June 14, 2005 Feature

Why a Speech-Language Pathology Program Really, Really Needs an Audiologist

In our region, Southeastern Louisiana University is recognized for training outstanding clinical speech-language pathologists. This would not be true without the services of a competent and SLP-friendly audiologist. She puts the "hearing" into speech, language, and hearing, and is an integral part of our faculty's ongoing development as professionals. Most importantly, she helps our students realize that hearing is a very, very big deal. She invites them to look at ASHA's "Big Nine" areas of service delivery and realize that hearing stands out as the strong common element: It is impossible to think of a client for whom hearing is not a consideration!

Our audiologist points out that whenever SLPs and communication partners interact with clients, hearing is the most-used conduit. We counsel, we give instructions, we model, we scaffold, we provide linguistic feedback, we incorporate music, we build rapport, we converse, we socialize-all primarily through the auditory channel. Hearing is the pathway that leads directly from the outside world into the brain of almost every client.

Our audiologist emphasizes the crucial nature of the hearing screening portion of every speech/language assessment. Students quickly learn that while best practice guidelines always require an initial measure of hearing sensitivity, there are many clients (e.g., individuals with developmental disabilities) who are difficult to test. We insist that every effort be made, because the payoff in terms of audiological data can truly shape language intervention. These screenings are approached as challenges that require time, patience, and the close collaboration of audiologists and SLPs.

We implement language-based, social-pragmatic strategies to better prepare the difficult-to-test client, to remove any element of fear that is associated with the procedures, and to enhance communication during the assessment. Our students watch us work together, and then have their own opportunities to participate. We feel that we are laying the groundwork for future collaboration in a variety of employment settings.

Having an audiologist in our midst is a constant reminder that hearing should always be considered in speech/language intervention, even when no measurable hearing loss is present. Our students learn how to minimize clients' distractibility by manipulating the auditory environment and increasing the signal to noise ratio. They discover that they can highlight salient linguistic information by making slight adjustments in the parameters of frequency, intensity, and duration. In addition, they learn that some clients benefit from using more visual information in order to reduce the burden on the auditory channel.

Moreover, once our students become acquainted with the various assistive listening devices (ALDs) used by individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, we encourage them to incorporate these tools into language intervention. For example, they are exposed to personal sound field technology as applicable to school age children with language learning disabilities. Also, they are urged to experiment with closed captioning as a literacy-builder for clients with reading difficulties.

One of our most recent examples of close audiologist/SLP collaboration involves the case of a delightful young child with bilateral atresia with microtia. "B" has received services at our university clinic since the age of eight months, and his case has been dually supervised the entire time. Students have been able to follow his aural progress from the fitting of his bone conduction hearing aid, through auditory training for sound awareness, localization, discrimination, and comprehension. Likewise, they have been able to experience his communication development, from those earliest gestures, smiles, and vocalizations to his current 3-year-old brand of conversation, which is charming, but still warrants further, significant intervention. Within a few years, B will receive reconstructive surgery that will provide auditory canals and pinnae; our students will be able to follow this process and watch for differences in B's communication skills post surgery. He has provided an excellent learning opportunity for us all.

As a side note, audiologists can be priceless when it comes to public relations on a university campus and within the community. While many people would have difficulty giving a clear description of the duties of an SLP, they definitely know what a hearing test is. Our audiologist good-naturedly acts as our ambassador whenever she supervises students performing hearing screenings at campus events, and whenever she ventures into the community to visit senior centers, rural health fairs, and day care settings.

The recognition that she brings to our department has been a major factor in enhancing our visibility and status. For instance, just last spring, the university's vice president in charge of finance came by to have his hearing tested during a Saturday recruiting event. As he walked through the lobby, he noticed our somewhat outdated decor, and on Monday morning we had a memo promising the funding for new furniture. Three cheers for the audiologist.

The upshot is this-we really, really need our audiologist. She enhances our program, enriches our students, and contributes to our department in so many ways. We honor her audiology background, and she shows a genuine interest in what we do. Anyone who doubts the connection between the two professions should pay us a visit, and see true collaboration in action.

Lillian N. Stiegler, is an associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at Southeastern Louisiana University, and has over 20 years of experience as a clinical SLP. Her teaching and research interests include autism spectrum disorders, child language, and the neurophysiology of communication. Contact her at lstiegler@selu.edu.

cite as: Stiegler, L. N. (2005, June 14). Why a Speech-Language Pathology Program Really, Really Needs an Audiologist. The ASHA Leader.

  

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