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Community Matters: The role of a speech therapist in your journey to inclusion

By on May 12, 2015 in From Janet

I remember the first time I sat in on a team meeting about someone who was receiving speech therapy at the rehab hospital where I worked. I was a recently hired social worker who had just graduated from college so I was sure I knew everything. I knew the person we were talking about well. We met weekly to talk about her desire to go home. She was articulate, bright and had no issue telling me what was on her mind. I sat in the team meeting wondering why she needed speech therapy. ‘She speaks so well,’ I thought. The speech therapist gave a 15 minute report and detailed the reasoning, judgement, problem solving and memory issues they were working on. I was mesmerized by the techniques they were using to address upcoming functional issues the person would address when she went home. From then on, I spent as much time as possible with each of the speech therapists at our rehab and learned about communication, every cognitive challenge after brain injury and fascinating ways to help people improve their functioning. I began to believe everyone with any cognitive- communication issues needed a speech therapist on their team.

Fast forward a few years later when I became immersed in believing that everyone has a place in the community. I met a great man named Dr. Mark Ylvisaker, a speech language pathologist, who continues to have a profound impact on our work here in Kansas. He gave voice to the need for positive everyday routines for people living in the community, no matter the significance of their disability. He believed that everything we say or do is a form of communication. I specifically learned the most from him about how behavior is an important form of communication. Our job is to help people find ways, through every day routines, to effectively communicate what they need. We find that the transformation that happens when people are able to have control over their daily routines and communicate their needs more effectively, positive behaviors result and negative behaviors go away. We, at Minds Matter, still use Mark’s work, across therapy teams, to support positive every day routines.

Dr. Ylvisaker, and all other speech language pathologists, have taught me that the role of a speech therapist goes well beyond “speaking well” and swallowing. The speech therapist plays a vital role on any team helping assess, and implement plans that address all facets of cognitive functioning.

We currently have 9 speech language pathologists at Minds Matter LLC who each have a different approach with the same goal, to support every day routines in the community whether it be using a communication device (see Grant’s story), learning to manage their aphasia, learning to communicate in a positive way, or implementing any of a myriad of cognitive strategies to be successful away from professional help.

Dr. Ylvisaker passed away May 23, 2009. Over the course of his 35 year career, Mark gained worldwide distinction for his ground-breaking approaches to brain injury rehabilitation and his clinical work with children and adolescents with disabilities, assisting programs in all 50 states and over 15 countries in the development of innovative services. He was known and respected throughout the world for his boundless optimism and his passionate commitment to his work, to the people he supported, and for his unique ability to help individuals with disabilities, families, and professionals overcome barriers and achieve success in life.

Here is a link to a great interview Dr. Ylvisaker did in 2007. It amplifies his belief that formal testing can be very limiting and thinking across disciplines is critical in helping people be successful after brain injury.