Speech pathology in the media
In a major Sydney newspaper last weekend, there was a column piece about Speech Pathology. As a general rule, Speech Pathology doesn’t get a huge amount of media attention. When it does, it’s usually a good news story, a story about lack of funding or a story about a new program that’s available (hopefully an evidenced based one…). This opinion piece however was nothing short of a shellacking. It opened with a direct hit: “Speech pathology is a waste of money” and ended with a disparaging remark about the cost of therapy. Although the intent of the article seemed to be about the reported pressuring of parents to seek therapy for their child, it intentionally or unintentionally managed to cast aspersions across the entire profession.
If this article was a little less absolute in its apparent disdain of paediatric speech therapy, I would have taken more heed. If someone voices concerns that they have genuinely researched, please, tell me more, but when a newspaper piece goes to town on a whole profession based on an author’s own experience and (from what I read) not much more, I find it frustrating and oddly, even a little amusing. In fact, if there wasn’t the risk that this article may deter parents from taking children who really do need speech therapy to see a therapist, I would have found this article heartily enjoyable. I loved the references to Mr Potato Head, the over emphasised vocals and the ‘quasi-sign language’.
The author’s representations of a therapy session were a bit dramatic, simplistic and somewhat patronising, but it wasn’t a gross misrepresentation either (although I hope I don’t have an over-the-top sing songy voice). What was missing was any kind of effort on the part of the author to understand why a speech therapy session might include these things. Why would a speech therapist use this mystical quasi sign language? Why use play to help a young child develop speech and language skills? (Maybe the author was going to do this, but the word count ran out). Fortunately there are answers to these questions in the research. I saw that Speech Pathology Australia wrote a response to the editor which covered a lot of these points, so I won’t do it again. I did however get a few take home messages from this episode for myself:
1) Make sure parents know WHY we do what we do. When we set goals, involve the parent not just in determining what the final outcome should be but HOW we are going to try and get there. When you use a strategy during a session (e.g. WAIT) tell the parent about it.
2) We can pre-empt questions when explaining therapy and recommendations. The author did allude to some valid questions: Does my child really need therapy? Will my child get there eventually on his/her own? Is what you are doing in therapy effective/evidenced based? We should have an answer to all of these questions.
3) It bothers me that this article could deter parents from taking children who really do need speech therapy to see a therapist (particularly after the author does at one point acknowledge that speech therapy may benefit some children). I hope that if we are looking to make lemonade from a lemon, we re-evaluate our communication with the parents we work with and make sure we are doing the best we can. Criticism can be a catalyst for self-evaluation.
Of course, just like the article in the newspaper, this is just one person’s opinion. I think it’s important to be understood as a profession, and equally important to understand another’s point of view. Where necessary and where possible, we should seek to be informers and educators, both in clinical practice and on a wider stage. Anyway, I’m off to play with Mr Potato Head.