What is a speech language pathologist (SLP)? What does a speech language pathologist do? I remember all throughout undergrad, people always asked me that question when I told them my major. I remember being so annoyed and thinking I never hear anyone ask what does a physical therapist, doctor or nurse do. Why do people not know who we are? A few months ago, I was in TJMaxx and I somehow spent 10 minutes explaining to my college-aged cashier what a speech therapist is and convincing her to look into our field because she was currently an undecided major. I want people to know about this field I love. I want more people in this field that look like me. So, my first post on the topic of speech therapy isn’t for my fellow speechies, (sorry friends). However, it is for my family, friends, social media peers and anyone else who maybe a little curious on just what a speech therapist does and maybe hoping to find a career in this great field, someday.
So, what is a SLP? It is one of my favorite questions to answer. It is one of my favorite subjects to talk about, because let’s be honest, no matter how many times we say we aren’t going to talk about work, it somehow ends up being a 20-minute conversation before we know it. Who does our “government” as I like to call them, say we are? The American Speech and Hearing Association defines SLPs as clinicians who work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive communication and swallowing disorders in children and adults. Now, that is the textbook definition. My definition of a speech language pathologist is an individual who advocates for children and adults with speech, language, swallowing disorders, social and cognitive communication disorders or delays. Yes, we assess, we diagnose, we treat but most importantly we advocate.
We advocate to the doctors about the nutritional needs of our Down syndrome patient that isn’t taking bottle feeds or to their mother’s nipple. We explain to teachers why a child with an African American dialect is not a disorder of language but a difference. We inform nurses why it is not okay for our stroke patients to have ice chips when they have been diagnosed with dysphagia. We provide families with simple ways to communicate with our aphasia or dementia patients. We help first responders understand how to respond when interacting with child with autism who isn’t giving eye contact or engaging in conversation. We advocate to companies and write grants to help nonverbal children gain equipment to communicate.
We are more than speech teachers. We do more than teach the /r/ sound or fix a lisp. We are so much more. We are so much more to the mother that has never heard her child call her name. We are so much more to the parent whose child won’t eat. We are so much more to the family of the dementia patient who can’t remember their son’s name or how to say I love you. We are more to the head and neck cancer patient who is learning to swallow all over again.
No, we are not teachers, tutors, doctors, or nurses, as we are commonly mistaken as. We are speech language pathologists. We are advocating for our patients every single day. We are constantly thinking of our patients even when we are trying not. Some patients we see for years and develop close relationships with them and their families.
Me personally, I am a pediatric SLP. I work with children in an outpatient clinic. I work with children daily varying in ages. I have worked with children with articulation, language delays, stuttering and I am currently building an interest and knowledge in children with feeding disorders. I love what I do and I am passionate about it. No, everyday I am not excited to walk into my job but everyday that I am able to make a difference in a person’s or family’s life, it makes the good days outweigh the bad.
So that is what we do. That is who we are. This is what six years of schooling prepared us for. We deal with the good, bad and sometimes ugly, but we make a difference, whether people know about us or not. I couldn’t be more grateful for that and God choosing me to be in this rewarding field.