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The Speech Bubble

The Speech Bubble

“What exactly is Speech-Language Pathology?” I get this question all the time and it instantly makes me laugh because I wasn’t quite sure what it was either…. even after I had chosen it as my major.

Speech Pathology isn’t the most popular of majors or professions. I vividly remember in college, there were never any Speech Pathology tables to visit at the career fair and gaining clinical shadowing experiences on your own was limited. There were about 30 of us Speech Pathology students in the entire department and only five other classmates graduated alongside me. 

As a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP), I assess, diagnose, and treat both communication and swallowing disorders. SLP’s can work with both children and adults. Think of our profession as being an umbrella of various areas that can be of focus. From working with a child who has Autism on both their language development and social skills to helping an adult stroke patient rebuild both their memory and swallowing functions, I’ve come to find that SLP’s are a part of the “unsung heroes” within the healthcare world.

Remember, lots of people don’t know what we do, but the profession can provide endless opportunities. In fact, according to U.S. News & World Report, Speech-Language Pathology ranked 23rd out of the 25 best jobs of 2019. 

Sounds like a promising career, right? It is and it has been for me personally, BUT we desperately need more of us represented in this field. According to The Atlantic, we are the fourth whitest job in America and get this…. White children are 19% more likely than African American children AND 65% more likely than Hispanic children to be diagnosed with Autism. Why is that?

Currently, 8% of SLP’s identify as a racial minority – and there’s not a lot of data on what percentage of those SLP’s specifically identify as African American.

I was motivated to research the dynamics of race and the land of SLP while obtaining my doctorate and found that there are a number of factors that contribute to jaw-dropping statistics like the ones mentioned above. The main factor, however, related to implicit bias. Remember, Speech-Language Pathology is considered one of the whitest professions in the country and with that comes a boat load of biases that could potentially affect the proper assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of both our pediatric and adult patients.

Picture this: There are two students who are nearly identical on paper. They’re the same age, live two blocks away from each other, go to the same school, and even make the same grades in their preschool class. The only difference is that of their race. One student is white and the other is Black. Their pre-school teacher, who is white, notices that both students are having difficulty with social skills in class (i.e. not turn-taking or making eye contact, having a tough time transitioning from one activity to another, and not getting along with classmates). The teacher refers her white student to an SLP for assessment which could directly lead to speech therapy, but she chooses not to refer her Black student. Why? Because she’s been conditioned to think that her Black student’s negative behavior is normal – all due to her implicit biases regarding Black people, including our Black children.

In the days of Black Lives Matter and our country gradually beginning to acknowledge both the loud (and quiet) racism that flows within its veins, it is evident now more than ever, that discrimination can exist any and everywhere – this includes within the opaque bubble of Speech-Language Pathology. 

To do my part in making change within our profession, I first have established my pediatric private practice: The Speech Exchange and Language Therapy, Inc. The Speech Exchange was established to enhance the lives of all children with communication disorders by providing transformative speech therapy, offering support for their families, and ensuring that the entire journey towards healing is accessible, uncomplicated, comforting, and successful. Along with our mission, we are also passionate about advocating for the equal rights of all children within the SLP profession.

And second, I’m doing my best to pop the speech bubble….one day at a time! I encourage you to look a little more into a career like Speech-Language Pathology; something that may not be as well-known. Those, I have found, are the ones that need us the most. Your voice, alone, can make a world of difference in our community and our world!

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