Speech needs nur­tur­ing

Speech pathol­o­gists can help with more than talk­ing prob­lems, writes Vivi­enne Reiner

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Careerone -

Ythree times the hourly rate here. As well, peo­ple want­ing a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence can ap­ply for locums within Aus­tralia, where they can take on a tem­po­rary po­si­tion, of­ten fill­ing in for some­one on ma­ter­nity leave.

Speech pathol­o­gists can not only ex­pect an in­ter­est­ing ca­reer, they should also find easy em­ploy­ment. Mcal­lis­ter says there are ma­jor short­ages in the health work­force across the board, and speech pathol­ogy has been in short sup­ply for the last decade. ‘‘ It’s a pro­fes­sion in which you ab­so­lutely know that you will get a job at the end of your de­gree,’’ she says.

In her 30 years on the job, Mcal­lis­ter says she has ‘‘ rein­vented’’ her­self many times, work­ing across four dif­fer­ent ed­u­ca­tional set­tings in three dif­fer­ent states, as well as do­ing con­sul­tancy work in Aus­tralia and the US.

Fo­cus­ing on the area of stut­ter­ing, re­searcher and pro­fes­sor Mark Onslow says the ben­e­fits of de­vis­ing bet­ter pro­grams for suf­fer­ers are ob­vi­ous: Stut­ter­ing is a hor­ri­ble con­di­tion, and can wreck your life.’’

About one in 20 chil­dren stut­ter — but if this is not ob­vi­ous, it may be be­cause some chil­dren speak less to hide it, or be­cause in young­sters it is very episodic. In adults the fig­ure is prob­a­bly be­tween 1 to 2 per cent.

Onslow, who di­rects the Aus­tralian Stut­ter­ing Re­search Cen­tre and is prin­ci­pal re­search fel­low at the Na­tional Health and Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil, says some chil­dren re­cover from stut­ter­ing nat­u­rally.

But ‘‘ when a child stut­ters you want the stut­ter­ing to go away,’’ he ex­plains. ‘‘ With kids treat­ment is sim­ple, but adults ba­si­cally have to learn to talk again, and they have to find a way to deal with speech-re­lated anx­i­ety.’’ OU prob­a­bly know a child who is see­ing a speech pathol­o­gist, but did you know that a size­able one in seven Aus­tralians has a com­mu­ni­ca­tion dis­abil­ity — from tod­dlers who have not yet started talk­ing, to stut­ter­ers, those with autism and cere­bral palsy, and old peo­ple with de­te­ri­o­rat­ing hear­ing?

Spe­cial­ists trained to help in this area — speech ther­a­pists, or speech pathol­o­gists as they are now called here — com­prise mostly women, party be­cause of the many flexible work ar­range­ments. But the pro­fes­sion, which has been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a skills short­age for many years, also of­fers rapid ca­reer ad­vance­ment.

Speech pathol­ogy keeps evolv­ing as aware­ness of the im­por­tance of early in­ter­ven­tion in­creases, and peo­ple who un­der­take a ca­reer in this pro­fes­sion can look for­ward to work­ing in a variety of set­tings, such as hos­pi­tals, gov­ern­ment de­part­ments and private prac­tice. The min­i­mum ed­u­ca­tion re­quire­ment is an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in speech pathol­ogy or a masters level en­try de­gree. The de­grees span the com­mu­ni­ca­tion spec­trum, in­clud­ing speech, read­ing, writ­ing, signs, sym­bols and ges­tures.

In re­cent years there has been a move to­wards a more fam­ily-friendly, holis­tic approach rather than fo­cus­ing largely on re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. At the same time the num­ber of private prac­tices has been in­creas­ing, with more than 40 per cent of Speech Pathol­ogy Aus­tralia mem­bers work­ing in private prac­tice at some level on a full-time or part-time ba­sis, ac­cord­ing to the peak body’s latest fig­ures.

Cori Wil­liams, na­tional pres­i­dent of the as­so­ci­a­tion, says it is es­ti­mated that one in seven Aus­tralians will have com­mu­ni­ca­tion or swal­low­ing prob­lems at some stage in their lives. This may be partly ac­counted for by the in­creas­ing num­bers of pre­ma­ture ba­bies sur­viv­ing, as well as an age­ing pop­u­la­tion with more peo­ple likely to have strokes and need­ing help re­gain­ing their com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills. There is also less stigma now as­so­ci­ated with work­ing on com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Wil­liams says that while chil­dren may grow out of some com­mu­ni­ca­tion dif­fi­cul­ties, those con­cerned can get a test to see if there is a prob­lem. ‘‘ I think that, by and large, par­ents are pretty good judges of where their chil­dren are at,’’ Wil­liams says.

Lindy Mcal­lis­ter, who has been made a life mem­ber of Speech Pathol­ogy Aus­tralia, agrees. Mcal­lis­ter, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor in speech pathol­ogy at Charles Sturt Univer­sity, says it is ad­vis­able to get treat­ment if in doubt, be­cause even mild and mod­er­ate prob­lems can im­pact on lit­er­acy, so­cial skills and em­ploy­a­bil­ity.

Mcal­lis­ter has long cham­pi­oned the need to get more ser­vices into rural and re­mote ar­eas. As part of her job at CSU, she also ar­ranges for 12 stu­dents a year study­ing speech pathol­ogy, oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy and phys­io­ther­apy to spend six weeks at a Viet­namese or­phan­age for young chil­dren, many of whom have se­vere dis­abil­i­ties.

One of the many ben­e­fits of work­ing in the pro­fes­sion is that it is easy to travel with, Mcal­lis­ter says. A pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for re­cent grad­u­ates is the UK, where the pay rate is about While learn­ing to speak clearly can be as sim­ple as get­ting help, not much is known about why peo­ple stut­ter — but bad par­ent­ing or shy­ness are not to blame. Onslow says adults want­ing free, best-prac­tice treat­ment can join a trial by phon­ing (02) 9351 9061.

With ba­bies, the prob­lems are ba­sic swal­low­ing and feed­ing dif­fi­cul­ties. Speech pathol­o­gists at­tached to a neona­tal in­ten­sive care unit (NICU) aim to tran­si­tion the baby from tube to oral feed­ing as early as is prac­ti­ca­ble.

Se­nior lec­turer at the Univer­sity of New­cas­tle, Ber­nice Mathisen, did her PhD on in­fants in NICUs. She says many speech pathol­o­gists, or de­vel­op­men­tal ther­a­pists as the spe­cial­ists may call them­selves, now work in NICUs, be­cause of a grow­ing recog­ni­tion that early in­ter­ven­tion can min­imise the chances of pre­ma­ture ba­bies hav­ing on­go­ing de­vel­op­men­tal prob­lems.

Pic­ture: David Crosling

Power of words: Deb­bie Phy­land safe­guards the voices of the Melbourne theatre Com­pany

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