Sandy Dorsey, MA, CCC-SLP has spent over 15 years as a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP). An SLP is a highly trained professional who evaluates and treats, children and adults, who have speech (coordinating sound to talk) and language (understanding others and/or expressing thoughts and feelings) disorders, as well as difficulties swallowing.
Sandy’s journey as an SLP started out as a simple case of curiosity. As a young girl, her uncle Henry developed Alzheimer’s disease, and for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why he struggled with communication.
She took that curiosity to the next level later on in life and entered Howard University to major in Speech-Language Pathology. During this time, she became the President of the National Student Speech and Hearing Association; her active involvement with the American Speech Language and Hearing Association led her to being offered a full scholarship to the University of Tennessee.
Sandy later went on to become the founder of All About Speech LLC; a professional Speech-Pathology practice that focuses on the individual’s strengths and has helped countless individuals ranging from young children to seniors with a wide range of speech-language and swallowing disorders.
Sandy approaches each client with the belief that no two cases are the same and believes in taking a holistic approach to accurately assess and personalize each therapy plan. Patience, persistence and her upbeat personality helps her clients succeed in meeting their goals. This past July, Sandy’s commitment for helping others prompted her to start a non-profit organization, Smiles for Speech Inc. ; which provides speech, language and educational resources, as well as oral care items for children in impoverished communities. It’s safe to say her life and work are intricately entwined.
Sandy has found that to be a successful Speech Language Pathologist, one should know the following:
What you learn at school may feel very different on the job
If you are a new grad, it is normal to feel that you don’t know everything at your first job. Graduate externships are a great first step in learning, the expectation to be independent changes everything. It is not until you are officially working that you feel the weight and responsibilities that come with your managing your time effectively with a big caseload and report deadlines.
This is why the clinical fellowship year (CFY) is so important. To be a certified SLP, you must have 9 months of supervised work after graduate school and pass the Praxis in order to be licensed and certified. So, don’t panic, learn as much as you can from your supervisor and remember you know a lot more than you think you do!
Gather as much information as you can on each child/client you work with
Approach the client in a holistic way. At Sandy’s first job working with teenagers in Harlem, New York, in the late 90’s, many children had parents that had a limited education and/or working multiple jobs with very little time, which made them unable to offer their child the academic support they need at home to really excel in school.
Therefore at times before therapy can begin and to truly be effective, in the morning you may have to provide breakfast for the children if they came to school hungry. So, make a brief assessment of any conditions that may affect their therapy session.
Some things may not change for example, the discomfort of not wearing a clean shirt or shoes that fit properly. But talking about these challenges and discoveries is often very much needed to begin to break the barrier to success.
Adopt a positive attitude
When it comes to this career path, you will need loads of patience, compassion, and self-motivation to succeed. You have to be able to offer support and nurture your clients, while firmly encouraging them to move forward to achieve their goals.
You will also need a positive attitude in order to encourage and motivate individuals not to give up. It is not easy to be vulnerable and children can be easily frustrated. Therefore it is up to you to make it fun and push enough for progress, but know the limits that may lead to the individual giving up.
Everyone wants to feel successful, so being that cheerleader ready to celebrate every small gain, especially when the progress may be slow, is key!
Always be prepared with the materials needed and have a backup plan
When you are first starting out as a new therapist, you may not have materials available to you, depending on the setting. For this reason, you need to build up your go-to materials to keep on hand, based on the population you are serving. Also, always bring more than you think you may need in your therapy session, in case you have to change something on the spot.
You may think a new activity will work, but you don’t know until you try. Being prepared is always best! Working with children and adults alike, you want to be ready for any surprises or glitches.
With experience, you will learn how to quickly adapt and modify as you go, but starting off, it is much better to have a supply of your own materials that you are already comfortable working with. Teachers pay teachers is a great resource for getting materials that you can print and that are more DIY, so you don’t need to buy everything which can tend to get pricey.
Be an advocate
With so many professionals involved in the care of your client, remember you are the expert in this field. You must be an advocate for your clients and speak up for what you think is right. Especially when you work with communication and clients that may not be able to speak for themselves.
If you feel that an individual needs extra support outside of your scope of practice, be sure to refer them. We are the eyes and ears for our clients, especially with children in early intervention.
Be creative, flexible and dynamic
You will need creativity when dealing with clients, continually seek ways to help your clients learn and grow. With children, try to discover their learning style and celebrate their individuality.
Sometimes these methods might be unconventional, but may work for that child. Always look for ways to get deeper insight into your clients’ needs that can be motivating for them to push forward.
Things can change daily when it comes to serving students as well as adults. Be so prepared to be flexible and adapt to any schedule or MOOD. Things can change from day to day so you gotta roll with the punches! Sometimes literally!
Establish great relationships / mentors
As in any profession, mentors are key. Starting with undergraduate school, focus on building relationships with everyone you can. That is your professors, clinical supervisors and colleagues. It is an extremely small profession, so you want to know as many people as possible.
Stay relevant by taking courses and being adept with new trends and techniques
In other to excel in any profession you need to stay relevant. Staying relevant means being adept with all trends and techniques in your field of work. Current trends for SLP’s are:
Telepractice – this involves receiving speech therapy services online through skype and other means. It allows children in areas in remote areas or with a limited number of to SLPs to get gain access to speech services.
Transgender communication – an elective service to focus on voice, verbal and nonverbal communication skills that applies to the way the individual identifies his/herself.
APPs – there are many great apps SLPs are more frequently in treatment, while some use as reinforcement at the end of the session.
Give your best always and keep your communication lines open
It is extremely important to keep a healthy relationship with everyone you work with and don’t burn any bridges. Speech Language Pathology is a small profession and word travels fast.
Don’t assume that people know what you do, demystify the process
One of the challenges you will face as an SLP is that people may not know who you are and what exactly you do. With few people entering the profession, it is no surprise that people would not know exactly what you do.
Teachers and families may hear from their children that all they do in speech therapy is play. In our field, play is therapy. Yes, we try to make therapy as fun as possible, so people may seem to think we are having too much fun!
But that should not discourage you from doing what you gotta do. As busy as you may be, take some time to educate people when they ask. In most settings, you may need to do an in service, distribute information about who you are and what you do.
Are you a professional or aspiring speech language pathologist? Or do you work in a rarely known industry? Do you have some key lessons to share?
Let us know here.