Language and Communication Conference- what makes an Outstanding Speech Pathologist

Wayne A. Secord, Ph.D. is the Coordinator of School Speech-Language Pathology at The Ohio State University and a Summer Visiting Instructor at Northern Arizona University (NAU). An ASHA Fellow and Honours recipient, Dr. Secord is the author of countless articles, books, tests and intervention programs. He is also a co-author of CELF-5 – a critically acclaimed assessment tool designed to diagnose communication and language disorders, which is widely used by Speech-Language Pathologists in Australia. We sat down with Dr Secord to discuss the practice of speech pathology and the differentiating qualities that make clinicians truly great at what they do.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has reported that over one third (37 percent) of children aged 5-14 years have a sensory or speech impairment. This means that hundreds of thousands of school-age students with language-learning difficulties will continue to require the services of speech-language pathologists (SLPs) across the country.

Wayne Secord quote

For decades, SLPs (or speechies as they are affectionately known in Australia), have provided clinically based therapeutic services to students with disorders in communication, speech, and language. In the past, practice relied heavily on the ‘pull-out’ model where the student was taken out of class and assessed and treated in isolation within a specialised room.

Researchers have identified a number of issues with the ‘pull-out’ model, mainly because speech language services in a therapy room simply cannot effectively replicate interactions and activities commonly found in the classroom. Therapy carried out in this way can easily become decontextualised as the student struggles to make connections between what goes on in the therapy room and what needs to occur throughout the rest of the school day.

Dr Secord strongly believes that the incorporation of classroom-based practice to therapy is one of the hallmarks of an excellent SLP.

“We did a lot of research on what makes really good clinicians really good and what we found is that when a child is not doing well in school, you have to get into practical, classroom-based assessment. When you do that right, you get a good idea of the things the student can’t do, say, make, or use – and if you can do that then you can gain an understanding of the things a child struggles with in context. The interventions that follow must be curriculum-focused and delivered in such a way that improved classroom performance is the primary target for all participants.“

Researchers maintain that the idea is not to completely get rid of the pull-out method, but to restrict these one-on-one group sessions to appropriate cases to best serve students’ needs. In other words, SLPs should tailor their intervention to each student. Dr Secord also backs this approach:

“Clinical measurements and their tests are good for diagnosing communication and language disorders – but the good people will think about how the results translate into what the student struggles to do in school. There needs to be an academic AND clinical endpoint for each and every student that is treated. You need to be doing a combination of therapies. You can’t just have a clinical target - if that’s your only target, the child will not make much progress at all.”

Team-based intervention is another approach Dr Secord holds close to his heart.

“Teamwork, practical goal setting, coaching others - all this stuff that I learnt in sports – these are also the things that make an excellent clinician. A good team of interventionists will focus on a few things at any given time and do them really well. This means the student gets better where it counts.” He said.

Dr. Secord emphasised time and time again, that it’s all about doing a few things, as a team, extremely well – as that’s what wins in sports and in schools.

Excellent SLPs will develop an understanding of what a child struggles with in the context of the classroom. They will figure out how to do a few things really well so that the individual student can improve both clinically and academically, and they will do these things in collaboration with teachers and other specialists in schools.

If SLPs are to implement clinical and classroom-based interventions designed to help a student strengthen their system and improve their school-based skills, assessment tools need to provide relevant, practical information for clinicians to work with.

According to Dr Secord, this is another pathway to greatness - people become good clinicians when they know what they are doing inside and out. And not just what they are doing, but what their team of interventionists is doing.

Wayne Secord

“A good SLP has excellent crossover knowledge – they have a knowledge of what they do and what teachers are doing in the curriculum. They know that the time spent with their student will have a result that improves him in school. These are some of the really outstanding points that make people great.”>

Note: this is a condensed version of the interview, read the full article here >

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