Hope Brennan has worked as a speech pathologist at the Center for Spectrum Services since 2001. While pursuing her graduate degree at Columbia Teacher’s College, she began working with the autism population. She has worked with children in a wide range of ages, but is currently providing speech therapy services to a class of younger elementary age students at the center, many of whom are nonverbal.
How did you get into this line of work?
I had worked in publishing for about 20 years. I was realizing that my options were limited. I wanted more flexibility. I wanted to allow some time for creativity in my life, so I thought, ‘How am I going to do this? I better go back to graduate school.’ I was going to go back and become a classroom English teacher and then I took a course in speech and language pathology and I thought, ‘wow, this has everything that I like.’
I had an undergraduate degree in biology and it was a good match. My first love was always the written word, so combining those interests made sense. It was made for me: the science, the brain, the speech mechanisms. It seemed like a perfect match for my interests and my skills.
Speech pathology is great because it gives you a career; you can earn a decent living doing private practice and early intervention. There’s a lot of different places you could work, with the elderly population, across the lifespan.
What sort of person makes a good speech pathologist?
Somebody who is genuinely interested in helping people communicate. Someone who is generally interested in people, who enjoys the challenges of figuring out where somebody is, assessing someone’s skills, moving them up to the next level. Somebody who’s not afraid to try new ideas, to admit when something’s not working, take a step back, reassess, take a step forward.
You have to be willing to keep up with current research, keep abreast of developments, new trends. It’s a lifelong learning process.
How is the work/life balance?
This profession enables you to personalize that balance. Let’s say you want to take time out from the work force to have some kids, you can work on a part-time basis providing home-based services. That works out really well.
What is a common misconception about the work?
That it’s about lisps and stuttering; that it’s limited to how the speech sounds, rather than how the brain works… nothing to do with brain and language and social integration, picking up the nonverbal cues that transpire within small and large groups.
What makes for a really good day?
When I have a social skills group that goes very well, a child that I can laugh with, maybe a nonverbal child that I can laugh with and have a good time with, maybe a colleague comes to me with a question or a collaboration. When I feel that I have some valuable contributions to make to the team.
A really bad day?
Maybe I’m a little bit run down, I have lot of challenging students in a row, I have ten minutes to eat lunch, and when I get home I can’t decompress. It’s a typical bad day.
How has the job changed since you began?
The paperwork demands have increased threefold. Right now, some of my students are needier than they have been in the past, but I don’t know if that is just the cycle that I’m in. Technology has made it in some ways easier. When we create visual aids there are images everywhere that I can use and quickly print out. There’s no more reinventing the wheel. We have iPads, which are useful for some things, but it’s not a panacea to replace therapy. It’s taking away from face-to-face time, but it is motivating to our students.
How’s the pay?
The rewards of my job are many, but they are not financial. If you hustle, you can earn a nice living. If you can get a job at a school district, at a hospital, just in the nonprofit sector, the pay is historically low. But it’s a trade-off. I have great friends here, great relationships, and I feel like I’m doing meaningful work.
– Dawn Green