Compiled by Emily Schrader, M.A., CCC-SLP
As the month of May comes to a close, the speech and language therapy team at Bridgeway Academy wanted to share some informative, fun, and possibly surprising insights regarding National Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM). Check out this engaging interview with the “speechies” here at Bridgeway as they reflect on BHSM, their profession, their work with our students, and their advice/ideas for continued communication growth across school, work, home, and beyond!
It is Better Hearing and Speech Month! What does Better Hearing and Speech Month mean to you as a speech-language pathologist (SLP)?
“BHSM is a time to shine a light on our profession and share a piece of our career with others. It is a time to educate and celebrate all of the experiences, expertise, ideas and growth in the fields of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology.”
“BHSM is a time to celebrate what makes us human – connection and communication. To consider and learn about all aspects of communication encompassing hearing, speech and language, as well as the roles of specialists like SLPs and Audiologists in ensuring ease and access to communication as their professional specialty.”
Why do you enjoy being an SLP?
“There is nothing better than seeing a young person learn new communication skills! Whether it’s making a request, commenting on a situation, sharing a concern, or advocating for him- or herself, I love seeing my students take these steps in improving communication and connecting with the world.”
“One of the things I love about being an SLP is that the field of speech and language pathology is always changing! The versatility and fluid world of our profession keeps every single day interesting. We also have the ability to work in a variety of settings such as schools, clinics, hospitals and nursing homes. The feeling you get when you see a student who, sometimes, has never been able to have their thoughts, feelings, or ideas understood by others is indescribable. Having the privilege to share even a small piece of that experience is what makes our job amazing.”
“I love being an SLP because I truly believe communication is a human right and I get to support that and advocate for that on a daily basis. Everyday is different and fun, and I’ve learned so much from my clients and their families.”
What are some of the domains in which SLPs specialize?
“We can work with any age group (birth-end of life)! Prior to becoming SLPs, we receive extensive education on anatomy and physiology as it pertains to speech, language, and cognition. Also, I don’t feel like a lot of people know that SLPA (Speech-Language Pathology Assistant) is a profession.”
“There are 9 domains that a speech-language pathologist is technically licensed to treat, with a comprehensive education provided to us in graduate school (and sometimes beyond!). We work to improve the communication skills of clients and students, which relies on extensive anatomy, physiology, neurology, and cognitive process awareness for humans across the lifespan. Some surprising domains our work covers include executive functioning skills, early feeding skills for children with cleft lip and palate, swallowing dysfunction, head and neck cancer,
“Our profession is so versatile. I could work in a hospital helping individuals learn to swallow and/or talk again following a stroke. I could work in a nursing home and help individuals with cognitive impairment or dementia create a memory book to remember family members and staff. Or I could work at the most wonderful nonprofit helping students with autism and other developmental disabilities learn life skills and job skills.”
“Speech-language pathologists do more than just help with articulation errors! Some of my favorite areas where I engage with my students include social communication, literacy skills, and workplace interactions.”
What are some other experiences, settings, and/or skills you’ve gained as an SLP outside of Bridgeway?
“After working with otolaryngology and pulmonology teams in hospital and outpatient clinical settings, I have learned to use a flexible endoscope and a rigid endoscope to administer vocal fold and swallowing function diagnostic tests. These devices are basically long, tubed medical instruments that are used in hospitals and ENT clinics to take videos and photos of your vocal folds and the structures in your throat, which obviously need to function properly for efficient verbal communication as well as nutritional intake. I worked with ENTs, respiratory therapists, and other speech-language pathologists specializing in voice and swallowing (AKA ‘voice/swallowing pathologists’) on multi-disciplinary teams to diagnose and treat voice and swallowing disorders.”
“During graduate school, I went to Mexico and provided speech and language therapy services to children with disabilities in both a daycare setting and in a school. I was able to learn how to implement therapy to Spanish speaking individuals, and learned about the similarities, and differences, we have in our cultures. It was humbling to realize that I was able to facilitate enriching language opportunities, even with a communication barrier – and picked up some Spanish along the way! The experience was unforgettable, and made me appreciate the services that we are able to provide for individuals.”
“I worked with patients with dementia and administered cognitive assessment to make recommendations for care. For those early in the disease process, I made recommendations with the rest of the team for the safest, least restrictive environment for them to live. For those late in the disease process, we worked on finding ways for them to be able to reminisce and remember meaningful events and people from their lives, reduce agitation/distress, and trained staff in ways to engage with the patients to promote as much independence as possible.”
