One of my core beliefs as a speech pathologist is that my role is to advocate for children who need support in the school system. So with current events being what they are, I’ve thought a lot about advocacy and speech pathologists. In fact, I’ve come to believe that being an advocate for people with communication disorders is at the crux of what it is to be a speech-language pathologist, which is why I love it as much as I do.
Our role is not only supporting students and patients through therapy and evaluations, it is also to make sure we are out there being the students’ voice because many of them don’t have the ability to communicate and advocate for themselves.
I’m going to discuss how you *already are* an advocate for children and how you can even increase your ability to advocate for kids and your community:
- Raising Awareness & Education – Many non-profit organizations run “raising awareness campaigns,” which means that they are educating the community about a disease, topic, or theme. For example, Better Hearing and Speech Month in May is run by ASHA and it’s an example of a raising awareness campaign focused on communication disorders, patients, and the professions of speech-language pathologist and audiologist. Fundraising, 5K events, and social media efforts are all examples of “raising awareness campaigns.” A big part of our job a speech pathologist is to educate people about communication disorders. Everyday we encounter people that don’t understand students’ communication difficulties and we prevent them from being can be overly harsh on a student and instruct them on what they need to do instead. Those micro-conversations, that you have with teachers in the teachers lounge or with parents in a meeting, are you advocating for children. Pat yourself on the back for taking advantage of those teachable moments.
- The Eligibility Process – The eligibility process at a school ranges from uncomplicated to extremely difficult. In my 11 years as a speech pathologist I’ve seen everything. There have been times where I haven’t had to advocate for the student because everybody on the team was on the same page of the educational needs of that student. But other times I had to go to bat for students to receive the services that they need for success in school — and I haven’t been successful in persuading the team that a student needs additional support. I have written a dissenting opinion on a case where the student was found ineligible for services, but I believed needed it. Those moments are where advocacy on the part of the SLP, fighting for the student to get their needs met, impacts the student’s education and life in a big way. Eligibility, deciding whether or not the student does need speech therapy or special education, is inherently an advocacy position. Either you’re stating that the child has a legal right to speech therapy in the schools to be successful academically or you’re saying that the student does not require speech therapy to be successful. In those cases, the student has the right to remain in their classroom and receive the core instruction from the classroom teacher. I recently had to argue that a student did not qualify for speech therapy anymore and needed to be dismissed. The reason was there was no longer a speech impairment that was impacting the child’s education and the child needed to be back in class receiving the core instruction. Some team members were not happy about my decision, but my position was for the best needs of the student.
- The IEP Process – The IEP process is also an advocacy process. It is a legal document that the students needs to be successful in school and that legal document can follow the child from school the school, district to district, and even state to state. Although doing IEPs can be annoying and laborious, every bullet point is something that somebody fought for. When you draft one, you are being a child’s champion.
- IDEA – The IDEA act is a federal law that was developed in the 1970s to make sure that states were not violating the rights of students who required special services. It also developed and defined the role of the speech-language pathologist in the school environment. I remember learning about this in graduate school at Northwestern from a professor who talked about how this law came about and how it formalized the role of speech-language pathologist. IDEA has led to where we are now: the vast majority (over 50%) of speech-language pathologists in the United States work in schools. IDEA defined us as special educators that are required for certain students with special needs to be successful in schools and that is one of the many reasons I support IDEA. Additionally, IDEA also mandates that every child be given FAPE or a free and appropriate public education. Public education is a right we reserve for every child in our country.
- Governmental Representatives – We as speech-language pathologists need to be vigilant to make sure that not only our roles and responsibilities as practitioners in both the education and healthcare worlds are protected, but also that the rights of those in our care are not violated. We need to stay informed and make sure to elect people who represent us in a way that protects our our job and our clients. Staying educated on the positions and opinions of our representatives is vital to our making informed decisions.
Many school-based speech pathologists have been concerned about the appointment of Betsy DeVos to educational secretary of United States. Her appointment disturbed both Democrats and Republicans because she has no experience in public education, which should be a requirement for heading the office of public education.
Now more than ever we have to be observant. Here are some concrete actions that you can take to alert your representatives about your concerns:
- Look Up Your Congressional Representatives — Not sure who your representative is? Click Who is My Representative? to look up both your senators and house reps. Bookmark that website, write down their names, and save it for when you hear something in the news that impacts our profession.
- Remove the Therapy Cap — Did you know that Medicare caps speech therapy and physical therapy to $1,980 combined limit? I think that just one patient could hit that number fairly quickly. The limit was put into place 20 years ago! Send a message to Congress that this needs to change so that patients can receive all the care they need.
- Join Your State Organization — I am a member of ISHA, the Illinois Speech and Hearing Association and I have been for a few years. I was a member after I graduated from grad school, but then I let it lapse. I joined back up again because I wanted to be listed in their directory so I could be contacted, but I also wanted to show my support to our state organization. Recently, TSHA (the Texas organisation) had to fight deregulation of the profession of speech- language pathology and audiology when a member of the Texan House of Representatives introduced a bill to stop requiring SLPs to have state licenses. Why is that a concern? Well, if there aren’t state licenses, any person can say they are a speech pathologist because the state isn’t regulating it. Although it was suggested that Texas state licenses be replaced with checking ASHA certification as a litmus test to determine if someone is an SLP. Personally, I think it’s risky to eliminate licenses and, as much as I trust ASHA, I would not want my state to depend on a non-governmental organization who could change rules on a whim to control whether or not I can legally practice in my state.
- Donate to ASHA-PAC — I’ve always had a bad view of PACs (political action committees) and lobbyists, but when it comes to speech therapy I think they are great. ASHA-PAC is our “boots on the ground” in Washington DC making sure that Congress considers the needs of our profession and our clients. This is the first year I have ever maid a donation to ASHA-PAC and I don’t think it will be the last as I’ve become more politically active over the past several months. Donations are not tax deductible.
- Join a Political Facebook Group for SLPs — I joined a group of politically active speech pathologists on Facebook. I feel connected with others who care as much as I do and the group gives me concrete action steps for me as an SLP. The group is closed, but searchable on Facebook. Look for it and join!
Thanks for reading about advocacy for speech-language pathologists. If I missed something, feel free to comment below or send me an email. This is something dear to my heart — and I hope to yours as well.