Each May, Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM) provides an opportunity to raise awareness about communication disorders and the role of speech therapists in providing life-changing treatment.
For 2015, the theme, designated by the American Speech-Language-Hearing-Association is “Early Intervention Counts.” And it does. Research has proved that “Early intervention programs demonstrated significant and often sizable benefits in at least one of the following domains: cognition and academic achievement, behavioral and emotional competencies, educational progression and attainment ... and labor market success.”
In adults, good communication skills are essential for both labor market and social relationship success. Though we tend to focus on speech and language development primarily in babies and younger children, the art of communication continues to evolve through high school, college and life experiences. Speech therapy screenings are generally offered in schools on the elementary level but not in high school, where a host of new speech-related problems may present themselves. And few self-respecting college students seek out therapeutic intervention when relationships fail or job offers fail to materialize.
But times are changing.
It is therefore not surprising that speech therapists are reporting an increase in self-referred millennial clients. Even businessmen, in preparation for an important presentation or to woo a new client, will reach out for short-term intervention. Some adult clients had speech and language issues identified when they were children. Often the problem was ignored due to financial issues or the commonly believed misperception that the issue would be outgrown with age. Some had speech intervention as a child but did not complete the process due to lack of progress or initiative. Alternatively, some adults see therapeutic intervention as an opportunity for self-improvement.
These same clients are ready and willing to modify poor speech patterns. Perhaps the access to video accessibility has heightened awareness of how we come across to others. Sometimes a poor job interview results in self-reflection. Or an unexpected event, like King George VI’s impromptu ascension to the throne, as in the movie The King’s Speech. In any case, there has been a dramatic increase in both men and women Googling ways to remediate the issue, and their initiative creates a climate for therapeutic success.
While the goals are similar, the speech and language approach in adults versus children is noticeably different. Whereas in younger children the parents are facilitators and are an integral part of the therapeutic process, adults are held solely accountable for their progress.
The process is different as well. Clinicians generally focus on “real life simulations” like rehearsing for a job interview, a social situation or an important presentation by role playing.
The focus in adults is also on more complex language skills. As part of the adult treatment process, therapists tend to take a more hypothetical approach by focusing less on the who, what and where but on the how and why. They may ask: In a given situation, how would you go about doing it and why? The goal is for the client to come up with the answers instead of providing them.
Equally as important, the therapeutic process concentrates on higher functioning social pragmatic skills. Therapists no longer remind clients to make eye contact. Instead they put them through exercises where clients learn to remind themselves, often through the use of video. There is also a huge emphasis on non-verbal cues and body language as integral pieces in the communication process.
The therapeutic process in adults is often short term, with the client determining the definition of success. And success is life changing.
Avivit Ben-Aharon, MS Ed., MA CCC SLP, is co-founder and clinical director of Gr8 Speech Inc., an online speech therapy program that uses video conferencing technology to provide live, interactive services. She can be reached at 954-247-8757 or visit www.gr8speech.com