“I worked in a large public school setting as a graduate student to support the AAC & Assistive Technology Consultant for the district. I worked with students who had communication needs ranging from using their eye gaze to access a communication device, using a joystick to access and navigate their academic lessons through a Chromebook, ASL users, 3-D object communicators, and to support children who were ESL learners. I have also worked in a long-term nursing home setting which involves working with adults on their cognition and memory strategies, while also assessing their swallowing skills to modify their diet based on their swallow muscle strength and coordination.”
“In graduate school I focused my learning on speech and language skills related to hearing loss. I’ve had great experiences conducting hearing screenings, both while in graduate school and in my career, as well as working alongside amazing Audiologists in an Auditory Processing Disorder Clinic. I’ve also collaborated with a Researcher at Ohio State University. Working with Dr. Bean’s lab has been rewarding as well as eye opening to the bridge needed between the clinical and research settings.”
What’s your go-to therapy activity, toy, item, or book?
“Whatever grabs my student’s interest! I love following my student’s lead and seeing what he or she is motivated to talk about.”
“I love drawing and creating art with students, I think this allows them to pull a lesson into their own realm of expression and understanding.”
“I love Boom cards, but I have found that incorporating crafts/coloring is a fun motivator and keeps the kids engaged. Also, BUBBLES are always a huge hit :)”
“I love to do anything related to science experiments or sensory experiences. These hands-on activities are so engaging and motivating for everyone! Engaging multiple sensory systems AND having fun are evidence-based learning strategies. Some of my favorites have been ‘rubber eggs’, ‘sink or float’, ‘fizzy volcanoes’ and ‘frozen dinosaur eggs’.”
“Plastic eggs! it’s amazing how excited students get to open things and see what’s inside!”
What are some go-to resources for good information that parents/teachers can refer to and easily access?
“ASHA, our national organization, has so many powerful resources for our students. I also recommend my teen and adult clients connect with their county service coordinator and with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities for support as they reach transition age. The Autism Self-Advocacy Network also has many resources for autistic adults.
“Our governing body (American Speech-Language Hearing Association) has a wealth of different information on the website (asha.org).”
“The ASHA website (whom we are licensed by) has a great breakdown regarding specific evidence-based tips for parents regarding building on their children’s communication skills at home. Though it is broken down by age, look through all ages listed. Your child may be demonstrating skills in certain areas at a given age, but demonstrating different skills at a different age entirely. This is okay! Read and notice what skills your child might have already, and do your best to build from there! https://www.asha.org/public/
What are your favorite strategies to support language growth that you could suggest for parents to use at home?
“Practice and MODELING! Be a language model for your child as often as possible in whatever modality they are using to communicate. If your child uses an AAC device, model on the device while also talking to them. If your child uses signs or picture symbols, model that while talking to them. If your child is a verbal communicator, keep modeling language a step above their current skills to expand their language.”
“Modeling the use of communication in fun and engaging ways that are meaningful to kids. For example, modeling language during play with favorite toys or interjections during shared movie watching. Kids love when you engage their interests and enter their world and I think it’s an opportunity for us to join them in a meaningful way that supports communication.”
“Model language WITHOUT expectation (as in, model it throughout your day and let your child/student). Be silly with your child/student, find out what they love, and show some love and care for it too. Try to model language from the child/student’s perspective when possible. And most importantly – allow them time to process!”
What has changed about your role as an SLP following the pandemic? How has communication changed?
“Limitations: Since the pandemic, I’ve noticed more difficulties prompting, modeling and practicing verbal/articulation skills as well as auditory processing skills. Speech behind masks can often become muffled, quiet or simply hard to understand without the visual cue of our mouths. Practicing articulation skills requires clear shields and/or face masks with clear inserts so that students and clients can see the production of specific sounds. Many of our students used to receive intervention using techniques from the PROMPT method which requires physical touch on the face and around the mouth, but since the pandemic this type of intervention has been severely limited or placed on hold.
“Benefits: Since the pandemic, I feel that communication among professionals and with families has increased. We are all becoming more familiar and comfortable with technology, making it easier to communicate from any setting. The use of video chats, online continuing education and virtual meetings have been a positive outcome in my role as an SLP.”
“There have been many changes this past year due to the pandemic, and the role we play is one of them! I’ve been able to learn how to provide therapy in a virtual setting, which has been an interesting experience to say the least! It has allowed our role to be even more versatile, and given us a rare, and unique opportunity to see what a students life and experiences are like in their home environment. The ability to see them in a different setting and environment has ensured, more than ever, that our goals, and activities are the most functional for these students, and we were able to adapt our goals and also assess carryover of their goals and progress across environments. One of my favorite changes is that we were able to communicate more with the caregivers and/or parents, and they were able to see how we address and target goals, and they were able to model these techniques with their children outside of therapy sessions.”
