We and ASHA have not done a good job defining our role in schools

May 18, 2024 by

May 18, 2024 #6 reflection series

What exactly is our role in schools?  If you asked 100 different Speech Language Pathologists you’d get 100 different answers.  Part of the problem is that so much falls under our scope of practice.  Let’s think about that.  The school SLP works with students who present with any of the following.

  • Identified receptive and expressive language disabilities
  • Delayed language development
  • Language disabilities specific to syndromes or physical impairments
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Specific learning disabilities 
  • Autism or autism spectrum disorder
  • Impaired development of higher order language skills 
  • Difficulty in the pragmatic or social skill realm
  • Oral motor difficulties (affecting articulation or feeding issues)
  • Hearing impairments and cochlear implants
  • Dysfluent speech
  • Developmental articulation needs
  • Central Auditory Processing Disorder
  • Non-verbal due to physical impairment
  • Voice disorders

That is one heck of a checklist and I probably could add many more.  Now many SLP’s are also dabbling in literacy in schools with good reason.  So you can understand why administrators and teachers may be unclear about all the areas we are trained to address.  However, when defining our roles in schools administrators rarely ask SLPs and SLP’s rarely speak up.  Part of the issue is with usually only one SLP in building or district you have no power to do anything.  SLP’s in a district could band together to effect change and define roles, I’ve actually seen this happen.  But usually SLPs in districts are too busy to even get together.  In smaller districts there usually are not enough of us to effect change.

Our title change in the 80ies to Speech Language Pathologist muddied the waters even more.  At that time we were entering with masters degrees and our role really getting ready to expand.  Administration probably didn’t like they had to pay us more.  At that time not as many administrators had a masters so I’m sure on some level that was an issue.  ASHA didn’t do a lot of administrator education or public education on our expanded training and new skill set.  Back then we didn’t have the internet so providing the information on the Speech Language Pathologists expanding role would have been difficult.  With that said ASHA has had a lot of years to get it right and they haven’t.  Yes, there is a lot of very good information on the ASHA web site but there are few administrators who would have access to it and even fewer who would take the time to research the role of the SLP.  I’ve always wondered why ASHA had never, to my knowledge, offer continuing ed to administrators.  And why administrators never ask the best way to use our skill set to benefit students and programs.  

So I guess I see most of the fault with school administration.  However, school administration doesn’t know what they don’t know because ASHA hasn’t told them and school SLP’s for various reasons don’t speak up.  I will also add that school principals and special ed team chairs/directors do have a lot on their plate to begin with.  I believe they feel we know our job and as long as the paper work is filled out correctly and parents are happy all is right with the world.  We do have more autonomy than teachers these days.

Back in 2015 I wrote a little book called, The School Speech Language Pathologist An Administrator’s Guide to understanding the role of the SLP in schools along with strategies to aid staffing, workload management and student success.  I will admit, writing this book was a therapeutic assignment to deal with my own frustrations.  The few administrators that I gave a copy to did not receive it well.  Passed one on to ASHA and even that wasn’t received well. (Apparently I gave it to someone whose husband was a school administrator).  I presented a poster session at ASHA which was well received by attendees but again never heard a peep from ASHA (not that I really expected to).

What school administrators and ASHA do not seem to understand is that in any given year our workload can vary greatly.  If you have a caseload heavy with students with more severe disabilities, that is going to create a much heavier workload than say a caseload heavy with articulation needs and developmental needs.  In a classroom, teachers may have more challenging years than others given the make-up of their classes.  However, teachers usually know that they will never have more than 20-25 kids in a classroom, per their contract and the union will advocate for assistance.  That is a luxury I’ve never had.  There is no way an SLP can be effective with caseloads of 30-80, you know you’re providing band aid services.  I’ve had a few years where I knew this was going to happen and guess what …..I left. 

You can also somewhat understand the misunderstanding of our role because underlying language skill development and especially pragmatic skill development is very abstract and subjective.  Try explaining all you do to someone.

My Thoughts

  • ASHA need to do better with education of administrators, principals and teachers regarding the role of the SLP in schools.
  • SLP’s need to speak up about their role and when workloads/caseloads are too high.
  • Lack of understanding of the role of the SLP contributes to high workloads/caseloads.
  • Any therapist with extremely high caseloads is fooling themselves if they think they are servicing the students appropriately.  It is not a badge of honor to have a high workload or caseload.
  • If I read one more article written in an ASHA publication on caseload management I may scream.  Given my years of experience I am expert at caseload management and scheduling. The articles seem to miss the point that numbers and workload need to be lessened to provide appropriate services.

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