About Kristin Banach, Senior Marketing Manager

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Speech-Language Pathologists Working in Early Childhood Intervention

By Kathleen D. Ross, MS, CCC-SLP
Author Speech-Language Pathologists in Early Childhood Intervention: Working with Infants, Toddlers, Families, and Other Care Providers

Misperceptions and questions surrounding the role of speech-language pathologists (SLPs) in various settings persist. Our title is not yet a common term within everyday households. Speech-language pathologists working in early childhood intervention are no exception to these persistent misperceptions. When SLPs are labeled as the “speech teacher” who corrects lisping, how can one possibly teach an infant to make sounds appropriately when they don’t yet make /s/? How can an SLP train a toddler to change his behavior when he has no idea that he’s responsible for his own actions and behaviors? Education and advocacy continue to be an integral part of an SLP’s role in all settings.

Early childhood intervention SLPs tend to go beyond some of the traditional roles. Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) presents a practical philosophy for working with infants and toddlers: coaching parents and caregivers to guide children to functional communication efforts within daily routines in natural settings. Guiding parents to utilize new interventions with their children within daily routines truly is best practice for this young age, who do not yet have the cognitive ability to easily generalize an isolated task learned in a clinic setting to other situations. An infant and toddler’s social world is typically small, with greatest focus on the family constellation and primary caregivers. Teaching in the moment with familiar trusted learning partners (the parents) is often the most adequate way to make the synaptic connections that create useful memories. This practical application manifests the functionality of a learned task almost instantaneously.

In early intervention, SLPs enter the lives of young children and their families to thoughtfully observe their natural interests and interactions, and to become involved in the relationships that are most central to the children. In this way, they are at ground zero if you will, at the heart of the developing child and family.

Adults recognize that infants enter the world as helpless beings, needing continual support and guidance to progress through each day. Infants seek relationships with loving adults who provide routine care and consistent positive responses to their every need. They expect and rely on those responses, developing rhythms and trust with the adults around them. But not all situations are the same, and for a variety of reasons, there are times when infants do not receive the care they need and, thus, cannot develop the daily rhythms and trust of others. SLPs become integral in coaching parents to understand and develop these rhythms with their young children. Parents learn to carefully observe and listen, then positively and consistently respond to their child’s needs. Parents and primary caregivers are guided to develop or alter behaviors with young children—shaping unwanted behaviors into positive functional skills.

Our early experiences affect who we become as adults. Acknowledging this as early interventionists allows us to unhesitatingly advocate for infants, toddlers, and families within IDEA’s Part C program. Recognizing the influence of personality, prior knowledge, birth and early experiences, and a child and family’s degree of tolerance for stresses and outside influences, is crucial for success. As SLPs, we give tools and strength to a child and family to effectively communicate their needs and wants in various situations.

Speech-language pathologists who understand the connections between social, emotional, cognitive, and communication growth—the developing whole child—will work judiciously and respectfully to collaborate with other service providers and the family to enrich the child’s life and create practical interventions. We know that young children thrive on familiar and caring positive relationships through the routines of the day. We support parents and caregivers to guide children to reach their potential as they become threeyear-olds, when they transition from Part C to Part B services, if eligibility continues. Through meticulous and developmentally appropriate evaluation to diagnosis, and maintaining ongoing assessment for up-to-date programming, we provide accurate treatment measures to match the child and family’s needs.

Each family constellation presents a unique dynamic for all service providers to consider. We need to fully comprehend how both children and families develop, and the dynamic nature of both in order to work diligently within unique parameters. Knowledgeable SLPs respect and work with cultural and linguistic differences in each family, understanding the invaluable nature of these circumstances, while also recognizing the controversial elements that may present. SLPs will provide best practice when we acknowledge these complexities, especially in the face of our own preconceptions. Each human possesses their own perspective of their world as an individual. Service providers who early on grasp the concept that diversity is what makes us human, will be most successful in working in human services.

