Now that you’re done with your clinical fellowship, let’s start at the beginning. When did you decide to become a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and what drew you to the field?
I decided to become an SLP my junior year of high school! There were many contributing factors to this decision.
I took a course in high school in which we took personality and military based assessments to look at strengths and weaknesses in STEM areas (STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math). Across the board, SLP, Occupational Therapy, and a few other therapies came up consistently. Part of that course requirement included shadowing two individuals in the area of interest.
I spent a day with a medical SLP working in a local hospital and saw mostly bedside swallow evaluations. Additionally, I spent a day with a traveling therapist, as she was seeing a few clients in their homes and a few in daycare settings.
On top of this, my maternal grandparents received diagnoses of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and dementia within one year of each other. I was 9 when my grandfather received his diagnosis.
This was new to my family and as a child, I didn’t know what was happening, let alone why. My grandfather’s battle lasted 4 years and my grandmother’s lasted 11.5.
I was a junior in college studying CSD when my grandma passed away after a long battle with dementia. The deterioration of my grandparents’ cognitive-linguistic and feeding/swallowing skills made me question a lot of things during that time.
Again, at the beginning of the trajectory of this journey, I was just a kid helping out my parents, feeding my grandparents, helping change diapers, braiding my grandma’s hair, things like that.
My grandma even got a black CASIO watch that spoke to her in Spanish. You’d click a button on the side and it would tell her the date and time. Later on, we bought her a phone (yep, a landline) with the faces of her children – clicking on the face would automatically call that child.
At the time I didn’t realize it, but these adaptive tools were making functional communication possible. My grandma passed away when I was 20. I was wrapping up my junior year of undergrad.
At the end of the disease, the doctors explained to my family and I that she was no longer eating – she no longer had an appetite. The disease progressed so much that her nervous system couldn’t identify hunger, let alone communicate to fulfill the need.
She didn’t want to eat or swallow anything. She passed away peacefully in my home, with my mom, dad, brother, and I on a Monday morning before I left for my 8:30 religion class.
Later that week, I presented research at a symposium at my university about the impact on AD and dementia on the quality of life of those we love, including factors that make individuals more or less susceptible.
What’s the hardest thing about being an SLP right now?
The hardest thing about being an SLP is balance – the workload, the caseload, deciding how and when to place firm boundaries.
Naturally, SLPs are givers. BUT that can often come at a cost. As a newly licensed SLP, my CF included a consistent caseload of 65 students; something I was not prepared for.
It took a lot of positive self-talk to remind myself that I AM A PERSON and that I needed to set boundaries in order to show up for MYSELF and then show up for my kids.
I feel that as a profession, we have a hard time saying ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ or ‘this is not good for me at the moment’ but we need to shift AWAY from that!
What makes you excited about the field of speech-language pathology?
I love the variety available in the scope of practice – that we can work birth to end of life, that we can be found in hundreds of settings. The field and our role and place is ever-evolving! There’s always new research, new apps, new something! I feel like we can never be bored!
Where do you look for ideas for therapy activities?
I look for therapy ideas on a few Instagram accounts, but I have a few blogs saved because I’ve started to shift into theme-based planning. So much easier and so great for building and solidifying background knowledge for our kids!
How would you share your passion for speech-language pathology with the world if money and time were no object?
Ah! Great question! My dream is to travel through Latin American and train SLPs AND to also get more people from minoritized cultures into our field! Those 2 purposes weigh heavily on my heart – and I know it can be done. I would travel abroad for a year or two and set-up a strong exchange program.
Is there anything else about your SLP experience you’d like to highlight?
I’ve learned that collaboration and front-loading effort, organization, and relationships makes everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, easier for everyone long-term.
Relationships are #1 – human connection. That’s what this academic year and COVID have taught me.
In the end, it’s not about the fancy materials or cool office, it is the way you related to your students and it’s about them knowing that YOU are showing up and that YOU GET IT!
How has 2020 changed your therapy?
I guess I’d say that starting a Clinical Fellowship in 2019 and ending it mid-COVID-19 has actually been a blessing in disguise.
I have a newfound respect for our students and their families, for the teachers and administrators that I work with – the will and desire to show up and be present, to get these kids signed on when there are so many factors working against scheduling sometimes.
I feel like I have such confidence in my approaches, and I have learned how to connect with my students and their families on a HUMAN LEVEL.
It’s different when you see even a tiny glimpse of what home-life looks like; of what the other 130ish hours look like when your caseload is not in your school building.
Community Action Items
I loved interviewing Hadassah. She is such a ray of sunshine on social media – consistently positive and sweet. Her experiences with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia resonated with me on a personal level. I wanted to share some action items related to AD and Dementia as well as provide some information about programs that match Students of Color with STEM fields. Where do we sign up to get more people of color into our field? (Side note: have you heard about the S.T.E.P program? What are your thoughts?)
- One of my favorite undergrad classmates raises money for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s – the next walk is October 4, 2020. She also hosts trivia nights that support her fundraising (I personally like the team name “truly rural” for any trivia event). Go join one of her events or support her walk!
- Are you a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia? These tips for caregivers might be useful.
- Do you work with high schoolers? Talk to your students of color about these options for their future! Here are some organizations that support people of color in STEM fields.
- Volunteer for career days at a local high school – represent our field to students before they even get to college!