July 1, 2013 Columns

Speaking of Associates: Empowered to Assist

ASHA’s new scope of practice document is helping this assistant build a more rewarding career.

After three years of undergraduate deliberation, I finally decided on my field of choice: public relations. But after graduating in 2008, I was never able to say I loved my corporate job. And as much as I enjoyed the customer interaction, downtown Houston skyline and flexible hours that came with various corporate and retail jobs, I wasn't satisfied. As cliché as it sounds, I wasn't satisfying my innate desire to make a difference in others' lives.

When I learned more about the field of speech-language pathology—the one-on-one care I'd be able to provide, the various settings and the compensation—I decided that this would be a perfect fit for me. Soon after, I enrolled in the University of Houston's post-baccalaureate program. When I wasn't accepted into a speech-language pathology graduate program—my grades were good, but I suspect not good enough—I chose to become a speech-language pathology assistant.

Before I decided to pursue the SLPA route, I assumed the role would potentially limit my skills and talents, but it turned out I was wrong. In fact, my skills make room for the responsibilities, and the rewards are tremendous.

I have the privilege of taking ownership of my work because I provide direct services. But this freedom calls for  accountability: I must also ensure that clients are receiving assessments, counsel and goals set forth by those who are highest qualified—SLPs. As the need for SLPAs increases, so does the need for specific guidance from ASHA regarding SLPA practice and corresponding SLP supervision—hence the development of ASHA's "Speech-Language Pathology Assistant Scope of Practice," approved by ASHA's Board of Directors in January.

This document provides guidance to SLPAs and their supervisors on ethical considerations, addresses how SLPAs should be employed, and defines SLPAs' responsibilities within and outside their roles in clinical practice. The scope of practice sets out a number of requirements and responsibilities for SLPAs:

SLPAs must perform only tasks prescribed by the SLP. I am fortunate to be under the supervision of Kristie Bruns of Smilestones Pediatric Therapy, who asked me initially to assist her during her third pregnancy. As she creates goals for our clients and I provide services, I learn from her expertise.

SLPAs should actively participate in the supervisory process. Because ASHA requires supervision, I am privileged to receive one-on-one mentoring from Kristie every workday.

SLPAs should document student, patient and client performance and report this information to the supervising SLP. Using a template created by my supervisor, I document each client visit and give her the original. This helps provide an accurate picture of a client's progress.

SLPAs should assist with clerical duties—such as preparing materials and scheduling activities—as directed by the SLP. I get to be creative as I help plan treatment, based on goals set by my supervisor. This is fun and challenging, and contributes to my sense of ownership.

SLPAs should advocate for individuals and families through community awareness, health literacy, education and training programs to promote and facilitate access to full participation in communication, including the elimination of societal, cultural and linguistic barriers. Not only am I providing services, but my voice as an SLPA is valued. I also work as a substitute teacher, and I support this requirement as I encourage interaction among typically developing students and those with special needs.

Now, by improving the communication and overall well-being of those in need, I am finally fulfilling that innate desire to make a difference in the lives of others. I would be hard-pressed to find this opportunity as an assistant in any other field.

Andrea Polk, is an SLPA with Smilestones Pediatric Therapy in Houston. apolk83@gmail.com

cite as: Polk, A. (2013, July 01). Speaking of Associates: Empowered to Assist. The ASHA Leader.

  

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