Do you truly feel like you are making an impact and making a difference at your jobs?
Most SLPs say they get into the field to help people. Some days are great – we connect with our students, someone finally gets their /r/ sound, teachers are happy to collaborate with you. And some days are hard and nobody can seem to find that magic speech wand to make fix everything.
What makes us feel like we aren’t making a difference at our jobs?
I know we’re speech-language pathologists and we want to fix speech and language concerns. But, speech and language issues don’t occur in a vacuum.
The kids we see are human. Maybe they are surrounded by people who can’t understand them all day long, or even tease them for it.
In recent years, fluency therapy has shifted more to emphasize acceptance of disfluency, desensitization, and education of others around the stutterer to teach others how to be more understanding. Truly, all of our speech and language students could benefit from therapy that includes acceptance and compassion.
The parents we work might be at different stages of understanding or even grief. Even for parents of typically developing kids, it can be incredibly difficult when your child is not doing well in school, or is left out of the group, or is acting up in class. It’s hard not to feel like you failed somehow as a parent.
Maybe the parents you work with seem to have unrealistically high expectations. In the end, you can just be a support to that family. You keep trying your best and above all, listen to them and their concerns and make sure they feel heard. Remember that evidence-based practice is a combination of research, clinical expertise, and client/caregiver perspectives. It’s easier when parents are grateful or dutifully carryover everything at home. But, if they aren’t there right now, they probably need our help even more than those who seem like they’re already all-in.
If you don’t feel like you are making an impact in a child’s speech and language, keep in mind that you are making difference in your jobs. You are a friend, a listener, and a guide through this experience. You are a member of team who is working to help this child succeed to the best of their ability.
A fellow-clinician once described an opportunity she had during grad school to work with one particular young adult with severe disabilities. Several times over the semester, an entire team of professors and students from SLP, ABA, and special-ed programs met at the family’s house. The family cooked everyone a dinner and they all discussed current progress and goals in a collaborative way. It was a truly beautiful display of teamwork, with this room full of professionals and family members all working so diligently to master the smallest skills, such as producing a consistent /k/ sound and making the bed step-by-step. Was progress slow? Yes. But was everyone giving it their best? Absolutely. When we work as a team, we make a difference.
Can you spot the difference?
Do you have a niece or a nephew who maybe you only see once a year or more? Every time you see them, they look so much older!
But, if there are children in your life you see every day, changes are less perceptible.
When you work with a child all the time, you might not see the differences. Change is gradual when you are looking at it all the time.
The same thing happens to our speech and language kids. It might be hard to see that you are making a difference at your jobs with the same students every week. This is part of the reason why it’s important to take good consistent data. Make sure you are marking what level of prompting or cueing you are using. It might seem like slow progress, but if we patiently, methodically, and persistently work at reasonable goals, we will see progress.
If you’re not seeing progress, break down the skill into smaller pieces, change your prompts/cues, or change up the activity. When you are frustrated, your student can sense that and will get frustrated too. And nobody learns and changes when they are frustrated.
Focus on the good
I know there has been at least one child that you have impacted over your grad school or career experience. If you feel like you aren’t making a difference right now, focus on a difference you have made in the past.
A past supervisor gave her SLPs a manila envelope to keep any nice notes or cards that her team received over the years. Keep a record of the wins and look over them when you feel discouraged.
Is it time for a change?
The good news is that as an SLP, you are qualified to work with a wide variety of populations, in many different settings. If you feel like you aren’t making an impact with the population you are working with, brush up your skills with another population and change it up. Don’t be afraid of a new challenge!
Maybe you are actually suffering from SLP burnout. Do what you can to take care of yourself so you have enough energy to take care of others!