Finding the best professional for your child can be a trying process. When looking for a speech-language pathologist (SLP), it’s really important to get just the right “fit”, as that professional will be working intensely with your child for a significant length of time. Here are some questions to help you choose a therapist.
1. What is your educational background?
An SLP should have a master’s degree or equivalent. A bachelor’s level of education provides an introduction to the various areas involved in the theory of communication disorders and treatment. A master’s level provides much more in depth study giving the student a thorough knowledge of the theory of specific communication disorders, as well as additional practicum experience where students are supervised as they work with individuals with communication challenges. It is at this level that student SLPs learn to develop at least a basic level of expertise in service provision, and possibly start to develop an area of special interest, e.g., working with children vs. adults, concentrate in a particular area of communication such as apraxia, voice, augmentative communication, traumatic brain injury, etc.
2. Are you certified?
In the U.S., practicing SLPs should be certified by the American Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (ASHA). You can see this by the “CCC” designation after their signatures. In Canada, SLPs should be registered with their provincial organizations. In Ontario, SLPs MUST be registered with the College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists, indicated by “Reg. CASLPRO”. For other countries, SLPs should be affiliated with their professional organizations.
Certification with ASHA and registration with CASLPRO ensures that the SLP has:
- met a minimum level of education and practicum training in communication disorders;
- has agreed to abide by that organization’s code of ethics which includes issues such as professional conduct, provision of services, record keeping, etc.;
- has committed her/himself to continued professional development, etc.
All SLPs should be able to provide you with the name, phone number, and address of their governing body. You can contact the professional association in your state/province (or the national organization) and find out what the minimum requirements are, and bring forth any other issues or questions you may have. They can also provide a list of practitioners in your area.
3. How many years and what type of experience do you have?
The more experience the SLP has, generally the better a clinician she/he is. In addition, you would want an SLP to have a lot of experience working with children, especially in your child’s age group. (There is a tremendous difference between working with a three year old, and working with a twelve year old.) Also, you would want her/him to have experience working with children with oral motor challenges in your child’s age group.
In addition, for SLPs in private practice, ASHA recommends at least three years experience before engaging in private practice. This helps ensure that the clinician has had adequate experience and has “worked out the kinks” in their therapy provision and any background or practical knowledge they may have needed to improve before engaging in practice in an unsupervised setting. Usually, the experiences gained in supervised practicums (which are typically only a few weeks in length) are not enough to ensure quality services in an unsupervised setting. Although many other countries (including Canada) do not require this, it is an excellent recommendation.
4. What additional training have you taken in oral motor disorders/childhood apraxia? Do you continue to attend training courses/workshops?
University training generally gives an overview of motor speech disorders and their effects on speech and language development. An SLP should have additional training through short courses, one to two day intensive workshops, etc., from knowledgeable professionals in the field. Some names to look for as workshop presenters include: Pamella Marshalla, Paula Square, Edie Strand, Michael Crary, Justine Sheppard, Debra Hayden, Nancy Kaufman, Donald Robin, etc.
5. How many children have you worked with who have had/were suspected to have had apraxia or other oral motor challenges?
SLPs should have worked with at least several children with oral motor challenges.
6. How many children with oral motor challenges do you usually have on your list of children?
Ideally, SLPs should usually be working with at least one or two children at any time with oral motor concerns out of their entire group of children. It is much harder to keep therapy skills refined if a therapist only occasionally works with a child with these difficulties.
7. If the SLP does not have (enough) experience: Do you have a supervisor/colleague who would act as a resource person to us?
There may be other SLPs in the department or a close colleague who would be able to “mentor” the SLP.
8. Do you have parents attend the therapy sessions?
The best partnership is one in which *both* the therapist and parent are working *together* with the child. Due to family schedules, therapy facilities, the child’s reactions, etc., this is not always possible. If not, can the parent observe through an observation mirror? Look for a therapist who at least is comfortable having a parent in the room.
For those directly paying a private therapist, it is your right to be in the room with the SLP and your child, if this is possible.
9. (If it is not possible to be in or observe the sessions) do you provide parent training/suggestions and activities for working with my child at home between sessions? Will I be given ongoing information about my child’s progress?
It is really important for parents to assist their children between sessions, and makes the therapy much more effective. Insist on being provided with as much information as you need/want.
10. What information do you have/what books would you recommend for me to read about this disorder?
The SLP should have some resource materials available, or should provide a list of recommended reading.
Any reputable, competent SLP should be comfortable answering these questions, and should actually welcome them. Parents are their child’s best advocates and have the right and the responsibility to ask these questions of anyone working with their child. Any SLP who resists, is offended by, or refuses to answer questions such as these will likely no be the best person to work with your child. Look for someone who is willing to work together with you as a team, and who values your input. No one can possibly know your child as well as you do.