I have been a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) for 19 years. I am also the parent of two children with special needs who have received a total of 10 years of weekly speech therapy from other SLPs. In my career so far, I have had the privilege to work beside and learn from some amazing SLP’s, both women and men. But as with any profession, there is a variance, and you want to make sure you have a good one for your son/daughter’s therapy sessions. So how do you tell if you have a good one? It is not based on age, and it is not based solely on experience either. Here are a few things that I look for when I receive/find/am looking for an SLP for my own two sons:
A good SLP (or SLPA) usually exhibits most of these traits:
- Starts the session on time (or offers to make up time–if not that day, then another day, for a late starting session). Keep in mind that for most therapists and their companies of employment, an hour-long session is actually 50-minutes in direct therapy with your child (this includes any time spent talking/conferencing with you), i.e. a 50-minutes session is considered a full session. Also keep in mind, that if you are the one who is late, the therapist may not be able to give your child the full session secondary to the way clients are usually scheduled back to back.
- Regular attendance. Everyone cancels sometimes –therapists and families– kids get sick, life happens. In my workplace, I try to offer a makeup day/time when I am the one who has to cancel, though this is not always possible. Also, in my workplace, parents are expected to sign an attendance agreement, demonstrating that they understand that if they habitually cancel they may lose their services.
- Uses various motivators for the session. They see it as their job to find ways to engage your child in the therapy activities. You can help your SLP by letting them know your child’s favorites…activities, hobbies, colors, toys, etc. So for example, if your child is crazy about Thomas the Tank Engine, let them know. Also, don’t be alarmed if it seems the same toys are being used each session. There are many ways to incorporate your child’s favorites into working on various therapeutic speech/language goals and activities.
- Is professional. For me, this means several things including respecting my clients, their families, their time, and their privacy. For me personally, I have found that one way I maintain professional boundaries with the clients that I serve is that I do not “friend” my clients parents on social media, and recommend that parents do not send social media requests to their therapists. Do not be offended if your child’s therapist does not accept your friend request. This helps maintain a professional relationship between therapists and the families they serve. That being said, I have many wonderful friendships in the present that started back either when that therapist was my sons’ therapist, or when I was another child’s therapist, and we made the switch to a friend relationship once our “therapy” relationship was completed.
- Enjoys children/Positive attitude. Finds positive things about your child to share with you that you can both build on; even after a “hard” session. When my boys’ were little, they were hard clients due to the degree of their disability and occasional behaviors. It was always so wonderful to hear something positive about them after a session ended. Special needs parents need more of that. I always try to tell my parents of the kids I serve at least one thing positive at the end of each session.
- Stays up to date on current therapy techniques by seeking out online/in-person learning opportunities. SLPs do this by meeting the American Speech Hearing Association continuing education requirement. At present, SLPs have to complete 30 hours of continuing education hours (either online or in person) every 3 years in order to keep their certification.
- Knows what she doesn’t know. There have been times when I have had a new client and I knew with extra training I would be able to stay ahead of my client and be able to provide a treatment with efficacy (good result), even though I did not have a lot of experience with their diagnosis or communication device at the time of our first session. There were other times I was asked to see a client, and after the first session with the child, I knew I was not the best therapist for that client, and let them and my employer know so that a more knowledgeable therapist for their needs could be acquired. Speech-language pathology is a VAST field and it is just not possible to be truly versed in all the different therapies for all the different diagnoses. Even though there is a shortage of SLPs, if a new-to-you SLP tells you “I don’t know enough about (diagnosis) to properly treat your child”, thank them for their candor. In my humble opinion, the areas of trachs, feeding, stuttering, and cochlear implant come to mind as areas where the therapist needs to have either good experience or excellent training (and still have a supervisor available to them if no experience) to adequately and safely provide therapy. If your child’s goals are mainly speech/language, even a brand new SLP should be able to provide you with quality services due to the amount of education and internships they have had to complete through the process of achieving their license and certification.
