In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to give a well-deserved “Thanks!” to my talented and extraordinary little sister, Elisabeth Miller, M.S., CCC-SLP. She has many letters after her name but there’s not an ounce of pomp. Elisabeth works for RiverKids Pediatric Home Health, where she provides clinical Speech & Language Therapy services for Medicaid Patients ages Birth to 21. Since she’s so kindly taken the Thanksgiving break to visit her L.A. based sister (myself), I thought I’d take this opportunity to interview her about her work in hopes that it will lend some clarity as to what exactly Speech & Language Pathologists (SLP) do.
In general, what does a Speech & Language Pathologist do?
We treat people with all types of communication disorders, which includes any disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate and understand the world around them. We also work on feeding and swallowing for kids and adults who have food aversions/swallowing disorders, and babies weaning from G-Tubes.
Why did you choose to pursue a degree in Speech Pathology?
My mother (our mother) picked it for me. I wanted to work with children, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a teacher in a school because I didn’t know if I wanted to work with large groups of kids. My mother told me to be an SLP because I could work with kids or adults in a 1:1 setting in a hospital or school, and I would always have a job .
Have you found that to be true?
Yes, jobs are plentiful. Totally recession proof. It’s emotionally rewarding and challenging.
What types of kids do you work with?
I see children who have complex medical histories, like prematurity, long hospital stays, weaning from g-buttons or ventilators. I encounter parents who are overwhelmed with the diagnosis and I’m able to provide family support, education, training, and help their child see improvements.
Tell us a story. A good one about your experience as an SLP.
My favorite kids are those who are labeled as Intellectually Disabled (ID) formerly known as Mentally Retarded. My one little boy, age 9, was labeled as ID and never really able to speak. He had lots of therapy but what I discovered during testing was that he actually had complex motor deficits, including dysarthria (muscle weakness), and Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), which prevented him from acquiring spoken language. His family had wanted him to speak but had given up hope that it was possible because it had been so many years and he just wasn’t progressing. What I found is that when we took the focus away from forcing him to communicate and teaching him instead how to control the muscles in his mouth to formulate sounds, syllables, and words that he was quite capable of being a verbal communicator; he just never had the opportunity or appropriate treatment. I have learned never to give up on kids based on a diagnosis of ID or Autism. Currently, he’s 10 now and he’s playing with his siblings appropriately and calls for them by name using short phrases. He’s making great strides.
What’s one thing you think that the schools do well at in terms of providing SLP Services to students?
I think the schools are doing well at trying to identify children earlier and getting them into special programs at a younger age, which means that they will hopefully have better outcomes as they get older.
What’s one thing you think the schools could improve upon?
Not removing services for children who are in Middle and High School, as this is a critical period for them to learn skills they may not have acquired during their younger years, such as reading, social-communication skills, and functional communication. We have to better prepare them to leave high school.
Have you found your passion within your career?
Definitely! I love working with pediatrics. I work in a Home Health setting and I get the best of both worlds: access to the family, home environment, and able to work with the child 1:1 or incorporate siblings or peers within the community.
Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.