SLP Community | Emily Cohen from Tandem Speech Therapy

As you may have noticed, I’ve finally jumped into the world of SLP Instagram. One of the first accounts to catch my eye was Tandem Speech! Emily Cohen is a Speech-Language Pathologist out in Austin, Texas (TX) who loves helping families to use play to support speech and language development. I quickly reached out to Emily and was so excited when she agreed to connect and share some of her awesome insight with me (and all of you!). There is so much information in this interview about teletherapy, play, private practice, and networking. I am grateful for the time and energy that Emily put into this interview.

Who are you? What’s your background and where are you from?

My name is Emily Cohen. I am originally from Michigan (MI) and have been living in Austin, TX for the last 10 ½ years. I went to undergrad at Indiana University and studied special education. For many years in high school, I worked at a day camp, run through the county ISD, for kids who were serviced by special education during the school year. That’s what sparked my interest in working with families and children with diverse needs.

After undergrad, I went back to MI and taught in public schools for 3 years. I always knew I would attend graduate school and after not feeling fulfilled in public education, I decided to further my studies and specialize even more. I went to a small, state school in Michigan for my Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology, graduating in 2008. I completed my CFY in a hospital outpatient pediatric department and relocated to Austin not too long after receiving my ASHA C’s. I worked in a few pediatric clinics before founding Tandem Speech Therapy in May 2017.

When did you decide to become an SLP and what drew you to the field?

I wish I had some grand story, but truly it happened a little bit on a whim. I knew that my career as a special education teacher would be short-lived and when I decided to stop teaching, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I started substitute teaching and did some career coaching which led me to speech-language pathology. It felt like the right combination of using my undergraduate education, plus specializing. I knew I wanted more one-on-one contact with the families and children I had been supporting. So after making the decision, I took the GRE and applied to one school. Thankfully I got in!

What’s the hardest thing about being an SLP right now?

My work has 2 different components–being a business owner and being an SLP. Being a business owner has been challenging because I cannot go out and network in-person. I miss meeting my SLP friends during the day for coffee or lunch to chat about our caseload or brainstorm marketing strategies. To go along with that, marketing my work has been challenging too. With the pivot to telepractice speech therapy, I’ve had to find new ways to connect with potential customers and “sell” them on the idea that telepractice can be as effective as in-person speech therapy. As an SLP, in some instances, I have felt like truly connecting with my clients has been more difficult and in other cases, it’s almost better than before I switched to telepractice. Change is hard and we have all had to adapt to the unexpected changes of 2020.

Wow! It sounds like you have an awesome network of SLPs to meet up with for coffee. How did this come about? Any tips for building connections with other SLPs?

I have made some of the connections through a Facebook group for SLPs in Austin. Prior to Covid, we were having monthly socials which were a nice way to meet people in person. I also keep track of SLPs and their practices online by doing regular Google searches. Some of this is for my own information and to monitor how I am ranking on Google search. Any time I see a new name, I send an email and invite the other SLP to meet for coffee (also prior to Covid). There is also a Facebook group for Texas SLPs in private practice which is how I have met others.

What makes you excited about the field of Speech-language pathology?

The proliferation of the internet has revolutionized this field, in my opinion. Whether it’s having access to information in journals, being able to attend conferences virtually, or seeing my clients with telepractice-none of that would be possible without the internet. And given how innovative technology is and how quickly we can change with more access, I think we will continue to see advancements.

Where do you look for ideas for therapy activities?

I get lots of creative, fun, and evidence-based ideas for therapy by following fellow SLPs on Instagram. I also have read a bunch of books on play-based therapy that were written by other SLPs. This was also a huge part of the research for my book, Playing With Purpose.

Who are your favorite SLPs on Instagram? Favorite books?

OMG, my list is so long but I’ll include a few of my top favorites: @texasspeechmom, @adventuresinspeechpathology, @thesltscrapbook, and @ashleyrossislp. Becky from The SLT Scrapbook has a new resource guide that is awesome. I love Theresa Scanlon’s books and of course the Hanen It Takes Two to Talk book.

Okay so tell me more about Playing with Purpose (PWP) – Who do you think can benefit most from your book?

I wrote the book for parents and caregivers. They were my target audience, but tons of SLPs have also bought it. I think if you’re a new clinician or new to EI and parent coaching then as an SLP you will benefit. It’s written in a very parent-friendly voice. Nothing is too technical or filled with jargon. And if I use more technical vocabulary, then I was sure to provide a definition or explanation. 

I downloaded the free chapter of your book, I love how you include common toys and routines. My one-year-old is definitely the right age for this approach. What do you think the age-range is for your approach?

I have sent my book to friends as a baby gift–particularly for first-time parents and know others who have bought the gift for expectant parents. If you are expecting or a new parent, then it’s information to learn about what you’ll see as your child grows. I think the information, particularly the last 2 chapters which have all the meaty tips are great for children who are developmentally about 5-6 years old and under. I describe the book reading more like a cookbook. You can read it cover to cover and hopefully, you’ll learn a lot. Or you can visit the table of contents and pick the chunks that feel most relevant or read the section on whichever toy your child is loving the most at that moment.

Let me divert us for a minute, what did your writing process look like?  How long did it take you to make the book?

PWP started as a series on my blog–a recommendation from a friend who had just had her first child. So some of the content was adapted from the blog and then I wrote new chapters and sewed it all together. I hired 2 separate editors and a graphic designer to create what you can buy today.