Speech-Language Pathologists in Early Childhood Intervention: Working with Infants, Toddlers, Families and Other Care Providers by Kathleen D. Ross, aims to inform SLPs who are considering work in early intervention. The text is also intended for early interventionists and service providers who wish to know the specifics of working with infants, toddlers, and families, and collaborating with others in this specialty area. Scenarios are presented as practical application examples to reinforce concepts discussed.

The rewards within this level of care are boundless. Working with both the child and the family presents satisfaction at two age levels simultaneously. Early childhood intervention sets the base for developing communication success. Where there previously existed frustrations, we now send children and families forward with a solid base of competence to function positively within their daily lives.

Personal Attitudes about Professional Wellbeing

By Wendy Papir-Bernstein, author of The Practitioner’s Path in Speech-Language Pathology: The Art of School-Based Practice

Within our profession—whether student, professor, researcher or practitioner—we connect with people from a diversity of fields.  Have you noticed how some seem happier than others?  They excel at their work and communicate a sense of enthusiasm, passion and professional fulfillment. It shows on their faces and use of body language, their social interactions, and of course through their work.  Researchers from the field of positive psychology tell us that happiness, whether personal or professional, is driven by the same themes:  we want to make a difference, we want to be useful, we want to connect with something greater than ourselves, we want balance in our lives, and we want community (Haidt, 2006).  It all seems pretty basic and yet it can be our greatest challenge.

One reason may be that we sometimes think of ourselves as consummate caregivers, and this culture of self-sacrifice is naturally carried over into our work setting.  I remember the moment many years ago when I first thought this idea.  I was on a plane, traveling out of the country.  The flight attendants spoke about safety regulations, demonstrated oxygen masks, and I thought I knew the drill well.  This time, however, I really heard it for the first time.  When they explained how important it was for you to put on your own oxygen facemask first—before helping anyone else with their own—I understood and took it to heart.  After returning to work, I made some immediate changes with priorities and strategies for my own self-care.

Bottom line—our work reflects our personal attitudes about our own wellbeing, as much as it does about the wellbeing of our patients, clients, and students. In fact, these attitudes are an integral component of clinical expertise, and will drive the success of our practice.  The significance of “personal attitudes and qualities” has recently been expanded in both ASHA’s 2014 clinical competency standards as interaction and personal qualities, and in the 2015 revision of standards for accreditation of graduate programs as professional practice competencies (ASHA, 2014; 2015).  Attitudes provide the framework and the context for what happens within the clinical and educational processes, and are thus the most critical “tool” in the profession. As it has been discussed within the medical profession, the most valuable part of the stethoscope is the part that rests between the ears.  And so, prescriptions for our own self-care and wellbeing must be at least as important as care for the people who receive our services (Traux & Mitchell, 1971).

What do we mean by professional wellbeing? While wellbeing is difficult to define and measure, we do know that it involves maintenance of equilibrium easily offset by life’s challenges.  It is sometimes linked to Aristotle’s idea of “eudaimonia”, the belief that the overarching goal of all human actions is to flourish (Bradburn, 1969).  Martin Seligman, another leader in the positive psychology movement, developed a theory about the building blocks for a life that flourishes, which he coined PERMA: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment (2011).  All of this contributes to a feeling of success.  Wellbeing has been compared to quality of life, which is defined by The World Health Organization (WHO) as “an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns” (WHO, 1997).

Paths, roads or ways are metaphors for the possibility that there is a connection between all we are and do.   Our chosen path is the practitioner’s path, where our work becomes about who we are as well as about what we do.  As we think about building, supporting, traveling and ultimately manifesting our path—we create a sense of passage within phases of our professional life that fosters balance, self-care, and reflective practices. As we approach the inevitable forks on our professional paths, let’s reflect upon the values we live by, the qualities and attitudes we embody, and the examples we model for others.  Nothing becomes more valuable than establishing our own set point for wellbeing, and building strategies for maintaining that sacred balance between our personal and professional self.


