Speech pathologists vital to communication

Published 3:51 pm Friday, May 26, 2017

May is a special month for speech-language pathologists. The month of May is Better Hearing and Speech Month recognized by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, which is the accrediting body for speech-language pathologists and audiologists. Each May, Better Hearing and Speech Month provides the opportunity for speech-language pathologists and audiologists to promote awareness about communication disorders and their role as ASHA members in providing life-altering treatment. This year’s theme is “Communication: The Key to Connection.”

Many people are under the assumption that speech-language pathologists, also known as speech therapists, only work with children who need help saying their sounds. However, speech-language pathologists can work in a wide variety of settings, with a wide variety of people, and various disorders. Speech-language pathologists can work in schools, hospitals (outpatients and inpatients), nursing homes, ear, nose and throat offices, daycares and home health. We, as speech-language pathologists, can help adults who have had a stroke understand and answer questions so that they can talk to their families and friends again. We help children on the autism spectrum work on their social skills in hopes that they may make friends at school. We work with individuals who have swallowing difficulty so they can drink their morning coffee. We work with traumatic brain injury patients to improve their safety and cognition in hopes they can return to school or their job. We help ease the anxiety of a child who stutters so that they can stand up in front of their class and read a poem. We can show individuals how to get their “voice back” by placing a Passy-Muir Valve on their tracheostomy. We can help a child who gets a cochlear implant communicate by transitioning from sign language to verbal communication. We can help individuals with head and neck cancer through the process with swallowing, diet modifications and communication changes. We can teach singers or teachers or coaches who damage their vocal cords good vocal hygiene habits and rehab their voices to return to their jobs. We can help babies and children who have had a repaired cleft palate with their speech production. We assist people to strengthen their facial muscles after a stroke that caused facial drooping and be more confident looking at themselves in the mirror again.

We sometimes have to have difficult conversations with family members to tell them that their loved one is not safe to return home due to their cognitive impairments or that their loved one may not be able to eat by mouth again. We help children pronounce sounds correctly. We assist children in finding their words to be able to tell their parents “I love you” or even “I want a cookie” after years of silence and frustration. We teach memory strategies to someone with dementia so they can remember their family member’s names. We help individuals who can no longer communicate with their mouth use a speech-generating communication device to say hello to an old friend.

We not only see these people at work, we are constantly thinking about them at home and coming up with different ways to help them functionally improve in any way. We understand the importance of communicating with patients, families, doctors, nurses and teachers to provide the right environment necessary for patients to achieve their goals. The goal of speech therapy is to provide individuals, whether developing skills or rehabbing skills, the ability to communicate effectively and safely. Speech-language pathologists are always looking for ways to help people communicate in order to connect to others. Communication is the key to connection.

Harris S. Harrell, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist at Vidant Beaufort Hospital.