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August 31, 2011 / the speech monster

The Speechie Speaks

This website was borne mostly out of needing a place to collate my thoughts and reflections about my profession.

I’m a Speech-Language Pathologist working in the public school systems in Victoria, Australia. I absolutely love my job and would not trade this for anything else in the world (not even for a well-known, ridiculously paid handbag designer that I often dreamed of becoming…you know, all that talk about rich housewives!). However, I have discovered along the way, that passion for one’s job is not enough because we’re not islands and do not work in isolation. That means there are many external factors influencing the way one works and consequently affecting the outcome. For example, I cannot force a parent to follow up on an exercise I know is crucial to reinforce the child’s acquisition of a particular sound or language concept; all I can do is try to send home reminders and emphasize the need to practice this. This is just a small piece of the challenge pie.

In a few months, I’ll be giving birth to our first child. Maybe it’s hormonal changes – I know a lot of it is – but I’ve been getting more and more passionate about advocacy for children with speech and language disorders especially in this society (since this is my world now). Victoria Australia does not have specific mandates that a child with a speech and language difficulties receive speech and language pathology support. There are vague rules and regulations about a child with needs receiving help, resulting in a lot of inconsistencies across schools about how much support these children get.

This irks me – again, I blame some of this iration on hormonal changes because I’ve been feeling increasingly unjust in the last few months – because a lot of the families of children who desperately need the proper support at school aren’t capable themselves of advocating for their children.  I’ve tried arguing for specialist support for these students at a couple schools, and my latest effort was met with a cold “Schools need to be run like businesses these days. Parents as well need to take responsibility for their own children’s needs. We can’t cater for everybody.” To understand the full context of this line, and why my heart ached after hearing this, I will set the landscape: this school is located in a middle-to low SES area with lots of migrant families who do not speak English and may not even own a car. I don’t know about the cost of speech and language services elsewhere, but here in Victoria, we are running at around $65 for 30 minutes. Now, this is plenty affordable for most people, including the person who made that comment. But for a parent who is living paycheck to paycheck, this isn’t a sustainable option.To be fair, this school has implemented a diluted version of speech support at their school, where an integration aide who has gone through minimal speech pathology training is running the show with my guidance. Is this all the school can offer? These plans aren’t targeted for the child. I barely know the kids, as I have to visit at least 6 other schools. Are these kids getting quality therapy services? Absolutely not.

Worse is, I know this isn’t the only school trying to take shortcuts and chucking kids with specialized needs with an integration aide.

A lot of other speechies (as we are affectionately called here in Australia) I’ve spoken to have once felt this same way. In fact, a lot of integration aides I’ve communicated with over the last few years have felt unjust for having to deal with these kids, a lot of them receiving little guidance from teachers and even speechies. Yet, the reality is: this is happening and nobody is doing anything about it. What I’ve found when I plead my case to other friends is to just do the bare minimum and stop trying to change the world. I am but a really small voice and being not much of a flamboyant personality often my pleas fall on deaf ears. I’ve found little innovation in speech pathology here: people working with the department are trapped doing the same things they’ve always done. Conferences with new treatment ideas and techniques are met with skeptical remarks such as: the reality is, we only do fortnightly and inconsistent treatment; how are we going to implement this? Or, principals are never going to buy the new way we should be working. Or, there’s just not enough time because we need to do all these assessments for funding.

I found so many speechies to be lacking in coming up with solutions, preferring instead to whinge. Then there’s also the issue of devaluation of our profession. Many teachers don’t really know what we do, and when we don’t do what we’re supposed to, it makes them even more skeptical about what we do, and there goes our credibility out the window.

Is there nothing that can be done to change this? Are our students with special needs going to continue to suffer in silence?

I’m hoping to keep blogging thoughts about what I’m encountering. I don’t want this to be a doom and gloom blog, but one that really questions the reality of our school system, and in some ways, the legitimacy of our profession. I love my job and really hope to never be like so many others who have become dispassionate over the years. I’ve seen the profession take on new frontiers in the US and the UK; the exciting and innovative methodologies that transpire from those countries, and hope Australia will follow soon. Queensland seems to be doing a really great job leading the way in this country, but Victorians have a lot to do and learn. I also hope to keep a diary of other exciting things I’m reading about communicative disorders on this journal…because there’s just so much out there, I find myself losing track of what I’ve read and intended to follow up on!

This is one of my nesting projects. I’m excited as well to meet my little baby and track its speech and language progress, and will endeavor to plot it here.

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