Introducing Physical Therapy Students to Speech-Language Pathology

Physical therapists and speech-language pathologists often work closely together in clinical, hospital, school, and other settings. To begin fostering interprofessional collaboration early, Kate Andrea, PT, NCS, a professor on the St. Augustine campus, invites speech-language pathologist Isabel Lawton, from Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital, to be a guest lecturer in her Doctor of Physical Therapy  pediatric course.

What connects the two professions, of course, is the desire to help people. For physical therapists to be successful with their patients, they must be able to communicate with them. That’s why it is so important to understand what speech-language pathologists bring to the rehabilitative sciences.

To help patients, whether they are young children or adults who have had a stroke, for example, rehab professionals need to understand their cognitive level and how to communicate with them. Isabel helps students understand some of the barriers to communication, ranging from Broca’s aphasia, where patients have high comprehension levels but trouble speaking fluently, to apraxia, where patients have difficulty producing speech sounds because of neurological damage.

Isabel offers a few tips for students who are likely to face these and more communications challenges with their future patients:

  • Talk to them in age appropriate language. Keep it simple.
  • Minimize distractions.
  • Give adequate response time. Wait time is important. Kids with neurological issues need processing time. Just like you might wait for them to take a step.
  • Use multiple modalities to communicate: written, spoken, signs, gestures, examples, even texting with autocorrect.
  • Video modeling: When a patient is having trouble doing something, video them doing it and play it back to help them do it again.

She stresses that most people can communicate, and that the onus is on the practitioner to figure out how and what’s easiest for the patient.

Future physical therapists and speech-language pathologists will have even more opportunities to collaborate starting in fall 2018 when the university is projected to launch its Masters in Speech-Language Pathology program.

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