The cable installer never knew the current was coming. He was electrocuted and fell from a pole to certain death. But he didn’t die. I was one of the health practitioners who cared for him and helped him regain the ability to speak and think. He recovered well enough to marry his girlfriend, go on to the university and earn a degree with a double major.
That’s one of the moments that has taken my breath away during my 30 years as a speech- language pathologist. January 4, 1982 marks the first day I was on the job. I am so thankful for a wonderful career, one I would highly recommend to others who want to change people’s lives.
There are so many patient stories that are dear to me. Here are just a few:
* The little girl who didn’t move up with her peers to the next group at daycare because of her apraxia, a brain disorder. At age 4, she was already falling behind. Three months later, with speech therapy, she made a significant turnaround. Apraxia is a motor speech disorder where the brain does not consistently send signals to the tongue and mouth telling them how to put sounds together into words. I heard the joy her parents expressed at this outside affirmation of their daughter’s progress.
* Another little girl could barely focus on an activity for 3 minutes, her attention was so fleeting. Six months after we began work together, she could concentrate on a task for 15 or 20 minutes and only needed to do three different tasks in an hour.
* The young women who heard for the first time after a cochlear implant. She practiced listening by identifying sounds in her environment and told me about hearing the birds outside her window. One day, she turned on the facet just for the wonder of hearing the sound of water. Another amazing moment.
* The toddler who grew up in a pediatric ICU where I worked earlier in my career. He had a tracheotomy and communicated with the nursing staff through sign language, creating signs for book, ball, drink and other words. We helped him learn how to communicate with his voice with a device on his trach tube to allow for sound production including the sound of laughter.
Being a speech-language pathologist is intellectually stimulating because every case is different. Each day I solve new puzzles and create new tasks and strategies to help each patient meet his or her goals.
So what exactly does a speech-language pathologist or a speech therapist do? And why the two names? I can’t tell you why there are two interchangeable terms for the same profession but I can explain what we do – and it’s much more than helping people pronounce their S’s and R’s.
Our three primary areas of practice includes:
* Improving cognition. That includes attention, memory, logic and reasoning, auditory processing, visual processing, and processing speed.
* Improving communication skills. Skills involved include listening and auditory comprehension, expressive language, social language, voice skills, and fluency of speech.
* Improving the ability to eat and swallow.
We see individuals from birth to old age with a wide variety of diagnoses, from autism to ADHD, cleft palate to strokes, brain injury to challenges with foreign accents. If communication or how the brain is working is part of the problem, chances are a speech-language pathologist can help patients with the solution or recovery.
Speech-language pathology is an optimistic field because we have positive outcomes with our patients. Our services result in people becoming more independent, being more involved in their community, achieving more at school, and returning to work. We get to know our clients and their families.
There is nothing better than to see patients achieve at a higher level than before they started working with me. Thank you to all my patients for the most satisfying of careers.
And if I’ve inspired you to consider speech therapy as a career, visit www.asha.org to find out more.