My home state of Oklahoma is one of the more recent states to adopt the use of speech-language pathology assistants. Because the profession is so new, many speech-language pathologists, educators and related professionals—as well as parents of students receiving speech-language services—are unfamiliar with the roles and responsibilities of SLPAs. As the first SLPA in Oklahoma, I find it is important to educate others on the duties of SLPAs and advocate for our shared profession of speech-language pathology.
In Oklahoma, SLPAs hold a teaching certificate as well as the minimum of an associate’s degree, and have logged 100 clinical experience hours. Working under the supervision, direction and guidance of a licensed, certified SLP, an SLPA has a wide range of responsibilities: SLPAs may conduct screenings, implement treatment designed by the SLP, assist SLPs in research and in-service activities, perform speech and hearing equipment checks, keep records, draft individualized education programs and conduct IEP meetings. SLPAs may not determine eligibility, design IEP goals, or determine service delivery or student placement for services.
Differing perspectives on the state of our profession have affected the opinions on the use of SLPAs. On one hand, there are those who believe that there are enough SLPs in Oklahoma, and that SLPAs are taking jobs away from more qualified service providers. On the other hand, there are those who believe that SLP shortages are hindering the proliferation of our profession and that by using SLPAs, the reach of speech and language services can be extended to more people with communication challenges.
Confusion helped fuel the differences in opinion—as Oklahoma developed the new position, it changed and grew as the roles and responsibilities were tweaked to ensure that SLPAs adhere to all state and federal laws.
In light of these different perspectives, it is vital that I keep an open dialogue with SLPs and related professionals to articulate clearly the need for and advantages of using SLPAs. I have been approached to present information to undergraduate speech-language pathology students and to my administrators and colleagues to generate awareness of the program and fully explain the roles and responsibilities of SLPAs.
So what was my first year like? It is rewarding to work with teachers to support the students, and seeing my students’ progress makes the struggles of this new career worthwhile. I enjoyed strong support from my supervisor, who constantly promoted SLPAs to other professionals in the district and encouraged me to persevere.
However, I also encountered SLPs who do not support or believe in the value of SLPAs and do not respect my efforts to advance the profession. I also have met parents who are unfamiliar with my position and do not initially understand the services that I can provide. It is challenging to secure professional respect in a new position in any field of work. Considering the misconceptions that surround this new position, I work diligently to earn the respect of my colleagues. My most successful strategy has been to extend respect to others. By maintaining professionalism and fostering open communication with SLPs, other professionals and parents about my skill set and my experience, I have made every effort to demystify SLPAs.
Equally important to securing respect are my students’ outcomes. I work hard to push my students toward meeting and exceeding their communication goals and becoming successful communicators.
I still struggle with some professionals and parents who are not used to working with SLPAs and who have difficulty accepting my role. I hope that, with time, they will follow the lead of the parents and professionals who do trust, respect and support my position.