What would make your work life easier?

I feel incredibly lucky to feel like I have a pretty solid work-life balance. I actually find that I get more balance now that I am strictly working from home. It has allowed me to be more efficient with my time and get the breaks I need when I need them. For example, if I am having a day when I am feeling anxious or antsy, I have built-in little breaks between my clients so I can take my dog for a 10-minute walk. Being outside helps ground me when I feel that way. I also feel like I have more time to cook for my family and exercise–both activities that also help me manage my stress. The only thing I have not found a system for, that I wish existed, was an EMR or software specifically designed for private practice speech-language pathologists. There are great systems for school-based SLPs and great systems for other related professionals, but nothing I have found that is explicitly designed for private practice SLPs. Electronic systems (i.e., software) have been helpful in keeping me organized which leads to more work-life balance.

What would make an EMR work better for your setting?

I want one that is designed for speech therapists. A lot of the EMRs have goals built-in, but I cannot take advantage of that portion. Then the systems designed for and by SLPs like SLPToolkit and Swivel are for school-based SLPs and do not include the billing portion. I do not accept insurance, but for those that do an insurance billing component would be important.

Okay these follow-up questions may seem silly, but I’m following my gut here: What kind of dog do you have?

My dog’s name is Bentley. He turned 14 in April. I have had him since he was 10 weeks old. He is a mutt 🙂 He is about 20 lbs, built like a terrier, and has soft brown fur. His mom was a purebred miniature pincher. I adopted him from a min pin rescue in Michigan and he moved to Texas with me. 

What types of recipes do you enjoy cooking? Do you have a favorite?

One of my favorite recipes or dishes to make is chicken tinga. It’s SO easy. We eat a paleo diet and tacos with corn tortillas are everywhere in Austin. I think a taco is the perfect delivery vessel for almost any type of food. We have also gotten into baking with sourdough bread–that’s for when I “cheat” and do not eat gluten-free (it’s a choice, not because I have an allergy). But I also love baking in general and have made a bunch of yummy GF recipes like double chocolate banana bread and cornbread. In general, I like to batch cook or make recipes and meals that we can eat more than once. Especially now that we are home all the time.

How would you share your passion for Speech-language Pathology with the world if money and time were no object? 

I’ve been fortunate to share my passion for my corner of our field, play-based speech-language pathology, with my book. I would love to be able to have my book translated into other languages and to be able to ship the print version globally. I would also love to able to teach parents my PWP framework on a larger scale, but time and resources have not allowed me to do that yet.

Would you present at a mom/women’s conference if given the chance?

Absolutely, I talk to parent groups often and have for my whole career in Austin. I regularly present to groups through Easterseals and an organization here called Partners in Parenting. They both offer support groups for families with young children. I also have an ASHA-approved CEU course on PWP for SLPs offered on ABA Speech’s website and have been thinking about doing some offerings on Zoom for parents–free online “classes.”

Is there anything else about your SLP experience that you would like to highlight?

So much of who I am as an SLP is due to learning from other wonderful professionals–not just the other SLPs I have had the opportunity to work with. In both my CFY and subsequent jobs at clinics, I worked with a ton of amazing occupational therapists. Learning about regulation and the sensory system has been invaluable. I think learning from related professionals has made me a more holistic SLP. It lets me see my clients through a bigger lens and understand them as a more whole person.

How has 2020 changed your therapy?

I had always toyed with the idea of telepractice. I even looked at a few contract agencies that provide telepractice services but they were all school-based and looking for SLPs with school-based experience which I do not have. So when March 2020 hit, I was a little worried. The stay-at-home orders came when we were on spring break in Austin, so my intern (a graduate student from the University of Texas) and I worked hard at exploring telepractice platforms and getting ready for our kids to re-start therapy after the break. Both of our spring break travel plans were naturally canceled. We dove in, headfirst, to telepractice and I have not looked back. Honestly, I am liking and enjoying it much more than I had anticipated. I had initially viewed it as a stop-gap and now I see it as more of a long-term solution. As I mentioned above, there are some families that I developed a stronger relationship with, and some parents have really been integral in their child making progress. I love seeing that growth in the parents and the kids. And I love that this has provided me with an opportunity to grow a new skill set.

Which platforms did you try for teletherapy? Which did you choose? Why?

I looked at what my EMR (TheraNest) has as an add-on option, tried TheraPlatform, and looked at Webex before settling on Zoom. It is the most user-friendly, in my opinion, both on my end as the therapist and for the families. It was also the easiest to use with more than 2 attendees since when I started doing telepractice in March I still had a graduate student intern. No one has complained and aside from an occasional connectivity issue (which is related to a person’s Internet Service Provider) it has been smooth sailing.

Can you share more about your parent coaching style? I feel like I’m a little awkward in my delivery.

The only difference in my parent coaching, now that I am providing it on Zoom, is that demonstrating for parents is a tiny bit more challenging. One way we have solved this issue is for me to do some demonstration while sitting on my floor with a stuffed animal across from me as if it was the child. So if I am showing a parent how I may hide toys in my lap and present them one at a time, they really get to see my do it. We also set up a little bit more in advance, or pick out a few toys/activities we aim to try during the session and then still let the child guide us. I also send a lot of information as follow-up after the visit so parents have something they can reference.

Community Action Items

I loved interviewing Emily. She’s so down to earth and willing to connect with other SLPs. I learned a lot from her networking style – not to mention her awesome book. Here are some things you can check out after reading this interview!

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