- Will provide you with home program activities. This can be by giving you a few verbal suggestions after the session, or some SLPs may choose to give a handout/worksheet that gives you suggestions and ideas. As a parent, your role is very important to your child’s therapy progress. If a parent is able to do home program activities with a child in between weekly sessions, progress happens faster.You are an important member of your child’s “team”. Also, home program activities need not be time consuming or burdensome to give good benefit. For example, just 5 minutes a day can sometimes make a big difference, depending on the goal.
- Can/will explain the “what” and also the “why” of what she/he is doing. Pediatric speech-language pathologists do a lot of play based therapy, but believe me when I tell you there is a reason why they are doing that activity, cueing your child in that particular way, etc. What looks like “just play” to you has a lot of theory and education behind it! If you are unsure what your therapist is/was working on, ask! They should be able to give you specifics. and there should be a logical chain from the therapy activities she is doing to the end result (goal) wanting to be achieved.
- Is able to see a child’s negative behaviors as challenges within a diagnosis that she/he must find the way to overcome/resolve. It is the SLP’s job to work through your child’s behaviors to find what works for your child. That is what they are trained to do. They may need to have you be more involved in the session if behaviors are exceedingly difficult. In my practice, I have found that the more serious behaviors (hitting, biting, hair pulling, tantrumming) decreased with the increase of the child’s language skills, the implementation of a behavior plan, a reward system or a combination thereof. (Parents are present in my sessions for the entire session when more serious behaviors are an issue.)
A few other points to ponder…
- Age is just a number. Some of the best SLP’s my sons have ever had were “rookies”. Look for a solid knowledge base (like a general practitioner, they may not have a specialization yet but still a good knowledge base) who is enthusiastic and willing to learn more about your particular child’s diagnosis, speech device, etc. Do they have in enthusiasm (one “E”) what they lack in the other “E” (experience)? If so, they are probably a “keeper”.
- What is an SLPA? An SLPA is a Speech Language Pathology Assistant. SLPAs work under the supervision of an SLP. They are not required to have a Master’s degree, but have completed a 100 hour internship following completion of their required speech/language coursework. SLPAs can do the same therapy as an SLP with the exception of feeding therapy. The other difference is they are not allowed to complete evaluations. My daughter did short-term speech therapy with an SLPA who was wonderful!
Also, and this is important…if there is a problem– therapy just isn’t going well– it may have nothing to do with your therapist or their style of therapy, but the TIME OF DAY. I find that therapy with my boys works best in the mornings, as they are less tired and anxious to “do their good work”. My boys are also challenging therapy patients due to their diagnosis and behaviors, so I find that morning therapies, work best because then their SLP is “fresh” and has not already seen a full day of clients before them, and the boys were not tired from the day’s other activities.
There is an extreme shortage of SLP’s in some areas. You will have to decide, especially if you have been on a waiting list for a long time, if you think you really need a different SLP for your family, as that will probably mean being put back on the waiting list. When I start a new therapist with my boys, I always tell them, as the parent, “The boys have had lots of therapists over the years. I have found it works best to have you work with them for a month and then let us reconvene. Then you can tell me if you think you are a good fit for them and if our family is a good fit for you and vice versa”. I find this allows both the parents and the therapists (OT, PT, and SLP) a gracious “out” if either party feels the boys therapy needs are not a good fit for their skill set (or patience set).
Most of the SLPs you encounter love their job. Most of them are very good (you have to complete a Master’s degree to be an SLP, along with lengthy clinical and internship experiences, write a graduate paper or thesis and have completed a national exam). This is in addition to the continuing education that ASHA requires them to maintain their licensure! And most of them became pediatric SLP’s in the first place because they love kids and want to serve families in a “giving’ profession. I hope this post has given you some insight to some of the things to look for when your child is participating in speech therapy. I look forward to your comments. I also need to disclose that this post was written for information purposes only and does not, in any way, constitute the giving or receiving of medical advice.
**This blog tour was coordinated by Marla Murasko, from Musings From A Special Needs Mom
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