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2014) Standards for the Certificate of                  Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology. Retrieved from                  http://www.asha.org/Certification/2014-Speech-Language-Pathology-                               Certification-Standards/

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2015). Proposed Revised Standards                 for Accreditation of Graduate Education Programs in Audiology and                                 Speech-Language Pathology. Retrieved from
http://caa.asha.org/wp-content/uploads/Accreditation-Standards-for-                                 Graduate-Programs.pdf

Bradburn, N. (1969). The structure of psychological well-being. Chicago, IL: Aldine.

Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis. New York, NY: Basic Books

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish – A new understanding of happiness and well-being                 – and how to achieve them. London, England: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

  Traux, C. B., & Mitchell, K. M. (1971). Research on certain therapist interpersonal skills                  in relation to process and outcome. In A. E. Bergin & S. L. Hartfield (Eds.),                  Handbook of psychology and behavior change. New York, NY: Wiley.

World Health Organization. (1997). WHOQOL Measuring Quality of Life. Geneva,                           Switzerland: World Health Organization.

One of the best things you can do for your clients with right hemisphere brain damage

By Margaret Lehman Blake, PhD, CCC-SLP
Author of The Right Hemisphere and Disorders of Cognition and Communication: Theory and Clinical Practice

It can be difficult to know what to do with clients who have right hemisphere brain damage (RHD): how to assess them, what to treat, how to treat, etc. It’s not surprising, because (a) there is less collective knowledge within the field and (b) there are limited opportunities to acquire the knowledge that does exist. As for the amount of knowledge, aphasia was “discovered” and named the 1860s. In contrast, the impact of RHD specifically on communication and language has only been recognized since the 1960s, so we are behind by a century! As for the opportunities to acquire the knowledge, the problem starts in graduate school. While a majority of graduate programs have stand-alone courses on aphasia, RHD is typically covered as one of several topics/etiologies in a cognitive disorders course. I would venture that a majority of graduate programs have an expert in aphasia on faculty, while only a minority of programs have anyone interested in RHD. It is equally difficult to find continuing education about RHD after graduate school. In the past three years at the ASHA Convention there have been only between 6 to 9 presentations on RHD each year. In contrast, the number of presentations about aphasia has ranged from 177 to 269.

There is not enough room here to provide tips and advice for how to tackle all of the disorders associated with RHD, so I’ll just mention the one that I think is the most critical: talk to families. While SLPs likely talk to families of all of their patients/clients, it is especially important when working with someone with RHD. The purpose is two-fold: first to get information about how the patient has changed following the stroke, and second to provide information and resources to the families.

Getting information from the families about how (and if) the patient is different is essential. When it comes to pragmatics, there is no clear cut-off between being “normal” and being “a bit odd” as a result of brain damage. Add to that cultural differences in how people communicate (both verbally and non-verbally), and it may be nearly impossible in some cases to determine if someone has a pragmatic deficit or not. For example, just the other day I was assessing a man with RHD for a research project. In the small talk at the beginning of the session, I found out that he was originally from Wisconsin, so I asked him what brought him to Texas. He replied, “a 1972 Chevy truck”. If the exchange ended there, and I had no information about his personality from his family, I could have thought, “Aha! Typical RHD, he’s overly literal in his interpretations” and decide that I might want to target pragmatics in therapy. But the exchange did not end, and he followed up that response with an appropriate explanation of a change in jobs. Additional information from his family regarding whether or not that kind of response was a typical pre-stroke behavior would allow me to make a more appropriate decision about therapy goals.

