|Author: Rebecca Bryan|
|Communicating Effectively to Produce Effective Communicators
|"Communication is everything," says Judie Weiss, SLP, MA, CCC. "To be successful in the world, you need to know how to be an effective communicator. One must be aware of the subtleties of language. Establishing eye contact, understanding perspective, and giving clear, succinct, messages are important skills. There is both a tremendous shortage of speech therapists nationwide and also a tremendous need for our services." Weiss, who has worked in a variety of speech-language pathology positions over the past 26 years, is currently an SLP at Mill Creek Elementary School, part of the Central Bucks School District, in Warrington, Pennsylvania.
Though she was always interested in working with people, Weiss did not consider becoming a speech-language pathologist until a speech science professor approached her after hearing her speak to a group of students. "He was fascinated with the unusual quality of my voice and invited me to a speech clinic," recalls Weiss. "There, I learned about the science involved in speech therapy and also the diversity of populations that needed a speech therapist. I learned that, as a speech-language pathologist, you could work in the schools or the hospitals. You could work with adults or children. You could work anywhere in the world! I knew that I would be able to contribute to the betterment of our world and have a great impact on the lives of children and adults."
Over the years, Weiss has worked in Chicago with both regular and special education students of all ages. She has also worked as an adjunct instructor at Governors State University and with adults needing English as a second language (ESL) services in downtown Chicago. Upon moving to Philadelphia in 1985, Weiss held a number of positions, including consulting for a group home for mentally retarded adults, a nursing home, and maintaining a private practice. She also worked for SPIN (Special People in the Northeast) and BARC (Bucks County Association for Retarded Citizens).
Weiss has been employed at Mill Creek, one of fifteen elementary schools in Central Bucks, since 2004. Mill Creek provides services in speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, hearing support, guidance-counseling, learning disabilities, social skills and reading recovery. "I've always loved the schools and, after doing many types of speech work, I thought it might be nice to end my career as I started—back in the schools."
According to Weiss, working as a speech-language pathologist in the school system is a constant learning experience, which is an aspect of the job that she thoroughly enjoys. "As an educator, I just love to learn from other educators. I like seeing what other teachers are doing. There's just a wealth of knowledge to learn by being in a school." In turn, she also is able to educate teachers, parents and staff on a daily basis. "I feel that I am responsible for providing education to the teachers and parents in the community about speech and language," comments Weiss. "I love sharing interesting stories with my co-workers and I like to share new ideas I read or hear about. I am thrilled when I tell them something they can use in their classroom."
"There's just really nice teamwork," continues Weiss, who is a member of the Instructional Support Team at Mill Creek. "Teachers bring their concerns to the table and, as a team, we decide what course of action to take with the students: speech evaluation, psychological evaluation, behavioral study or full educational evaluation. We offer strategies that teachers can try in the classrooms."
Weiss explains that one of the main concerns that many teachers have is what to do when a student does not qualify for speech—based on standardized testing scores--but still does need some help language-wise. When dealing with this type of situation, Weiss implements a Specially Designed Instruction program for the teachers and gives them tips on how to help the student in question. She feels that, in order for teachers to really connect with a student having language difficulties, they should always establish eye contact before beginning a lesson. She also stresses the ideas of rephrasing instructions, using synonyms and having the child repeat what he heard in order to make sure that he understands. "It's like speaking with commas," explains Weiss. "Teachers need to analyze their own language and simplify."
Weiss is happy to help teachers by using her Specially Designed Instruction program because she feels that, though certain students may not necessarily qualify for speech therapy, a little extra assistance can be extremely helpful. "You have some gut [instinct] that they could benefit from your services, but you have to follow certain rules and regulations. In a perfect world, everyone could benefit from speech therapy. Everyone could benefit from one-on-one instruction, but you don't have that luxury anymore to be able to take everyone."
While not every child is eligible for speech nowadays, Weiss certainly sees a more diverse group of students than she did when she began teaching in 1979. "The students I treated were mainly for articulations and mild language difficulties," she remembers. "We got most of our information by taking a language sample. No speech therapist would take a student to work on pragmatics or auditory processing, and ADD and ADHD were not common terms. Basically, if a student was not using subject-verb agreement, their pronunciation was not correct and they had difficulty with r, s, l, k, g, f and th, we could evaluate them and put them on the caseload. We worked more in isolation and the general staff really didn't understand what the speech teacher did."
