Part I: Principles of Heart & Soul Speech
Empowerment—noun; authority or power given to someone to do something; the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life.
What a beautiful, powerful, profound word. The word empowerment alone carries weight and responsibility. People are often confused when I use it to describe what I do every day. “But wait, I thought you were a ‘speech teacher’ that fixed stuttering??” Sure, I can help. However, my work as a speech-language pathologist also involves engaging, enabling, and uplifting others so they can be independent in their lives.
I partner with families with speech, language, and feeding goals, help determine their priorities, identify barriers to participation, enrich their natural environment, and give them tools and support to use to be successful in their daily lives.
Traditional Speech Therapy
The traditional perspective of speech therapy often includes viewing the speech-language pathologist as the “expert” and the caregiver/patient as the passive receiver of information. This may also imply the family is to observe and learn from the “expert” without input.
The problems with this traditional thinking is that when the “expert” SLP joins the treatment team, there is often a vulnerability imbalance. Think about a time when you felt ashamed, embarrassed, inadequate, and vulnerable. As a mother myself, it’s very difficult and frustrating to admit I need help with my child when I can’t meet their needs. Many of our families may feel disappointed when things aren’t as expected and don’t know where to turn to find a safe support system.
When the “expert” flies in and gives recommendations without consideration for the family’s priorities and concerns, the burden is transferred to the patient and the caregivers often leave feel isolated, overwhelmed, and ashamed.
Speech Therapy Now: Partnering with Families
Research shows caregivers may be as effective as therapists in implementing intervention when they receive appropriate guidance and teaching from a therapist (Roberts and Kaiser, 2011). This means my job as a SLP is to facilitate and collaborate. To give families tools through modeling and supported practice….and then give them space to be successful. I want my families to feel like they can make a difference at home, even -and especially when I’m not there.
Parents are the experts on their child. Whoa. Did you read that?? Yes, YOU are the EXPERT! Caregivers are smart and intuitive-they know when something is off. They know what sometimes works and what never works. They know theirchild better than anyone else.
Empowered caregivers are even more advanced. They know how to advocate, access resources, implement tools and strategies, and seek out help when needed. When speech-language pathologists respect the caregivers’ expertise and share in the responsibility and accountability of the treatment plan, something magical happens. It’s powerful. It’s empowering.