Thanks for joining us for our podcast series, talking about speech-language pathology graduate school. Join Robert Serianni, MS, CCC-SLP, FNAP
, the chair and program director of the department of Speech-Language Pathology
at Salus University, as he speaks with Kimberly Edmonds, MS, CCC-SLP
, one of our clinical educators.
My name is Kim Edmonds, and I am a bilingual speech-language pathologist. I am also a clinical educator for the Speech-Language Institute
here at Salus University.
I'm interested to hear a little bit about how you got into speech pathology and then more specifically that term bilingual speech pathologist. Give me a little bit of your history.
So, basically my younger sister takes complete credit for my decision to become a speech pathologist. When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to work with children in the future, most likely in some kind of educational setting. I was originally leaning more towards maybe elementary or special education, but my younger sister had been in speech therapy for quite a few years for an expressive language delay. And I actually had the opportunity when I was in high school to shadow the SLP that was working in my sister's elementary school, and that really just sparked my interest in the field. So, when I started college, I decided to declare that major in speech-language pathology.
My original decision to declare a minor in Spanish when I started college was really just a practical one. I really had no idea what the implications of that would be for me as a future SLP. I just thought, well, Spanish would be useful and it might make me more marketable in the future. But then as I started learning more about it, especially as I was moving towards applying to graduate schools, I really got interested in the challenges that bilingualism poses to clinical practice.
So, I had that minor in Spanish that actually included in my undergrad, a study abroad program during the summer in Cuernavaca, Mexico. And then I decided to attend Arizona State University because they have a bilingual training program there. As part of that program, I did take additional coursework that focused specifically on Spanish language acquisition, and then also more broadly on bilingual approaches in speech-language pathology. Since then, I've been practicing as a bilingual SLP.
I think that you've had an interesting career trajectory because of your bilingual background as an SLP. Tell us a little bit about where you've been.
I specialize in pediatrics, so I've really worked the gamut of working with young children from early intervention, so toddlers all the way up through school age children in high school. But two of my past positions really stand out to me in terms of my bilingual practice. One of them was working on a bilingual assessment team for a school district down in Maryland. In that position, I, on a daily basis was conducting evaluations for bilingual children in preschool or for school age, and this was children of all different backgrounds. So, even though I'm bilingual in Spanish, many of the students I was evaluating did come from Spanish-speaking homes, but I also evaluated children from all different language backgrounds, of course, working with interpreters. And the team that I worked with actually was responsible for training the interpreters that worked with us.
That was a really fantastic experience and gave me more perspective from the interpreter's point of view and how to work with them more effectively. And then, another position that really stands out to me is I worked in early intervention for Montgomery County Intermediate Unit. I did a combination of itinerant therapy, so I was going into children's homes. And that was very eye opening to me because I had a chance to really get to know the families, to see them in their space and really to hear a lot about the challenges that they experience on a daily basis, in addition to their child having a disability. And part of my caseload was also a number of children who were placed in a developmental preschool classroom. And more than, I would say about half or more than half of the class came from Spanish-speaking homes.
The teacher for that classroom did not speak Spanish, but she was extremely supportive of my bilingual approach. I was able to use Spanish in all of the activities that I implemented in that classroom. And probably my favorite part was that the days that I was in that classroom, I would lead a speech and language focused music time. We would do songs either in Spanish or bilingual songs with all of the children. So, I really think all of the kids benefited from that, even the ones who came from English-speaking homes. I also felt like it gave the Spanish-speaking children a sense of pride in their language and culture, to be able to share that when they were at school.
I think what I really love about what you bring to the faculty and the program here is your focus on this aspect of speech pathology that we all hold in high regard, and that's the ability to work with culturally and linguistically diverse populations. And I think part of that has to do with recognizing cultural competence and cultural humility, but I also think it also requires us to meet our clients where they are in the communication spectrum. Can you talk to us a little bit about how you expose the students here in the program to bilingualism?
I do work with bilingual clients that come to the Speech-Language Institute, they're referred to us for an evaluation. I guide our graduate students through that initial process of doing a bilingual evaluation and making that differential diagnosis. And then, once that occurs and we determined that yes, this client does require services, I also coach and guide the students through how do we incorporate that home language into treatment and how do we learn more about that client and the family, and what's important to them, and how we can incorporate their culture into the sessions.
In addition to that, I also do some guest lecturing for the department. I've done guest lectures specifically about working with interpreters since I do have that background in training interpreters. I teach our graduate students more about what's required to be an interpreter and then different strategies for how to collaborate more effectively to really improve our clinical practice when we do require the assistance of an interpreter. And then, I've also done guest lectures related to bilingual language development and approaches to assessment and intervention with bilingual clients.
So, I'm guessing I'm asking somebody with a pretty significant bias, but I'm assuming that you would say there's some advantages of being a bilingual SLP.
Absolutely. So, for my Spanish speaking clients, it's definitely easier to build rapport because of the fact that I speak their language and that I am familiar with Spanish-speaking cultures. I do think that helps to build trust as well with my Spanish-speaking clients. And for conducting evaluations and intervention bilingually, it's definitely much more efficient the fact that I do speak Spanish myself, rather than needing to rely on the assistance of an interpreter. So, those are some pretty big advantages. Aside from that, I also feel like becoming a bilingual SLP really pushed me out of my comfort zone. And even now, I feel like it really pushes me to continue learning and developing my skills as a clinician, because like I said, I've worked with families from all different backgrounds, not just Spanish-speaking families. I've worked with families that speak languages I didn't know existed prior to working with them.
That has really helped me to develop my cultural competence and also to recognize that to be successful with clients from a different background, I don't have to know everything about their culture. I just have to know the right questions to ask and also, just to validate their culture can really go a long way in building that trust, even if I don't speak their language or I'm not familiar with their culture. I think another big advantage that I see is that bilingual clients, the only thing that's similar about them is that they speak another language. So, the families that I've worked with, the children I work with, their diagnoses are very different. Their needs, their communication needs are very different, so it has really forced me to be somewhat of a generalist in the fields. I really have to constantly keep up with my continuing education because I never know what type of client might be coming my way, just because they speak another language.
I know our students get nervous because we talk to them as students saying like, "Oh, by the way, you have to be a lifelong learner. This isn't you get done the program and you know everything, so get out there and do good." Part of your graduate education is realizing that you don't or won't know everything, and how do you achieve those skills? I do really feel like our staff, our faculty and our students benefit from the skill set that you bring to the clients and care SLI.
I always ask our participants in these podcasts, what would your advice be to a student who's looking to come to graduate school, either here at Salus or outside of Salus?
I think one thing I really want students to know is that you don't have to be bilingual to work successfully with bilingual clients. Obviously, the majority of SLPs out in the field are monolingual English speakers here in the United States, but I definitely encourage you to seek those opportunities, to get experience with bilingual clients, to get more comfortable working with bilingual clients. And also, to take that into consideration when you're choosing a graduate program, how much opportunity you will have to work with clients from diverse backgrounds. I feel like I also have to give a little plug for bilingual SLPs, that if you do have any proficiency in a second language, I would strongly encourage you to consider developing the skills that are necessary to practice bilingually, because there is a big need for bilingual clinicians, not just in Spanish, but in all of the languages that are represented in our country.