During the summer months of 2016 I was fortunate enough to complete my STEP Community Service and Learning project with the Columbus Speech and Hearing Center in Columbus, Ohio. As a speech and hearing science major in pursuit of a career path in speech-language pathology, I was particularly excited about being able to experience a new setting in my field and network with current professionals. I was a volunteer assisting two lead speech-language pathologists with a group at the center called “Tiny Talkers.” The Tiny Talkers group was comprised of young children ages two to three years with expressive language delays. As a volunteer, my duties included setting up for group sessions and helping run the group during the session by participating in activities and encouraging the children there to participate as well.
Growing up I was always a shy child, especially when it came to situations where I did not know anyone or was forced to step outside of my comfort zone in anyway. I was afraid of being judged negatively by others and was very concerned with the way others viewed me. I never wanted to appear ignorant or inferior and was always concerned that I would be. As the years have passed and with the more experiences I have had in the world, I began to face my fears of engaging in new experiences with new people. Having the opportunity to be a STEP participant has contributed significantly to my growth in this area. It helped me to build confidence in myself and increase my faith in those around me. I was nervous to go into a facility, to which I had never been, to seek any volunteer opportunities they may have had available. Furthermore, having to open up to and get to know people I had never met was also a challenge. However, my time at the Columbus Speech and Hearing Center turned out to be a truly wonderful experience. I made great connections with the people I was working alongside with and learned so much about my professional field.
Going into this activity I had the mindset that each session would be very structured and have set speech and language activities that each child was supposed to attempt. However, upon the group’s commencement I was intrigued by how the leaders of this group structured it like any other summer day-camp that a child might attend. We sang songs, played with toys, and many other fun activities that the children actually wanted to participate in. While presenting these activities, the speech-language pathologists would incorporate different speech and language prompts into the activities to promote speech and language production. While one speech-language pathologist would lead the group in a certain activity, the other would listen to the children’s responses and take data on their speech and language abilities. They told me that with the children being so young, it would be premature to conduct any formal testing. This group was a form of Early Intervention, or services that support the development of children in various areas during their earliest years of life. The data that they collected for each child would later be used to help determine what additional services may or may not be required as the children grow older.
I had never seen this aspect of a speech-language pathologist’s career before. I have observed other speech-language pathologist in the past, however it was always with elementary-aged children and above. In settings like that, it is easier to have a formal and structured setting where there are specific speech and language activities that must be completed during a session. Before the group started, I had wondered how the leaders of the group were going to accomplish such as a structured setting with children so young. Without prior experience with early intervention, my past experience with older children was all I had to go on. My curiosity was peaked and I knew that the only way I could learn more about how to work in this setting was to ask questions and seek advice from the professionals whom I was working with. This was difficult for me at first, because I have always had this sense of awkwardness when it came to asking about things I did not know, especially with unfamiliar peers. As time went on though, I became more comfortable talking with these professionals and they were incredibly kind and understanding when explaining their work to me.
My experience with Columbus Speech and Hearing would not have been the same had I not had the pleasure of working with the two exceptional speech-language pathologists that I did. Observing them work, being able to discuss after sessions why they did something or said something a certain way was so informative to me and helped me to learn and grow as an individual as well as an up-and-coming professional. Having their support and access to their knowledge made all the difference for me and I hope that I have the opportunity to go back and work with them again in the future.
During my experience, I was able to interact with all of the wonderful children in our group and build relationships with them. I loved talking and playing with all of them. While all of these children were just as capable and intelligent as any typically developing child, after spending time with all of them I could notice the delays that were present. Some were very subtle and I had to ask one of the lead speech pathologists about what to look for, but because they were all so different I now feel that I have a better understanding and knowledge of what to look for in the future as well as what to discuss with the parents of a child in that situation. I was very impressed with how these speech pathologists communicated so clearly with the parents of these children. Going into this career, one of my major concerns was being able to talk with the family members of a client, to be able to communicate clearly what my professional opinion was and answer all of their questions. The speech pathologists leading our group did this so fluently. It helped me to observe how effortless it was for them to talk with the parents and see how confident they were in their work. To watch the very thing I was so timid of be done with such ease was intimidating, but both of them assured me that it comes with time and experience and that I would be just as capable one day.
I was also educated in a method of gathering data on children this young that I had no prior experience in. In a typical evaluation setting, there are specific forms and skills that must be filled out and assessed. In this particular setting, which was not a formal evaluation, it would have been rather difficult to fill out forms for each individual child while trying to manage a group of two-year-olds. Thus, someone would take impromptu notes about what they heard or witnessed each child say or do during each session and they would discuss it further with each other after the children and their families had left to make sure they were aware and conscious of each other’s opinions. While I would have previously considered this rather unorthodox in a way data collection, it was just as effective in doing so. They explained to me their process and what they look for in each child; they even let me attempt to collect data in this manner during one session! It was great to see how they accomplished this and helped me to really grasp a better understanding of what the group’s purpose was and how it functioned.
This experience was so valuable and enjoyable to me in more ways than one. As a student, one learns things that one knows will be used in one way or another in that profession. However the beauty of having real-life experiences like mine at Columbus Speech and Hearing Center is that I saw these skills and topics that I have so diligently studied be put into practice. While not everything was in ‘cookie-cutter’ form like the textbooks make it seem it should be, the same information was still present and relevant. I feel that is one of the most important lessons I will take from this experience. Life does not always follow the plans we draw up in our minds and we have to find a way to manage and make the most of things. In this particular example, having a thorough knowledge of what to look for in each child, what things needed to be noted, and having a general activity plan for how to evoke certain behaviors or actions from each child was all that was needed to be successful.
This was such an important lesson for me because all of my life I have been a planner. Having a set plan was comforting to me because it reduced the amount of spontaneity I would encounter and thus less uncomfortable situations I would have to contend with. I love knowing what is going to happen next and I used to become very disgruntled when things in my life deviated from that plan I had made for myself. But I had the revelation that things that will not always follow the plan and yet still give rise to a positive result. In fact, sometimes the best things come forth when the reality completely defies the expectation. After all, no one ever achieved all that they could be by remaining sheltered in their comfort zones.