The second part of talking with families is to provide education. They need education about the variety of problems that may occur and who they can contact for help. While families may get information about unilateral neglect from neurologists, SLPs are the ones who can educate families about pragmatics and communication. SLPs are the ones who can explain how RHD can affect theory of mind, cause a person to no longer accurately interpret another person’s intended meaning, understand their point of view, or become more egocentric and self-focused. SLPs are the ones who can explain that changes in theory of mind and emotional processing may result in changes in empathy. SLPs are the ones who can explain that appreciation and use of humor might change after RHD. SLPs are the ones who can explain that deficits in problem-solving and reasoning can affect communication, such that a person may not be able to notice or fix a communication breakdown, or figure out that the breakdown was mostly their fault. SLPs are the ones who can explain how prosody, facial expression, and body language are critical to communication, and that all can be affected after RHD. And most importantly, SLPs are the ones who can explain that they can treat these deficits.

Educating families about RHD is especially important because some deficits may not become apparent until the patient goes home. For example, an egocentric perspective and limited empathy for others might be considered normal for anyone in the hospital after a life-changing event such as a stroke, so it may not be identified as a deficit until the patient goes home and his spouse observes a lack of empathy in everyday situations. A patient also may seem to have a blunted sense of humor that in acute care may not seem unusual given the situation, but it may become really obvious when she goes home and her husband can’t joke with her like he used to, or conversations just aren’t “normal”.

When these kinds of changes become apparent, most families won’t think, “I should ask for a referral to a speech therapist”, because the person’s speech generally is fine. SLPs need to provide that link for them when they have the chance, so that when the deficits become apparent, the families will know where to go for help.

Despite the limited number of evidence-based treatments, I believe that SLPs can provide effective treatments to adults with RHD. Our knowledge about pragmatics and cognition can go a long way in addressing the deficits that limit participation in activities important to our clients. We just might increase interest in RHD, which would lead to more research, more experts in the field and more opportunities to learn about the problems, which in turn would spark more interest, lead to more research, and on and on.

Effective Mathematics Interventions

By Margaret M. Flores, PhD, BCBA-D, Auburn University
Co-author of Making Mathematics Accessible for Elementary Students Who Struggle: Using CRA/CSA Interventions


According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (2016), the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that 18% of fourth grade students performed below basic levels of achievement, meaning that they did not demonstrate mastery of fundamental skills. Students’ mathematical difficulties begin with understanding numbers, basic operations and their novice conceptions lead to further difficulties with complex operations and fractions (Fuchs et al.; Jordan & Hanich, 2003; 2016). Students who struggle in mathematics comprise a diverse group which includes students with identified disabilities as well as students without disabilities (Powell, Fuchs, & Fuchs, 2013). There is a critical need for effective implementation of interventions that have been shown to be effective through research. One effective approach that can be adapted across mathematical concepts is the concrete-representational/semi-concrete-abstract sequence (Miller, Stringfellow, Kaffar, & Mancl, 2011; Witzel, Furguson, & Mink, 2012; CRA/CSA).

What Is CRA/CSA?

The CRA/CSA sequence in an instructional approach to mathematics that emphasizes conceptual understanding prior to procedural knowledge and fluency. There are three phases: concrete, representational/semi-concrete, and abstract. The concrete phase of instruction involves the use of objects to complete mathematical tasks or solve problems. During this phase, teachers explicitly teach concepts through the manipulation of objects. The representational/semi-concrete phase continues to focus on the development of conceptual understanding, but problems are solved using pictures and student-made drawings. Once students demonstrate understanding of the target mathematics concept at the representational/semi-concrete levels, they learn to solve problems using just numbers, the abstract phase. During the abstract phase, the focus of instruction is on procedural knowledge and fluency. The benefit of including the CRA/CSA sequence into mathematics interventions is that the concrete and representational/semi-concrete phases provide students with needed remediation in their understanding of whole numbers, the base ten system, operations, and rational numbers (fractions). The physical manipulation of objects, drawing, and visual aid of pictures fill in the gaps that exist in their prerequisite knowledge and understanding about mathematics. Another benefit of these physical and visual aids is that they assist students in making meaning of mathematical language and using language to explain their computation or problem solving.