Today, Weiss works with a much wider variety of students. She currently provides therapy for a student with a Cleft Palate, a student with a Cochlear Implant, and a number of deaf, hard of hearing, autistic, Down's syndrome and learning disabled students. Additionally, one of her students suffers from Prader Willie Syndrome and many deal with expressive and receptive language disorders and articulation, pragmatic language and processing disorders. Weiss believes that better identification in today's school systems results in diverse caseloads for both her and speech-language pathologists across the country. "Every student has to be identified," she stresses. "We're legally responsible for finding kids, from preschool on, that have needs, and for developing educational programs to meet those needs."
On a daily basis, Weiss is responsible for several different areas of the speech-language pathology department at Mill Creek, many of which revolve around the therapy she provides for the 50 plus students she sees regularly. On any given day, Weiss may be screening new students that may be eligible for the speech program, interacting with several other professionals, including counselors, reading specialists, resource room and teaching staff, occupational therapists and psychologists, or writing specially designed instructions for the classrooms. Additionally, she writes and evaluates IEPs, holds meetings in order to review evaluation reports and completes Medical Access and Tracking forms.
Along with these responsibilities come inevitable challenges. Some of the biggest challenges Weiss faces are working to provide the best possible therapy for each of her students in the limited time that she has to work with them, and making sure that she is teaching skills that students will benefit from in both their classrooms and their lives. "I love the creativity of being a speech therapist [but] I dislike that, many times, my session is over and I'm just getting started on a really important point. I wish I had three more hours in my school day," she says.
Still, despite not seeming to ever have enough time, Weiss continuously sees tremendous progress in her students. This year, one student—a kindergartener who has a Cochlear Implant—has made tremendous strides in a short period of time. In addition to Weiss, the student sees other specialists in the school, including a teacher for the deaf and a resource room teacher, and he also requires a personal care assistant. "Seeing the world though his eyes and watching him put things together—it doesn't get better than that," relates Weiss. "In September, he would come in and was confused with the world. Now he's laughing and joking about things. His parents say, ‘People that haven't seen him in a year can now understand him.' They never thought that day would come. That's a real success story."
Though she has quite a few years as an SLP under her belt, Weiss continues to be amazed with the progression and development of the children she treats. She comments that, while many children, by the age of three, know thousands of words and can use those words in thousands of different combinations, "when you have someone that can't, it's a very complicated situation. But then, to see them begin to put everything together and make connections is amazing."
Because she has so much passion and love for the work she does, Weiss is extremely enthusiastic and encourages any student to consider a career in speech-language pathology. She believes that the field encompasses a variety of different areas, including medicine and psychology, and that it gives a person the opportunity to work both on their own and in a team environment in order to help others gain solid communication skills. "I get very excited when I hear someone wants to go into speech therapy," says Weiss. "I think it's a phenomenal field. More and more, people are going to qualify for speech and need our services. Unfortunately, not enough speech therapists are going into academia, and that's why there's a shortage—there are not enough people to teach at the universities and, therefore, university programs are becoming more competitive.
Through past experiences as well as her current position at Mill Creek, Weiss has a very strong appreciation for all that her profession has to offer. Though Weiss feels that her job is challenging enough at the present time, she isn't ruling out anything for the future, and stresses that because the field of speech-language pathology has so much to offer, there's no limit to what she could accomplish. "I would love to take more classes in sign language, pragmatic language disorders and hearing impairment. Someday, I might like to be involved with a research project on social language skill in young children and what impact they have on future job potential and success. Our field is wide open. Who knows what might spark my interest in the future?"
At this time, Weiss continues to work with and learn from her team of teachers at Mill Creek, as well as her students. She hopes that speech-language pathologists across the country will continue to work hard in order to help their students become successful communicators. "Good communication skills are essential in the world for whatever job our students eventually pursue. We should constantly be updating our skills and learning from co-workers and other professionals. The field of speech therapy is an ever-changing, ever-stimulating field that offers unique challenges and amazing opportunities for contribution in our society. I love going to work each day knowing that I will touch the life of at least one student—hopefully many more—and make a small impact on how they communicate with their peers and their family, now and in the future."
Judie Weiss, SLP, MA, CCC, is currently a speech-language pathologist at Mill Creek Elementary School in Warrington, Pennsylvania. She also maintains a small private practice. Weiss received both a Bachelor's and Master's degree from Kent State University in Ohio, and completed an externship for her master's thesis considering the role of the speech/language pathologist on the cleft palate team at the University of Chicago Hospitals and Clinics. She is member of the Pennsylvania state association and has been both an SLP and a member of ASHA for 26 years. She is the mother of two teenage daughters and married to Dr. Ned Weiss, an endocrinologist.
Rebecca Bryan is a freelance writer based in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. She is the editorial assistant for NEWS-Line for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists.