Working in such a large number of school campuses sees Emma take on a whole classroom approach to tackling students with speech and language issues.
My role focuses on providing in-class support to students by adjusting the language content and delivery of the curriculum, rather than taking them out of the classroom for individual therapy. I also work closely with teachers and the wider school staff to support students experiencing speech-language communication difficulties. We also use a range of assistive technologies to support students in accessing the curriculum in different ways when required.
With the little ones, it is great to identify them early in order to make some big gains with their speech and language development. And with the high school students, helping with their literacy abilities can really boost their confidence and make them feel more comfortable which is so important for their social peer interactions.
And then we also have a number of students with diagnosed disabilities, some of whom have reduced verbal communication abilities. So it's really fantastic to be able to support them and their families with various methods of communication, whether it be through key word signs, visuals or other high-tech devices. Being able to give these students a voice is extremely rewarding.
Importantly, building confidence in language skills can also impact strongly on literacy outcomes, particularly in regard to reading.
Oral language forms the foundation of the reading and writing skills children develop as they progress through their schooling. Most students I work with speak Standard Australian English as an additional language, which is an important factor to consider in terms of their early speech and language development.
I also need to be aware of speech sound and language structure differences between traditional languages, Torres Strait Creole and Standard Australian English. For example, some students may have difficulties with particular speech sounds in Standard Australian English but there may be other culturally appropriate sound substitutions. And similarly with language aspects such as grammar and syntax, which can also be very different. In these cases, it’s important to recognise that it is not necessarily a language disorder, but more of a language difference.
Emma’s passion for working within schools was sparked from an eight-week student placement experience she had in her fourth year of speech pathology studies at JCU.
My interest in working with Indigenous communities really began to grow after my placement at a school in Katherine in the Northern Territory. I became particularly interested in working with students who were at risk of disengaging from school often because of poor language proficiency, and really enjoyed the challenge of building rapport with these students.
During my time at JCU, we got to experience a wide range of both paediatric and adult clinical practice settings, including schools, home and community care, hospitals and aged-care homes. We were also able to participate in observational clinics working with adults, children and even new born babies presenting with feeding difficulties. There really is so much diversity to a career in speech pathology.