May is Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM) and this year the theme is “Communication at Work”.
Now, we know what you may be thinking, “Communication at work? We’re all isolated at home, working remotely. What in the world do you mean?”
Pause for a moment. Reflect. And think about your most recent face-to-face interactions or even virtually as we all deal with the novel coronavirus. Do you feel good about those conversations? Did we truly take the time to listen, hear, and appreciate what the individual on the other end was saying? If not, that’s okay. If so, we applaud you. It is in these moments that deep, strong interpersonal relationships are developed. When we take the time to relate and practice active listening it strengthens our bonds and enhances our experiences with others. It’s communication at work(ing)! Ahhhhhhh…
Once again we’re aligning our efforts in 2020 with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) with a shared goal to open our hearts and minds to honest conversations. It’s also important to use this platform as a chance to provide resources that not only help us provide nourishment in our own relationships but to thrive in our surroundings every day. The reality is that communication disorders do exist. What many of us may perceive as the simple art of communication does not come easy for everyone. That’s the exact reason why we are committed to the cause and are here to show our support all month long.
May, and specifically Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM) at CORA, is an opportunity to raise awareness about communication disorders and the role our Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) have in providing life-altering treatment.
We recently sat down with Mackenzie Nassar, M.S. CCC-SLP at CORA Blacksburg Pediatrics in Blacksburg, VA to learn more about her role and how she arrived at CORA. Trust us, you’ll want to keep reading as she shares her experiences including the direct impacts speech therapy has had on her life.
Tell us a little bit about your background. What patient populations do you serve?
First things first, it’s so great to be here today on behalf of so many wonderful SLPs we have here at CORA. My journey with CORA started as an SLP back in May 2019. The support CORA provided me with the continuing education stipend allowed me to also complete my clinical fellowship year (CFY) that same year while working full-time (February 2020). These past few years have been enlightening and exciting in terms of my own personal and professional growth. In my role, I have had the privilege of serving patients ranging in age from 2.5 years to 78 years of age. However, most of my current caseload represents preschool, elementary and middle school aged children with varying speech, language and feeding impairments.
Tell us how a patient may benefit from receiving speech services.
Speech therapy encompasses much more than just saying words, which is a common misconception about our field. The scope of speech-language pathology encompasses assessment and treatment for the many disorders and impairments of communication and swallowing that emerge across the lifespan. Services provided can be either habilitative (i.e. healthcare services and devices that help a person keep, learn, or improve skills and functioning for daily living) or rehabilitative in nature to establish or restore the necessary communication skills in order to communicate functionally and effectively across all settings.
When should a family request a referral for speech?
A referral should be made for speech for children who display deficits in the various areas of communication including: language (expressive or receptive), speech (articulation or phonological), fluency (stuttering or cluttering), voice, pragmatic (social skills), feeding and swallowing. That can mean any age, and we truly do see varying degrees of these deficits across different patient populations and age groups. There are many accessible charts describing language developmental norms and communication milestones that can serve as an initial resource for caregivers. ASHA is a great resource for these sorts of materials detailing speech development. If you have any uncertainty regarding whether the child’s communication and/or feeding needs are being adequately met, we encourage parents or caregivers to please never hesitate to schedule a referral! At a minimum we can listen and evaluate needs, and help determine best next steps including treatment options for different plans of care.
Has your approach to treatment changed due to the current COVID-19 pandemic? How so?
While this global pandemic has significantly altered the typical service delivery model for us (as therapists) and for our families, it has also opened the door to engage with patients in new ways via technology which has been a blessing in its own right. We have started conducting speech evaluations and treatment sessions over telehealth platforms. At first, the transition undoubtedly yielded certain challenges; however, as we’ve grown accustomed to utilizing these technologies and new delivery methods, it’s also provided unexpected advantages and growth opportunities. For example, through telehealth, therapy is conducted in the most naturalistic environment – the home. This has increased parental involvement and generalization of skills. I feel as though my skills as a clinician have grown stronger as I have been forced to step outside my comfort zone and think outside the box to provide therapy with innovative methods, creative activities, and a fresh perspective. For that I am truly grateful.
Ultimately, our service delivery methods have changed, but the heart of our treatment remains the same – to establish and foster the communication skills in children that enable them to be effective and successful communicators.
What can families do during the pandemic to support their child’s speech and language development?
Think simple! Our daily lives are built upon communication and our daily routines are filled with the perfect opportunities to provide language stimulation and enrichment. Avoid making speech practice feel like homework and instead, work it into enjoyable activities. Make a game out of identifying specific speech sounds or language targets during daily routines – going on walks, making lunch, reading books, pretend play, drawing with sidewalk chalk, craft projects, bath time, or even while listening to fun soundtracks like Frozen or Trolls.
What is the best advice you can give to parents as it relates to speech?
Provide a language-rich environment and model good communication skills. Always remember to focus on abilities rather than disabilities. And be quick to point out the times your children are successful communicators to build their confidence. Read, read, read! You can never read too many books to your little ones.
Is there a recent patient success story you can share?
One of the first patients placed on my caseload was a preschool-aged male with autism spectrum disorder who spoke primarily in single words. Over the last 10 months he has increased his utterance length, production of action words, descriptors, and pronouns, and enhanced his ability to request that his needs and desires are met. He answers and asks questions in a functional manner. My favorite sight was coming out to the waiting room a few months ago and seeing him play with a typically developing peer who was waiting for his sibling to finish therapy. His new friend had no idea my patient would not have been able to interact socially just a few months prior. His newly developed communication skills enabled him to make a friend who saw a playmate rather than a boy who was “different”.
Speak up and speak out with shareable graphics provided by ASHA
The ASHA website is chock-full of shareable graphics and information for the public! Our promise is to bring even more perspective through a variety of different lens’ as we celebrate our speech language pathologists, partners, friends and communities at-large.
Are you still unsure exactly how or in what ways you can participate? Grab a tissue -or the entire box- and prepare to be inspired with this quick video, courtesy of ASHA — a sneak peak if you will of what’s to come. Maybe, just maybe, this video will help spark some of your own ideas or your own conversations with others as we seek to bring communities together in honor of Better Hearing and Speech Month!
All kidding aside, we hope you join us for what promises to be a fun and educational ride. Continue to check back with us all throughout the month of May to see what we have in store to help recognize our incredible SLPs.
Let’s collaborate, let’s communicate, and let’s make a meaningful impact on the lives of others in the simplest of ways. Help spark the conversation(s) with us!
Want more information on Speech-Language Pathology? Or, if you feel ready to enlist the help of a skilled speech-language pathologist, you can choose from one of our 200+ conveniently located CORA clinics throughout Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Missouri and Illinois.