Role-Gap for School Speech-Language Pathology

We have taken up the topic of the changing roles of the American school speech-language pathologist.   (cf.   The “New Role” of the School Speech-Language Pathologist!)  A gap is a lacune in current thinking, a kind of unfilled space. 

The history of the school SLP has been conceptualized as “service delivery.”  It is telling to read these two words.  It suggests a kind of passive role to help others, such as “service to mankind.” 

Over the last 100 years SLPs have demonstrated the important role they have in schools, far beyond just correcting speech sounds on a pull-basis.  The U. S. Department of Education recognizes SLPs as key evaluators in the assessment, placement and dismissal of special education children.  Not all school administrators value SLP treatment as much as they do knowledge application to questions about child development and learning.

SLPs cling to “artic” and their small treatment rooms.  They complain about paperwork as though it is a distraction.  IEP meetings steal time from treatment.  Parent and teacher conferences add to workload.  They convey the impression they think direct intervention is what school practice is all about.

Perhaps the “workload problems” are simply nudging SLPs to see their changing roles and opportunities for school leadership.

School psychologists skillfully have avoided over-commitment to treatment.  They advocate for leadership and program management roles for psychologists as well the traditional evaluator roles.  They do not give learning disability lessons and see emotionally disturbed children for therapy.  They now advocate for key roles in programs like Response to Intervention.

School SLPs need to see themselves as leaders and evaluators.  It is being pushed on them.  Right or wrong, administrators believe speech therapy can be purchased at a lower cost, and it can be done by less qualified personnel.  But it is clear they cannot get along without the vast diagnostic knowledge and skills SLPs have. 

There is no leadership in the field of communication disorders and sciences for a serious change and upgrade of the role of the school speech-langauge pathologist.  Old thinking is represented in the choice to refer to “speech therapist” and “speech therapy.”

From prior posts the modern school SLP needs to be taking the lead in many areas of school development.  An example is preschool education and prevention.  But SLPs who cling to pull out and a large treatment load do not have time for role growth and leadership.  They see paperwork as a barrier rather than an opportunity to  build competence and acceptance as school leaders.

SLPs should take more responsibility for school-wide evaluation on a par with school psychology.  They can evaluate autism and learning disability cases, and make placement recommendations.  If they are true language specialists, there should be a much broader role for SLPs.  Strength in cognitive science and learning should help them lead in reading management. 

How as the field lagged so far behind the changing times?  “Speech therapy” is alive and well in American schools and holds back professional growth and development.  Public policy advocacy should tell a  new story to the American public.

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