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HEALTH CONNECTION

Speech pathologists give you something to talk about

By Susan Poizner
Special to The Toronto Sun


One of speech pathologist Rosemary Boyer's young clients was an eight-year-old boy. He was very bright, but he stuttered. His parents hoped it would pass. But once he was in school and had to speak in front of other children, the problem started to get in the way.
"One of the exciting things about speech pathology is that ... it can accommodate a wide variety of interests," says professor Luc De Nil, chair of the graduate department of speech and language pathology at the University of Toronto.


"The reason he came to me is he couldn't read his speech in front of the class. He was so smart and had so much to say, but his teacher had to read it for him," says Boyer, who runs a private practice in Brampton and Oakville, Ont.

"Then I saw him weekly and we worked on strategies so he could get his words out easier. We started with words, then sentences, and then stories. Then we worked on his speech, and the next year he came in second place in his school in public speaking."

As a speech pathologist, Boyer works with people with various speech and language disorders. She treats problems such as stuttering and lisping, and can help children with difficulties link words and sentences.

Speech pathologists also work with adults who have lost language ability due to a stroke, people with cerebral palsy or head injuries, or those with hearing disabilities.

"One of the exciting things about speech pathology is that it's a profession that can accommodate a wide variety of interests," says professor Luc De Nil, chair of the graduate department of speech and language pathology at the University of Toronto.

"And today, there's a significant shortage of speech pathologists. Our graduates have a variety of employment opportunities that are open to them so they can choose the direction that appeals to them, or try a few things until they find something they like."

In Canada, all speech pathologist training programs are at the master's level. But they all have different preferences as to the prerequisite courses students should take during their undergraduate degree.

Those hoping to take a master's of health science in speech pathology at the University of Toronto, for instance, need to take undergraduate courses in child development, phonetics, general linguistics, statistics and human psychology.

"What most programs also require is that people do a minimum of 14 hours of volunteer experience with an speech pathologist before entering the program. This gives them an understanding of what a speech pathologist does," De Nil says.

Last year, between 15% and 20% of all applicants were accepted into the U of T graduate course, which takes only 20 students a year, though the department is growing and De Nil expects that in two years' time there will be up to 40 places a year.

Part of the appeal is the surfeit of jobs -- and the good pay. A starting salary is $50,000 to $55,000 dollars a year. You can find jobs in hospitals, or start a private practice where you can work full or part time.

At the moment, about 95% of all speech pathologists are women -- although De Nil stresses that more men should consider going into this field either to work clinically, academically or as a professional researcher.

For Rosemary Boyer, who works with children ages 18 months to 12 years, the clinical work is what it's all about.

"So often, speech problems affect a child's self-esteem. It can affect them socially and academically.

"For me, it's so rewarding to see the progress the children make, and how good they feel about themselves as a result."

For more information on the U of T program, visit the website www.slp.utoronto.ca.

(Reach freelancer Susan Poizner at (susan.poizner@sympatico.ca).



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