science (i.e. the physics of sound), psychology, acoustics and course specific to each of the following areas: developmental language, voice and resonance, fluency disorders (i.e.stuttering), articulation and motor speech disorders, neurogenic disorders (i.e. break down with brain functioning), structurally related disorders, dysphagia (swallowing related disorders) and audiology.
Students also receive clinical related course work (i.e. ethics, clinical competencies) and extended placements in a variety of clinical settings.
What is an SLPs Scope of Practice?
Once, a student has graduated from an accredited university program, they can work within a hospital, rehabilitation centre, long-term care facility, pediatric treatment centre or within schools.
It is not uncommon for SLPs to work across populations (i.e. work with adults who have had a traumatic brain injury in hospitals, and do private therapy at home for children who can’t produce a speech sound clearly).
Some of the broad areas that they practice include: stroke rehabilitation (i.e. aphasia), traumatic brain injuries, neurodegenerative diseases (i.e. dementia), dysphagia (i.e. swallowing based disorders), stuttering, voice disorders, articulation disorders, motor speech disorder, and developmental language delays including reading and writing-based learning disabilities.
They can also assist with clients who are nonverbal or minimally verbal by teaching the precursors to communication and providing alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) strategies.
This article will focus on the work of an SLP within the school system, as this is the author’s primary area of practice.
In many countries, SLPs are able to diagnose communication-based disorders. This is important for securing government funding and therapy.
However, in some states and provinces, a team will be needed to provide diagnoses that are both within the communication area and beyond.
What types of clients would a school-based SLP work with?
School-based SLPs often act as generalists and consultants across a very wide range of students. Traditionally, they are known for supporting children who stutter or who have articulation concerns, such as a lisp.
However, there is a much broader nature to our role. The majority of a typical school-based SLPs caseload involves working with complex students who have autism spectrum disorder, developmental disabilities, or other medical disorders.
We also support students with social communication difficulties and students who have dyslexia (in the US and the UK) or language-based learning disabilities (in Canada).
There are also opportunities to support students with selective mutism (an anxiety based reluctance to communicate at school), students who have difficulties with learning to read and write and students with behavioural concerns.
What does a typical day look like for a school-based SLP?
School-based SLPs typically travel between schools over the course of the week. This can change depending on the country/state where they practice.
At any particular school, they may have anywhere from one to thirty students on their caseload who they are responsible for seeing over the course of the year. On any given day, they may see between two to ten students.
Their schedule is divided between team meetings, case conferences, classroom observations, individual assessment, group therapy and individual therapy.
There is also copious amount of paper work for obtaining consent, collecting case histories from student academic files, recording progress notes and writing reports. About half of the day can be taken for paperwork related activities.
Who does an SLP work within schools?
At the school level, an SLP works directly with teaching staff and students, as a consultant and a therapist respectively. Students, in any grade, from kindergarten through to high school can be referred.
New referrals usually come through school team meetings. These meetings occur one to two times a month in Canada and can sometimes last half of the day.
The team may consist of the SLP, a school-based psychologist, a social worker, special education support teachers and school administration (i.e. principal or vice-principal).
SLPs work within the classroom completing observations and informal assessments, trialing strategies and presenting whole class information.
They also work outside the classroom when there is a need to see students for formal assessments or individual and group therapy. In some school boards SLPs also work with Communication Disorder Assistants (CDAs).
In other boards they rely on the support of Teaching Assistants (TAs) or Educational Resource Facilitators (ERFs) to support specific recommendations. These assistants can implement treatment plans designed by the SLP within their own professional limits.
What special resources or materials do you need?
SLPs are often know, within the school, as having a “bag full of tricks” for coaxing children into talking.
Therefore one of the first things they will need is wheels – in the form of a car with a massive trunk and a rolling cart or suitcase for all the materials that will be transported in and out of the school.
In some locations, the SLP may be given a permanent space to park their materials, but more often than not, they are itinerant and must cart their needs resources around each day.
On any given day, an SLP will need student files, formal testing materials, informal checklists and therapy materials. (i.e. picture cards, visuals, games, reinforcing objects like bubbles and wind-up toys).
Many SLPs take electronic notes and usually have a laptop for this purpose and for completing reports.
If there were a stereotype for an SLP, what would it be?
This is obviously a generalization, but from attending North American conferences with over 10,000 SLPs, it is apparent that most are female from middle-upper class families.
In recent years, professional associations have been publically advocating for greater gender and cultural diversity within the profession, so this will hopefully be changing and could perhaps be reflected in younger SLP characters.
There is also the generalization that SLPs are extroverted, highly organized, prone to perfectionism and talkative.
Again, there is always the exception to the rule, and it would be nice to see other characters with less typical traits within a novel, however as a secondary character these are common personality features that could be present.
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About Tara Ross
(Writer, Mentor, Blogger) from Toronto, Canada
Tara Ross has styled mannequins, acted in film and stage, and worked on a psychiatry floor during the SARS outbreak – all to pay for six years of university tuition and too many late-night tea runs.
When she is not packing bento boxes for her family, or reading and writing all things YA, she uses those years of school as a school-based speech-language pathologist.
Tara’s passion is connecting amazing stories with youth who don’t yet know they love to read. Combined with an uncanny vocabulary and an eternally young at heart attitude, writing for youth has become an essential part of her joie de vivre.
She is represented by Cyle Young and Hope Bolinger of Hartline Literary Agency and is currently seeking publication for her first Contemporary YA novel.
I hope you enjoyed this article and if you have any questions for Tara, drop them in the comments below. Check out all the current “A Writer’s Guide” articles on their new page for easy access.
Do you have knowledge of a skill or occupation you could write about?
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