As a speech-language pathologist who coordinates new parent referrals, I have the opportunity to speak with prospective parents regularly. Many parents have shared with me that navigating through the initial research process and finding a good speech –language pathologist was overwhelming with so many options available. They often say that in hindsight, it was a challenge to determine:
"What is it that really matters when selecting
a speech-language pathologist (SLP)?"
Selecting a therapist who has the background knowledge and training to address your child’s needs in an effective manner is essential. In other words, the therapist you work with needs to know what they are doing--plain and simple.
An SLP's reputation will also be a useful factor to weigh in making a decision. How have others found this therapist’s work? References from former or current clients may help you to gain additional insight and information on what to expect about your child’s experience and progress in therapy. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn through a shared personal story or experience.
Once you have found a knowledgeable and credentialed therapist with a reputation for making quantitative as well as qualitative gains, ask about how they will be tracking your child’s progress and gains. What is their system of accountability?
Remember that in order to determine progress, a systematic collection and analysis of data is needed for each and every therapy session. Any good therapist should be able to show their work in quantitative terms.
Here are three fairly simple, but important aspects to keep in mind when shopping your options: credentials, reputation, and accountability.
- Look for CCC’s
The name a speech and language pathologist may go by often varies depending on the professional or setting.
"speech-language pathologist," "speech therapist," and "speech teacher." They all should mean the same thing. To be sure, check the professional’s credentials (most readily listed on the signature line on documents or e-mail correspondence).
Speech-language pathologists are required to obtain at least a Master’s Degree in Speech-Language Pathology (M.S. or M.A.) and in addition to a state issued license for practice, the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) certifies speech-language pathologists across the country. Membership to this governing body is indicated by three C’s ("CCC"- which stands for the "certificate of clinical competence") following the speech pathologist’s degree (M.S., M.A., Ph.D., etc.) as a part of their credentials (commonly listed as "M.S., CCC-SLP"). While membership does not mean that the speech therapist is "good" or a match for your child specifically, it does reflect that this professional has met the association’s requirements and is held to our industry’s standards put forth by ASHA for conduct, education, and continuing education. For more information on ASHA, visit their website at www.asha.org.
Professionals who are new to the field and seeking certification have the letters "CF" following their degree. This stands for "clinical fellow" and indicates that the professional is new to practice and seeking certification and licensure. These professionals require supervision (usually for a 9-month period) from a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist (with a state license and C’s). The level of supervision available to a CF may vary. If you are seeking to enroll in services with a CF, ask about the supervisor’s level of involvement in your child’s case. A new therapist who is well supported and equipped could be a wonderful asset to your child; however, this support is an important factor in evaluating whether or not your child’s needs can be met by a new clinician.
One additional note, speech/language therapy should be conducted by a speech-language pathologist. If you are seeing another type of professional for "speech therapy," you are not getting speech/language therapy. Many other professionals are excellent resources on communication and can be helpful in facilitating your child’s speech and language skills, and there is a considerable overlap with communication and other areas of development. However, it is a speech-language pathologist who is specifically trained to work on communication skill development-- understanding, in depth, the hierarchies for skill acquisition and how to break skills down to teach them. There are a number of services which may be (and in many cases should be) used in conjunction with speech and language therapy, but it’s not a substitute for therapy with an SLP, if that is what your child needs.
2. A proven track record of success
Look for an SLP with a track record of successful intervention. Who better to ask about the quality of a particular professional than the people who interact with them across clients over time? Check with your child’s classroom teachers, family friends, and your pediatrician to get their recommendation about who may be a good match for you and your child.
3. Understand that all speech therapy is not equal.
Arguably the most important take away message from this blog is to understand that all speech therapy is not equal. There is wild variance in what you are getting when you go to "speech therapy" in terms of quality, especially.
It’s always heart wrenching to hear parents share that their child has been enrolled with the same speech therapist for a decade working on the exact same skill! The purpose of therapy is to make progress and see change. This should be evident to you and others working with your child. There are certainly cases where developing skills will take time and it is not an overnight change. That said, your speech therapist should have documented progress to evaluate current abilities and track progress over time. You should be able to see incremental changes in your child’s skills, initially within the therapy session and then at home, in the community, and at school.
How do you combat against therapy that does not assist your child in making actual gains?
Stay involved and track your child’s progress with your SLP. Keep a notebook or create a document to track progress. This may sound time consuming, but it is invaluable information to have. It is not the case that you must write down every single detail, but keeping notes on the quantitative (e.g., How accurate was your child?, How many times they said a certain word correctly?) and qualitative information (e.g., How was his/her behavior?, Is the task difficult?, Is it getting easier with support?, Is he/she becoming more independent?) will allow you to evaluate a program over time. In addition to your notes, be sure that you always obtain written documentation of your child’s current therapy plan and progress periodically (once every 3 months is a good cycle to begin with).
After looking at all the information you’ve collected over time, review the data and trust your gut! You know your child and what their needs are from a very important and unique perspective as a parent. If your child is receiving therapy for a long period of time (6 months +) without any measurable gains, you should re-evaluate the productivity of your child’s therapy session. Schedule a meeting with your SLP to get more information about how they see your child progressing.
There are many details to think about when selecting an SLP. By staying focused on a few key aspects, you will gain valuable information about your child’s potential SLP and be prepared to make an informed decision. As you begin to make a decision for a therapist, you can ask additional questions to navigate through the many options available. Spending a few extra minutes while "shopping" for an SLP will get you started on the right foot, headed in the "right direction," and hopefully give you the peace of mind in knowing that you were able to select the best possible professional to work with your child.