Speech, Speech Teacher, Ms. Speech, Speech Lady: I have heard them all, from students, teachers, and administrators alike. In fact, I am a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP).
What is a speech-language pathologist? We are specially trained professionals who have a master’s degree, hold the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), a license, and a specialized credential. Why is it important to use the correct title? Not only because ASHA mandates us to, but also so that the general public and other professionals know we are specialists, and that we are someone to go to for specific expert help. A “speech teacher” teaches public speaking. A speech-language pathologist teaches children to communicate. There is a world of difference.
Currently, there is a nationwide shortage of SLPs. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national employment rate of SLPs is expected to grow much faster than average: 25,400 SLPs will be needed by 2026—an 18% increase in job openings. Critical shortages of SLPs exist in all regions of the country but are particularly extreme in California. This impedes the ability of students with disabilities to reach their full academic, social, and emotional potential. It is a concern because most SLPs are employed in school settings, and when schools cannot employ enough qualified individuals the students’ needs go unmet. Local school districts have an important role to play in reducing the acute shortage of SLPs. Successful recruitment and retention of SLPs is critical!
Ukiah Unified School District (UUSD) currently employs five full-time SLPs, two part-time SLPs, and contracts with several retired SLPs to do specific tasks, such as assessments. We also contract with an outside agency that provides teletherapy. With a myriad of students, from preschool to high school, as well as independent study, a community transition program, private schools, and public charter schools we have our hands full! Over the past five years, seven vacancies have been filled with four SLPs (two full-time). It is challenging to address the needs of our students when we are stretched so thin.
SLPs help children with communication disorders that affect success in classroom activities, social interaction, literacy, and learning. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA, 2004) mandates that schools provide speech-language services for children with communication disorders that adversely affect their educational performance. While good communication skills lead to successful speaking, thinking, reading, writing, and learning, poor communication skills can lead to problems with understanding classroom instruction, building and maintaining relationships, and overall educational achievement.
SLPs in schools help children with a wide variety of disabilities affecting language, voice, stuttering, articulation, and swallowing. These disorders can be associated with hearing loss, cleft palate, cerebral palsy and other motor problems, learning disabilities, autism, developmental delays, traumatic brain injuries, intellectual disabilities, genetic syndromes, or other problems. Responsibilities of school-based SLPs include: prevention of communication disorders, identification of students at risk for later problems, assessment of students’ communication skills, evaluation of the results of comprehensive assessments, development and implementation of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), documentation of outcomes, collaboration with teachers and other professionals, advocacy for teaching/therapy practices, and more.
SLPs work hard every day to help our students communicate more effectively, and thereby increase their quality of life. SLPs must maintain state licensure, credential, and national certification through ASHA. These fees easily reach $500-$1000/year. SLPs should be fairly compensated for their accomplishments and additional education and certification requirements. I am proud of the dedication and hard work put in by our UUSD SLPs!
ASHA Resources: www.asha.org/public/
Locate a Professional: www.asha.org/proserv/
ASHA’s Action Center for Consumers: toll free 1-800-638-8255
About the author: Marisa Sizemore, MA CCC-SLP, is a Speech-Language Pathologist employed by Ukiah Unified School District since August 2013. As a native Ukiahan, she is grateful to be able to practice her profession in the wonderful community that helped raise her. She is a member of Ukiah Teachers’ Association and CTA/NEA.