Speech pathology gives Australians a voice

13 September 2017

Written by: Christian Janev

Speech pathology is a growing profession helping up to 1.1 million Australians.

The majority of Australians take communication skills for granted. But an estimated 1.1 million Australians don’t have that luxury. They are living with communication disorders, ranging from a child with the inability to pronounce words to an adult who has problems swallowing.

Speech pathologists are specially trained to assist those who suffer communicative disorders. The profession is seeing rapid growth every year, jumping by 37 percent between 2006 to 2011.

Even more jobs will become available for speech pathologists as programs such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme roll out around the country.

Elyse Duggan, a final year student of speech pathology at Australian Catholic University, is one of the many graduating into the profession.

“As an allied health professional, speech pathologists assess and manage disorders of speech, language, swallowing, voice and fluency.

“You work with clients from all ages and all walks of life, and you also work in a wide range of settings not just schools,” Duggan told upstart.

This can include hospitals, schools, aged care facilities, community centres and private practices, according to Duggan.

“I am currently working with a large refugee population who live in government housing where parents don’t communicate with their children as much as they should.

“Some of my client’s parents don’t understand the importance of language rich environments. Some have PTSD from coming from war stricken countries. Many received little to no education in their home countries. They face adversity we can’t imagine.

“Many of these families don’t know how to access the relevant services, so it’s so important to advocate for those who may not have a voice,” she said.

Data from a longitudinal study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that 23% of female refugees and 17% of male refugees were illiterate in their own language. The work done by speech pathologists assists these refugees to function in Australian society.

Stephanie Buchan is a speech pathologist at Warragul and District Specialist School who works with children with disabilities. She tells upstart that her clients can range from students through to their parents, or staff.

“Many people are surprised when they hear we work with non-verbal people and those with swallowing difficulties.

“It can get tricky with the predominantly non-verbal students. You need to work really hard with them so you can both work on an expressive communication system together,” says Buchan.

As clients progress, speech pathologists are there to ensure development is progressive and continual.

According to Duggan, the job of a ‘Speechie’ extends beyond the one-on-one relationship with their clients.

“A large percentage of working with children especially, is working with their parents, and loved ones.

“You have to make sure they’re getting that continuous progress after you work with them,” she says.

When assistance is not possible due to language barriers, cultural differences or logistics, there is the option of referring students to a private practice, Duggan tells upstart.

“Building a relationship is important because your client is relying on you – and I do everything I can to make my patients feel comfortable.

“Seeing progress is so rewarding and puts into perspective why I chose to do this career,” says Duggan.

With the profession growing in size, and more funding available from programs like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, speech pathologists will be able to offer even more Australians the opportunity to have a voice.

Christian Janev is a fourth year Law/Media student from LaTrobe University.