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