Why a Speech Pathologist for a student at school?
In the last eighteen years working in the teaching profession, I have seen significant changes in the classroom environment. As a graduate teacher in the year 2000, I was given a year one and two class. My colleagues were shocked to discover that I had been allocated two students diagnosed with ADHD. In addition to that, I had a boy who had come from a non-English speaking background. I was sent off to a 10-session professional development course to help me learn how to support him! In that educational era, a teacher would have a natural variety of academic abilities represented within the classroom. We had graduated from our teaching degrees with an understanding of how to modify a worksheet to cater for two or three ability groups. We were even tutored in the various ways by which you could keep your class ‘under control’. It was called ‘Behaviour Management’. Basically, if I just praised my students for the good and tried to ignore the bad, I should be okay. There was also the detention system if my students’ behaviour needed further intervention. Somehow or other, I managed to get through that year. One of the students with ADHD went on medication and the other one was drawn to my sense of humour, so the year wasn’t all that bad. My student from the non-English speaking background… Well I did my best. However, unbeknown to my colleagues and I, the landscape of mainstream education was changing more rapidly than we could have ever imagined. In the next few years, more and more parents came to us to share the news that their child had been ‘given a diagnosis’. Some children came with sensory processing issues. Others, developmental delays, auditory processing delays, autism spectrum disorder, physical disabilities, the list went on and on. It was no longer a case of just a couple of children in my class needing a little extra care. Now, up to a third of my students had needs that ought to be taken into consideration in my weekly planning. I dearly wanted to carefully address the needs of every student in my class, but I was one woman in a sea of 25 students. I was one woman with four years of university training that didn’t equip me with the skills to address the very individual, specific needs of all my children. The fact of the matter is, a teacher is trained to provide education in the areas of literacy, numeracy, humanities, sciences, the arts and sport. We were never trained to provide ongoing remediation for a child with who has sensory processing issues. We were never equipped to help a child learn how to read social cues and respond appropriately. We were never taken through a course on how to help a child with a poor working memory to compensate for his memory gaps. Sadly, we weren’t taught how to help a child deal with the constant barrage of sensory overload that occurs every day in the school environment. Actually, there is a whole lot of things that we weren’t trained to do. Even now, returning to university to complete my Masters of Special Education, there is still a whole pool of knowledge that I will never truly understand. This area pertains to how we use minute elements of speech and language to draw meaning from the words and actions of others, and how we use our own speech, language and emotions to communicate our intentions. Sure, I can teach a child how to write a persuasive essay, comprehend a basic text, structure and present a class talk… but if a child is struggling to communicate at the same general level as their peers for whatever reason, there is only so much I can do in the classroom. It is for this reason, that the role of the Speech Pathologist is becoming increasingly important in our schools. Speech Pathologists bring a whole area of expertise that even the most seasoned teacher does not have access to. They have been trained in the nuances of communication and have the time and knowledge to pin-point seemingly small yet significant factors that may be impeding a child’s communication skills. When a Speech Pathologist spends time with a child, their attention is solely on that child for 30 minutes straight. There are no other students vying for their attention; all the therapist is thinking about is that one child in that therapy session at that moment. When I am a classroom teacher in a busy school, there is no way I can give a student 30 minutes uninterrupted time, let alone provide intervention for their communication development. Whilst teachers continue to try and keep abreast of developments in multiple disciplines, particularly with regard to technology, Speech Pathologists continue to focus on their one specific domain. Communication. A Speech Pathologist is required to continue perfecting their discipline, and their membership of their association (Speech Pathology Australia) is dependent upon their continual professional development. When a child is struggling to communicate at an age-appropriate level, either by word or written text, or they are unable to keep up with the messages and signals being communicated to them, then it is time to call a Speech Pathologist. The educational landscape has quickly changed in the past 15 years, and we need to realise that classroom teachers are no longer the solution to every struggle our child faces. If your child is struggling in the classroom, perhaps it is time to enlist some additional help. Why not ask the Special Education Teacher in your school to recommend a well-respected Speech Pathologist to assist your child in their educational journey?
Louise Griffiths Educational Consultant Exploring All Options firstname.lastname@example.org