‘So, you deal with lisps and stutters, right?!’
Every speech pathologist has heard it. Whether it was from our clients, our cousin at a family reunion, or that lady we get chatting to in the Woolworths checkout. I think that sometimes, when people imagine me doing my job, they have images in their minds of Geoffrey Rush from The King’s Speech. You know, that scene where he has the King of England lying sprawled out on a tattered Persian rug, while the Queen of England sits atop of her husband’s stomach, to strengthen his diaphragm. Or they imagine that I know every tongue twister that has ever been invented, and they try to prove that they do not in fact need my services by proceeding to chant one such tongue twister back to me. “I’m a thistle sifter”, they say. “I have a sieve of sifted thistles, and a sieve of unsifted thistles”.
“Well, nice to meet you thistle sifter,” I respond. “I’m a speech pathologist.”
But, people are right to ask questions. Because the role of a speech pathologist is varied, and often misunderstood.
So, in order to shed more light on what we, as speech pathologists, actually do, I have interviewed two of our Loqui Speech Pathologists, Bryony and Emily. Bryony is our team member based in Adelaide, and Emily is a Brisbane gal. They both work with clients to optimise their communication and swallowing.
Firstly I asked them what kinds of clients they work with.
Bryony works “predominantly with clients living in residential aged care facilities. The types of clients I see varies greatly. Often residents do not realise that a Speech Pathologist can assist with swallowing difficulties, so they can be a little confused when I show up at their door! A variety of neurological conditions, as well as just the typical ageing process, can have an impact on someone’s swallowing safety. Examples of clients I work with includes those who have dementia, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, motor neurone disease, and multiple sclerosis.”
Emily, also works with clients in residential aged care facilities. Additionally, she see clients in the community. Her community clients are “often people who have recently returned home from hospital, and require follow up assessment of their swallowing. I do also see some clients in their homes for communication therapy, which may be as a result of a stroke or acquired brain injury.”
Bryony and Emily then described what their typical day looks like.
Bryony’s day “usually starts with an early morning coffee on my drive to the first Residential Aged Care Facility of the day. I like to arrive to facilities bright and early, as I find I get the most information out of my clients by observing them eat breakfast. My day is then filled with swallowing assessments, completing documentation, and troubleshooting with staff members. I also assist some residents with their communication needs – often this can involve providing them exercises to complete, or alternative forms of communication such as picture boards so that their family and the staff can understand their wants and needs. I also provide formal education sessions to staff members at the facilities, to broaden their knowledge on a variety of topics including: textured modified diets, communication disorders, assisting residents with dementia to eat and drink, and oral mouth cares. Following these visits, I head to my local cafe or back home to my puppy, to complete some reports and projects.”
Bryony also gave me the details of what she packs in her ‘speechie tool-kit’.
“My tool kit for swallowing assessments includes a torch, thickener, oral swabs, banana, jatz biscuits, a jam sandwich and some yoghurt. I always carry around some syringes, to test drink thickness, as well as some basic communication boards to ensure I can engage with all residents.”
Both Bryony and Emily stated that they find their work extremely rewarding. For Emily, it is “being able to make a difference to the lives of the people she works with” that motivates her at the start of each working day. It’s “the simple things” that matter, says Emily, “such as assisting someone who was previously unable to eat bread to now safely eat sandwiches, or upgrading someone from thickened fluids back to thin fluids… I love working with our older population and hearing their stories. They are often tear-jerking! It is very humbling to be able to work so closely with people to support them to do the very things many of us take for granted, such as eating and drinking, or communicating.”
After hearing from Loqui Speech Pathologists Emily and Bryony, you will know that the role of a speech pathologist is indeed varied, dynamic and rewarding. At Loqui, we have a whole team of equally passionate speech pathologists, who love working to improve the lives of people living with swallowing and communication difficulties. So next time you hear someone say that speech pathologists deal only with lisps and stutters, you can gently let them know that actually speech pathologists deal with much, much more.