By: Shelley Leiner, M-SLP, S-LP (C), Speech-Language Pathologist, Talk With Me – Anglophone East School District

Recently, a family friend that I’ve not seen in about 20 years asked me what I ended up doing for a living. I paused and considered the short/easy answer that I was about to give him: I’m a speech therapist (even though I find that title reductive and missing so much of what we actually do).  “Cool,” was his response. “So you work with kids with speech impediments?” Umm, not exactly, I thought, although to be fair S-LPs (speech-language pathologists) do work with a lot of children who have difficulty producing a clear /r/ sound, or who have a lisp, or who make so many speech sound errors that only their mothers, or primary caregivers can understand them.  But this is really just the tip of the iceberg of what we do in our professional lives.  At this point, I took a deep breath and he got the long answer:

Actually in my work, I can serve clients of all ages, with many different diagnosed (and undiagnosed) conditions or disorders, in all types of settings and on all kinds of helping teams.  I have the privilege of working with the parents of infants and toddlers, helping them build the foundation for successful communication. I counsel parents (and parents-to-be) on speech and language milestones and then coach them on how to observe, wait and listen; include, imitate and interpret, and expand their child’s vocabulary.  I work with preschoolers and their caregivers on oral language and pre-literacy skills with the hope that they have what’s needed to start school on the right foot.  I can work with school-age children teaching proper grammar, and strategies for active listening, reading comprehension and memory, processing language, problem-solving and stuttering, just to name a few. I might work with those who have voice disorders that result from a medical or psychological issue, or even unhealthy vocal habits (like raising their voice too frequently).  I help adults and seniors who have had strokes, or progressive degenerative diseases to hopefully help them regain some of the language abilities that the lesions in their brains have stolen.  I might even help develop alternative or augmented (think Stephen Hawking) ways to communicate for those patients who are non-verbal or have lost their ability to communicate through speech.

I can work on teams in community health centres, schools, children’s and rehabilitative hospitals and client’s homes.  I contribute some of the puzzle pieces that help other professionals make more informed decisions about patient care or student educational plans. I also learn from helping clients that have learning disabilities, or have been born with multiple disorders or one of many syndromes.  I can do research to determine the effectiveness of assessment tools and therapy approaches and advocate for those that may benefit from S-LP expertise.  I give workshops to educators, teaching assistants and parents of children with special needs, and I’ve presented to college and university students.  I am fortunate to have chosen a helping profession dedicated to serving clients and their families with compassion, empathy and integrity.

“So you don’t work ‘just with kids who have speech impediments’?” he asked, chuckling.

“Not exactly, old friend, not exactly.”