We've all heard it before...
"All that speech therapist does is play all day."
"Their job is not stressful at all."
"She only sees X number of students."
"She's just sitting in there on her computer."
"I could do that job. It looks so easy."
Do any of these sound familiar to you? I know I've heard them before...if not as an SLP, I surely did hear similar things when I was a teacher. I don't have actual statistics to support this, but I think speech-language pathologists are probably some of the most misunderstood professionals in the world...at least in the school setting. So many people have no idea what we really do, which is why I decided to write this post. I want to share a little bit of what's really going on in the speech room, because you can't always tell just by peeking in. I am sharing 5 common statements that I have heard about my job and a brief explanation of what is really going on in each situation. I hope it brings more understanding to our position in the schools. Enjoy!
1. "They are just in there playing." Yes. Yes, it does look like we are just "playing" with some of our students...especially the little ones. But we are actually providing many, many opportunities to use language and practice speech goals. When I'm working with a 3 or 4 year old, I don't sit and drill. I bring out bubbles, balls, play dough, and other toys of high interest to the student. I use these toys to provide opportunities for my students to use language to request, comment, describe, and protest. If we are working on specific sounds, I build in opportunities to use the target sounds into each activity. It may look like we are just playing, but I carefully planned the "play" session to target the child's speech goals. I even incorporate speech goals into the games I use with my older students. My students may think we are just playing, but it's much more than that.
2. "She's not busy, she's just on her computer." This is a tough one for some to understand, especially some teachers. I've been a teacher, so I can relate. Yes, I have time in my day where I am working on my computer. But it's not just checking emails and piddling around. I have TONS of paperwork and deadlines to meet. Speech therapy is more than therapy sessions. We have to keep detailed documentation, write progress reports, and there's always the endless pile of evaluation reports and IEPs to write. We have a TON of paperwork. I'm sure any SLP would give up their paperwork in a second and just do therapy, but the paperwork is a necessary part of the job. So, yes, I may have paperwork time built into my schedule, but it's because I have deadlines to meet and legal mandates to uphold. Trust me, I'd much rather be working with students. :-)
3. "She's not working. She's not even in her room." I've heard it mentioned before that if the SLP is not in her room, she's not actually working. This is especially hard for us traveling SLPs who may only be at a school 1 or 2 days a week. Believe me when I say that we don't have to be in our rooms to be working. Many SLPs do "push-in" therapy where the therapy is done in the student's classroom, rather than in the therapy room. That's one reason we may be out of the office. We might also be in a meeting, or discussing a student's progress with a teacher, or at one of our other campuses...or we may even be somewhere in the building trying to find the students we are scheduled to see who are not where their schedule says they should be...sigh. It's not always evident to others, but we are very busy...both in and out of the speech room!
4. "All they do in speech is work on sounds." We do work on sound production, but we also address language, pragmatics, and much more. In the school setting, most of my caseload has articulation or language goals. My students vary from those who only have a few sound errors, to students who do not speak at all. I have some who are learning to use communication devices. I also have students who speak very well, but need extra help with the social aspect of language use. I have students with a variety of disabilities and academic needs. In other districts and settings, SLPs also perform therapy for dysphagia (swallowing), voice disorders, and cognitive functioning after strokes, traumatic brain injuries, and more. The field is great and the needs are many. What one person sees an SLP doing with one patient/student is not at all the only thing they do. We address many different areas depending on the needs our students have.
5. "That student doesn't need speech. They sound fine" or "I'm not going to refer that student. They won't qualify anyway." These are not exactly related to what I'm doing in my speech room, but I've heard both of these statements at different times over the past few years and wanted to address them. The problem with these statements is the assumptions being made. In many cases, teachers and/or parents assume they know whether or not a student will qualify for speech therapy services. Frankly, in many cases, even the SLP doesn't know if a student will qualify or not until the evaluation has been completed. So much goes into determining whether or not a student will qualify. Assumptions are best left off the table and teachers/parents should talk with their school's SLP if they have any questions about a particular student.
Have you heard any of these statements made in your school? Maybe you're a teacher or parent whose had these thoughts about your SLP once or twice before. One of my goals as an SLP is to help people understand what I do and why I do it. This field is so exciting and rewarding. I get to help students experience the joy that is communication. It's something many of us take for granted. It's not an easy job, and it's not all fun and games, but I do it because I love it.
I hope other SLPs who read this will be able to relate a little bit, and I hope non-SLPs will gain a deeper understanding of what we actually do. Feel free to share your comments/thoughts below.