Matthew Criscuola, MS, CF-SLP
Name: Matthew Criscuola, MS, CF-SLP
Position: Speech-Language Pathologist, District 75, New York City Department of Education
Hometown: Mineola, New York
Matthew Criscuola is finally on spring break. As a first-year speech-language pathologist working with 5- and 6-year-old students with severe developmental disabilities for New York City's District 75 in Queens, he is ready for it. His plans include relaxing, eating, hiking, and catching up on some much-needed sleep.
But he also admits he'll be thinking about his students and hoping they are doing all right.
Since he began his position last September, Criscuola has learned two key lessons: First, this is the kind of job you don't leave behind at the end of the day, and second, it's not about him.
"Most of my friends tell me they couldn't do what I do for five minutes," he says. "And, sure, it's kind of strange to be singing the ABCs or putting together Mr. Potato Head—but I overcame it when I realized that you can't take yourself seriously. It's not about you or how other people perceive you; it's about them. You are going to do whatever you have to do to get the best from these kids who need you and to help them communicate better, and I think it takes a special kind of person to do that."
Criscuola, it appears, is that kind of person. He came to the speech-language pathology profession as a second career after working in radio journalism. As a student at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, he had been interested in mass communication. After college he took an internship with an independent radio station and was soon promoted to assistant news director. It was an exciting time and he hoped that it would be the beginning of a solid journalism career. It quickly became apparent, however, that his "promotion" was in name only.
"I was really a glorified secretary who got to work with the interns," he says. "I thought I'd be writing the news, but instead I was picking up my boss's dry cleaning. The most sobering day was my second day on the job, which was precisely like the first day. I realized it wasn't going to change."
He lasted about a year, and then returned to Iona College and took an on-campus position soliciting alumni for donations. He also began looking for a new career direction. He recalled enjoying his undergraduate public speaking class, so he decided to seek a former professor's advice on how to enter the field. He found her office, which happened to be in the Speech Communication Studies Department. The visit made an impression.
"I was wondering, 'What's this building with all these women in it?'" he recalls, laughing. "I felt like I hadn't gotten the memo, and I really thought that maybe there were just a lot of girls there that one day?"
He left the building that day with a slew of new career ideas, including speech-language pathology (even after realizing that the number of women in the building that day wasn't a fluke). He was fascinated by the concept of language acquisition and after taking prerequisite undergraduate courses, continued on to Queen's College for his master's degree in speech-language pathology.
He graduated in June 2012 with student placement experience in a variety of health care and school settings. He originally preferred working with adults, but when the position opened in District 75, he didn't hesitate to jump at it. And now, with almost an entire school year under his belt, he says he actually feels at home sitting on the carpet singing "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" to his students. And although he feels that academic and clinical experiences prepared him to work with small children, his biggest surprise was realizing how much he was thinking about his students outside of class.
"This is the kind of job where you're not just taking home lesson plans," he says. "You take home the emotional component, too, and I'm not sure I really knew that was going to happen. I spend a lot of time thinking about what's going on with the kids and what I can do better to help them."
Contact Matthew Criscuola, MS, CF-SLP, at firstname.lastname@example.org.