By Stacy Wendle, Speech and Hearing Sciences, MA ’97 (pictured here with her husband, children and dog)
Becoming a speech-language pathologist (SLP) was one of the best decisions of my life. I was asked recently to reflect back on my journey of almost 20 years as an SLP, which is not something I often consciously do. I have loved being an SLP!
I chose to become one after taking several classes as an undergraduate student and discovering a deep and growing interest in communication and the many things that could interrupt it. Something about coming alongside someone and encouraging them to do something they were previously unable to do appealed to me. For me, what was more important than helping someone to communicate and relate to others?
I remember contemplating the perks. The field offered a tremendous amount of flexibility. I could work with adults and/or children in a variety of clinical or school settings. I could work part-time or full-time. The job outlook appeared to remain excellent for my lifetime, while affording me the ability to sustain a satisfying standard of living. All these things were, and still are true.
I began my career as a full-time SLP at Grantham Elementary in Clarkston, Washington after completing a Bachelor’s degree (’95) and a Master’s degree (’97), both in Speech and Hearing Sciences at Washington State University. At Grantham Elementary, I served children from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade with a wide variety of communication needs. I distinctly remember starting my first job with a great deal of energy mixed with a strong dose of ambivalence about my untested knowledge and skill.
Within my first year I came face-to-face with many challenging students. I arrived the first day to meet a pre-adolescent student struggling to communicate in the presence of a violent behavior disorder. I encountered numerous children with autism spectrum disorder, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, and childhood apraxia of speech. Many had significant augmentative communication needs. I remember thinking, “I’m not prepared for this!” But as I sought out the support of amazing colleagues and other professionals, attended workshops and seminars, and applied the things that I was learning, I emerged with a sense of joy as I watched my students grow and change and relate better in their world.
Four years and two children later, my husband and I moved to Spokane where I was able to work part-time for nearly six years at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute in the Pediatric Outpatient department. While still being able to spend quality time raising my own children through their preschool years, I was able to hone my clinical skills while learning the art of working in concert with physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other SLPs. It was here where I gained a deep appreciation for working with the whole child by not only seeing them through the lens of their individual families, but also through that of my professional peers. It was also at this time that I really began to understand the value of front-loading every goal, objective, and therapeutic agenda with massive doses of relationship and rapport development. I learned that if I was to be effective in drawing children outside of their comfort zones to learn and practice a new skill, they must first be able to trust and enjoy me. I learned that sometimes in my urgency to see rapid gains and close the gaps, I could undermine my own effectiveness by not adequately developing the relational and internal motivation necessary for that child to move into the uncharted territory where they would grow and change. This became a key idea for me in my future success as a clinician.
As my own personal children began their formal schooling, I returned to the schools, taking a full-time position at Deer Park Elementary in Deer Park, Washington where I now serve kindergarten-through-second grade students and their families. Here I have enjoyed working with students in the context of the classroom environment and have valued working shoulder-to-shoulder with teachers and para-educators to help students succeed. Over the course of my career, I have enjoyed the privilege of working with many quality people and have been blessed with the opportunity to mentor a number of graduate students, an experience I would highly recommend. I am very grateful for the quality education I received, the clinical experiences I have had, the amazing children and families I have served, and the tremendous professionals I have learned from. They have truly informed my life in profoundly meaningful ways and confirmed my conviction that being an SLP is one of the most gratifying choices I could have ever made!