So many children, clients, and students use alternative and varied forms of communication to interact with us. What is “AAC,” and what are all the alternative methods of communication that can support functional communication?
“AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. This is a very broad term that encompasses a large range of communication supports and systems that an individual can use. AAC can be:
‘low-tech’ : These communication systems do not have any auditory output or electronic component to it. Some examples include picture icons, a choice board, tactile object board, PECS (picture exchange communication system), or a PODD (pragmatic organization dynamic display) communication book to support functional communication across settings.
‘mid-tech’: These communication systems or devices have electronic and voice output capability, but are typically battery operated with simpler functions. They do not have the dynamic, electronic screen of a high-tech device. Some examples of “mid-tech” AAC include a single button with a word or phrase programmed on it (Big Mac, Talking Brix) or a single overlay/communication board that pairs with auditory output (Quick Talker, GoTalk device).
‘high-tech’ AAC: This category includes speech generating devices (SGD) or tablet based devices that have a dynamic, electronic screen with a voice output. These can be accessed by directly touching the screen with finger/hand, using eye gaze, head pointing, or a switch button(s) to navigate the communication system. There are a variety of high-tech devices that people can use including different sizes, language systems and access methods.”
“The world of communication and AAC is always evolving and growing to facilitate social connection between others, no matter their mode of communication!”
What are some creative ways your clients/students have communicated with you? Tell us any good stories! (eg., Student saying “closet” when he wants to “close it” referring to a door)
“I had a student type into his device ‘bcsong’ to tell me he wanted me to sing the ABC’s. Same kid also was not into an activity we were doing and said ‘boredom.’ I wasn’t even mad, I was amazed!”
“I have a verbal student that told me that sometimes ‘it was lightning in [his] mind,’ which I thought was an amazing way to express the stress and anxiety that we can occasionally feel when we are in new environments, or learning new things, or processing complex concepts or emotions. I also have a student that specifically states ‘sock shoe door car’ on his device when he is ready to get going at home!”
“I had a student tell me her school was “branch way” for “Bridgeway”!”
The theme for BHSM at Bridgeway this month was increasing the use of survival signs (e.g. happy/bathroom/help/yes/no) as communication for our students. Have you had the opportunity to incorporate signing into your work with students at Bridgeway? If so, can you share any good experiences or memories?
“I have been using it with some students! I love the idea that these students will have an understanding of some basic signs they can use with classmates, especially peers who use ASL as a means of communication. I haven’t seen any in use yet! They seem to prefer using signs they have learned from their peers rather than ones I have taught.”
“I always try to incorporate signs into my work with students. I’m constantly learning new signs when I’m integrating into the classroom, and I try to use them as often as I can (paired with verbal speech!).”
“Use of signs to increase the communicative skill sets of our students and clients has been fascinating, inspiring, exciting, and eye-opening. At Bridgeway, our department has campaigned with teachers and other professional teams to learn, model, and use survival signs from themed vocabulary sets such as basic core vocabulary signs (e.g., more, finish, yes, no), routines and transition signs (e.g. bathroom, PT, OT, speech), snack and meal time signs (e.g. eat, drink, lunch, open), play and leisure signs (e.g. jump, swing, run, ball), and emotion signs (e.g. happy, sad, hurt, tired). The campaign has gone really well, with lots of teams participating and using recorded videos of signs we created in collaboration with Bridgeway colleagues that know sign language, interpreters working with our students, and outside collaborators within the D/deaf community.”
“The active role one takes physically when using signs, the mental images and motions we remember when we see familiar signs, and the variability of the visual medium for expression has always been fascinating to me. Working with both hearing and D/deaf students, I see daily how this medium of expression is so beneficial for learning, concept processing, and language growth. AND – actually signing with my students with purpose and regularly in this campaign has made me a better sign user/communicator!”
“The survival signs we have been modeling and teaching throughout this campaign have served as great visual aids/cues while working on specific speech and language skill targets, and a few of my students have achieved their speech and language objectives (such as answering yes/no questions, requesting/protesting and self-advocating) as a direct result of signs implemented as cues and modeled throughout their school day.”
A very happy Better Hearing and Speech Month to everyone! Here’s to inspiring the communicative potential and celebrating the communicative skills of our students, clients, and children each and every month as well!