A young Karla Cox celebrates her birthday with her father.
Name: Karla Cox, CCC-SLP
Title: Speech-language pathologist, Cleburne Independent School District and Ridgeview Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing, Cleburne, Texas
Hometown: Cleburne, Texas
You could never say that Karla Cox haphazardly stumbled into speech-language pathology. Ten years ago, at age 40, she fought her way into the field and today is here with a purpose. This school-based speech-language pathologist not only works full-time in the Cleburne Independent School District in Texas, serving as the district's early intervention coordinator as well as overseeing the district's assistive technology program, but she also works part-time in a rehabilitation facility with patients recovering from stroke. This schedule may seem jam-packed, but Cox welcomes the ability to help such diverse populations.
"I just love it," she says. "After all my experiences, being an SLP is the perfect job for me. I am an up-and-moving, take-charge kind of person. In the speech world, there is always something new and challenging waiting just around the corner."
And all of her experiences were crucial to her finding her niche. A native of Burleson, Texas, Cox is the youngest in her family of five kids and had a boisterous habit of yelling and screaming a lot. So much, in fact, that in third grade she was referred to speech-language treatment not only for a lisp but also for nodules on her vocal folds. It was her first encounter with an SLP, whom she considered her "speech teacher."
As an adult, Cox put in long hours working in the retail world at Radio Shack. She showed a knack for computers and technology and was 10 years into her tenure when Radio Shack offered to pay for college if she were to pursue a computer programming degree. In 2001 she enrolled in some basic classes at her local community college.
In her third semester, her father suffered a stroke. He had just come home from work and was in his car in the driveway when it happened. He called Cox and told her he couldn't move. She called 911 and met him at the hospital. He was completely paralyzed on the left side and, although cognitively intact, needed a lot of support and rehabilitation.
"It broke my heart to see him like that," she recalls. "It was so scary."
But out of a grim situation came a bright spot. During her father's rehabilitation, Cox had the opportunity to observe the SLP working with him. Until this time she thought SLPs were only "speech teachers" and hadn't realized there were SLPs in the medical field, too. And then she had an idea.
"At one point I had wanted to go into the medical field, but didn't," she says. "I thought, 'I could really do this. I could help people like my dad.' "
After finishing her associate's degree, Cox applied to Texas Christian University, worked full-time, and endured two years on campus as a 40-something student in a sea of 20-somethings, and ultimately received her bachelor's degree, graduating in 2005 alongside her daughter.
After admittedly panicking a bit when she realized she would need her master's degree to become a licensed SLP, she enrolled in the Texas Education Telecommunication Network program through Texas Woman's University and worked as a school-based SLP assistant while going to school and earning her clinical hours. She graduated in 2008, the same year her son graduated from high school.
Cox's father passed away in 2004 from aspiration pneumonia. Although she was devastated to lose him, his experience stayed with her and motivated her through the relentless work and school schedule she had to keep. And even though she reached her goal and is now a fully licensed and experienced SLP, she hasn't slowed down.
"In a way I'm surprised," she says. "I'd been with Radio Shack for more than 10 years, and I'm really a long-term person, so for me to make this kind of a change at my age was so unlike me. But, really, I had found my passion in speech-language pathology. Everything before this was just a job."
Contact Karla Cox, MS, CCC-SLP, at karla.cox@cleburne.K12.tx.us.