I’m a fan of the “mini-series”– covering a topic over a series of blog posts for a short period of time. Every Monday in the month of February I’ll blog about a topic related to #education (at least tangentially).
When I decided to become a speech-language pathologist, I really had no idea that speech pathologists worked at schools – I assumed that they worked with patients in clinical settings, hospitals, or private practice. All that changed when I went to graduate school and discovered that many speech pathologists work in school districts supporting children’s learning. In fact, more than 50% of speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work in school settings, making school districts the largest employers of speech pathologists nationally.
When I was in graduate school at Northwestern University, I chose one school placement and one placement in a clinical setting (which most students do). For my school placement, I worked in a school in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). I loved the kids, the dedicated special education teams, and the fast-paced environment. I knew that I when I graduated, I wanted to work for CPS and I was placed in schools where I could use my ability to speak fluent Spanish.
But what do SLPs do at school?
1) Part of the special education team – Speech pathologists (including contract therapists) work as part of a team that determines the need for evaluation and special education for students. When a teacher submits a referral for special education or a parent comes to the school asking for an evaluation, the special education team consisting of a school psychologist, the school social worker, the speech pathologist, the occupational therapist, and/or the physical therapist review the information provided by the teacher or parent on the referral or in a meeting to decide whether an evaluation is necessary.
2) Testing by the slp – When the need for evaluation has been determined and the parent(s) have signed consent for evaluation, we evaluate students using various different tests. I test for speech sound delays/disorders, language delays/disorders, and fluency disorders (stuttering) and I have even had students with voice disorders. But schools are not hospitals or rehab clinics. Speech impairments in the school setting have to have an “adverse educational effect.” For example, if a child presents with a lisp, he/she does not get services at school unless the lisp affects the child’s education. Most of the children I work with have serious speech delays or disorders which impact their education and their ability to access the general education curriculum.
3) Writing IEPs – IEPs are Individual Education Plans, which are written after it has been determined that the student has a speech problem. An IEP not only describes how the student is functioning in the classroom, but the roughly 16-page form details the goals that the student will be working on and how many minutes per week that the student will be seen.
4) Therapy happens – SLPs decide how to deliver speech minutes to students. There has been a big push over that past decade to include students in their regular education environment to the maximum extent possible. I am also tasked with serving students with communication disorders inside the classroom, but I don’t enter into the regular education classroom as much as I wish I could. Many of my students’ speech issues really do respond better when they are away from their peers (and they do look forward to working in small groups in the speech room away from their classmates).
5) Talking to parents – Most speech pathologists spend some time every week talking to parents in IEP meetings or to explain the progress the student is making in speech class.
6) Keeping speech therapy progress notes up to date – After every session, a speech pathologist writes down how much time was spent and what was worked on for every child. Much of the time this is typed into the computer so the data can be viewed and complied to track progress (or lack thereof). Writing daily notes is my least favorite thing to do.
7) Consulting and collaborating – Speech paths are often looked to when there’s a student who has some kind of difficulty communicating. Consulting with regular education teachers happens on a daily basis in most schools (and it’s one of my favorite things to do). Additionally, many speech paths collaborate to create lessons for entire classrooms of students. Many students without speech impairments benefit from reviewing a language concept.
When speech paths work with children in a clinical setting, they don’t get the opportunity to see kids in a naturalistic environment. I enjoy working the school setting because it is a place that kids spend most of their day, learning new skills. I believe school is like a child’s “workplace” and it is where they develop a sense of themselves as independent and distinct from their family unit.
Although most people conceptualize the foundation of education as reading and math, I believe that the underpinning of academic success is communication. There’s nothing better than seeing students making progress with their speech because it can only mean good things for their classroom work!