How can I get work experience with a speech & language therapist?
I am often asked if I can provide work experience for people who are planning to pursue a a career in Speech & Language Therapy. Unfortunately it is very difficult for me, and indeed most other independent SLTs, to provide work experience placements. This is down to issues of client consent, client confidentiality and the implications for insurance and legal business status. Sometimes it is possible to get some experience with your local NHS team but, again, these placements are very few and far between and are difficult to get.
While most of the higher education institutions understand that getting work experience directly with a speech & language therapist is very difficult, it does definitely count in your favor if you have some related practical experience under your belt when you apply. So what can you do about it? Well, I have highlighted the word ‘related‘ here because a little bit of ‘out of the box’ thinking can help you out significantly.
What sort of work experience is related to Speech & Language Therapy?
To get started, it will help you to think about the different client groups that speech & language therapists typically work with. Some examples are:
- Stroke patients (usually adults but occasionally children)
- Head injury patients (children & adults)
- People who stammer (children & adults)
- Children who have developmental communication disorders like Specific Language Impairment, Verbal Dyspraxia or Phonological Disorders
- Children and adults who have communication disabilities related to conditions like Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy or Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
I’m sure you can see that a list like this will help direct you towards organisations that support these client groups. More often than not, these organisations are charitable and rely heavily on the support of volunteer workers – see where I’m going with this? Using my list above, which is not exhaustive, some (and there are many, many more!) related organisations that may be able to take volunteer placements are:
- The Stroke Association – services across the whole of the UK
- Headway – a charity supporting people who have had traumatic brain injuries
- The Child Brain Injury Trust – charity organisation specifically aimed at children who have had a brain injury.
- British Stammering Association
- Afasic Scotland – a charity supporting children & young adults (and their families) who have speech, language and communication needs
- East Lothian Special Needs Playschemes – provide school holiday playschemes throughout East Lothian and need volunteer support to run these.
- Capability Scotland – charity providing support and services for children, adults and families affected by disability
- Lothian Autistic Society
- National Autistic Society
- Carers of East Lothian – A charity based in Musselburgh who provide support for carers of all sorts in East Lothian, including people who care for someone who has a communication disability.
As you can see, with just a little bit of thought, we have generated quite a long list of organisations who support people with all sorts of communication difficulties and who work with volunteer staff. Time for you to get on the phone and make contact!
Working in schools
Whilst it is helpful to have experience specifically with people who have communication difficulties, do not rule out the possibility of spending some time working in a mainstream classroom. Interacting with typical children, forming rapport with them and understanding how their communication skills develop is also an essential part of being a speech & language therapist. Even if you plan to work with adults when you qualify, you will have to do practical placements in paediatric settings as part of your training. If you plan to take a year out before starting your training or are going in as a mature student, it is definitely worthwhile looking around for temporary or short term contract teaching assistant or nursery assistant jobs in your local area. With that in mind, volunteer work with playgroups, youth groups & children’s clubs like Brownies or Cubs are also worth considering and are perhaps easier to fit in for future SLTs who are still at school.
What if I have a family member with a communication difficulty?
Many people come into speech & language therapy because they have some personal experience of communication difficulties. That could be because they have a friend or relative with a communication disorder, or indeed because they themselves have needed support with communication in the past. Whilst this is valuable experience, you should be aware that it is also a very narrow and subjective experience of the issue in question. It will certainly count in your favor if you seek to expand your knowledge of the communication disorder in question by seeking the type of work experience described above. Doing so will help you to broaden your understanding and gain a better perspective on the wide range of experiences that a group of people with the same diagnosis can have.
Well, I hope that this post has provided all of you budding speech & language therapists with some helpful and creative ways of getting some work experience that is relevant to speech & language therapy. Good luck and do feel free to contact me with any comments or questions!