Living with a communication disability: insider accounts

image001 ‘Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced’
John Keats
One of the greatest challenges in acquiring any new skill is taking the knowledge you have gained and applying it to the real world in a meaningful and positive way. Bridging the gap between theory and experience is something I, as a student speech and language therapist, have had to contend with. Speech and language therapists work with a wide range of clients at various stages of their lives and recovery, and whilst training there are limits on the range of clients you are able to work with due to various factors, such as timing and placement provision. The reality of being a newly qualified speech and language therapist is being faced with client groups that you have no previous experience of working with. Although you have the theoretical knowledge and transferable skills this prospect can feel daunting.

Sam Simpson and Cathy Sparkes have recognised the importance of learning through experience and how talking to people with a communication disability can enhance the developing skills of student speech and language therapists. ‘Living with a communication disability: insider accounts’ was one of a series of lectures Sam and Cathy gave to speech and language therapy students at University College London this year. It provided an open forum for students to meet clients with a range of communication disabilities, to hear their stories and ask them questions. This experience differed from meeting clients in a placement setting as our role was not to assess, provide therapy or to advise them, but to listen to their personal narrative and use their experience to reflect on our practice as speech and language therapists in training.

Clients sharing their stories in an open and honest way made me reflect on the extent to which communication disability impacts a person’s life. What stood out to me were how the clients’ communication difficulties impacted their identity and role within society. Examples included difficulties returning to their previous occupation and maintaining social networks and relationships. Viewing the client holistically has been embedded into our training, but I believe meeting clients and hearing their first-hand accounts has made me reflect on my perception of what speech and language therapy can offer. As a student I am guilty often of getting overwhelmed with theory and the process of therapy, which can narrow my view of the client. This experience has taught me to view every client I meet holistically and to consider the wide-ranging and varied impact a communication disability can have on an individual. I hope to carry this experience with me beyond my training into my clinical work as a constant reminder of the importance of the person at the centre of the communication disability.

Lindsey Beer