CRA/CSA and Number Concepts

The CRA/CSA sequence has been shown to be effective in teaching young children and elementary students number concepts. Researchers used CRA/CSA to teach preschool students, with and without disabilities, counting skills. This included number sense in the form of visual counting or recognizing that four objects were represented by the numeral four without physically touching the objects (Hinton, Flores, Schweck, & Burton, 2015; Hinton, Flores, & Strozier, 2015). Elementary students also successfully learned how to count this way using CRA/CSA. In addition, Hinton and Flores (submitted) taught rounding skills using CRA/CSA. Using base ten blocks and drawings representing base ten blocks, students learned how to round numbers to the nearest ten and hundred. After abstract instruction using just numbers, students quickly and accurately completed rounding tasks. Mercer and Miller (1992) taught place value to elementary students with and without disabilities using CRA/CSA.

CRA/CSA and Basic Operations

Miller and Mercer (1992) and Mercer and Miller (1992) taught elementary students, with and without disabilities, basic operations using the CRA/CSA sequence. This included addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Using objects and drawings, students learned the conceptual meaning of each operation: addition is combining, subtraction is separating, multiplication is combining of groups that are the same size, and division is the separation of groups that are the same size. After instruction at the concrete and representational/semi-concrete phases, students learned a simple strategy to assist in computation using just numbers. This set of steps served as a reminder to (a) attend to the numbers and the operational sign, (b) remember that problems can be drawn if the student has not memorized the fact, and (c) write the answer. Students who participated in this large study become fluent in basic operations and their accuracy in computation increased significantly.

CRA/CSA Complex Operations

Researchers also used the CRA/CSA sequence to teach regrouping skills associated with addition, subtraction, and multiplication (Miller & Kaffar, 2011; Mancl, Miller, & Kennedy, 2012; Flores, 2011; Flores & Hinton, in press; Flores, Hinton, & Strozier, 2014; Flores, Schweck, & Hinton, 2014; Flores & Franklin, 2014). Difficulties faced by students within each of these studies were related to poor conceptions of numbers and the base ten system. The concrete and representational/semi-concrete phases of instruction involved the use of base ten blocks and drawings that bolstered students’ understanding of numbers and why regrouping is necessary in when adding and subtracting large numbers. These studies included students with and without disabilities and led to significant gains in accuracy and fluency.

CRA/CSA and Fractions

CRA/CSA has been shown as an effective way to teach rational numbers or fraction concepts (Butler, Miller, Crehan, Babbit, & Pierce, 2003; Flores & Hinton, submitted). Butler et al. studies the necessity of including a concrete phase within instruction. Students successfully leaned to make equivalent fractions, but those who used fraction blocks prior to drawings performed better than those who only received instruction using drawings. Flores and Hinton taught elementary students equivalency using CRA/CSA as well as comparison of fractions to decimals. At the concrete phase, students made fractions using fraction blocks as well as sets of objects. At the representational level, students shaded shapes and marked number lines. In both studies, concrete and representational/semi-concrete instruction allowed students to understand the proportional nature of fractions which led to their mastery of more complex concepts such as equivalence and relations to decimals.


The CRA/CSA sequence has been shown to be effective across a variety of elementary mathematics concepts. The materials needed are simple; base ten blocks and counters are readily available in elementary schools. However, it may be difficult for teachers to implement and replicate the research as journal articles are not written in ways that provide detailed descriptions of each lesson component. Therefore, in order to close the gap in mathematical achievement, there is a need for more user-friendly guides for implementation of the CRA/CSA sequence.


Butler, F. M., Miller, S. P., Crehan, K., Babbitt, B., & Pierce, T. (2003). Fraction instruction for students with mathematics disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 18, 99–111.

Flores, M. M., Hinton, V. M., & Strozier, S. D. (2014). Teaching subtraction and multiplication with regrouping using the concrete-representational-abstract sequence and strategic instruction model. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 29, 75–88.

Flores, M. M., & Franklin, T. M. (2014). Teaching multiplication with regrouping using the concrete-representational-abstract sequence and the strategic instruction model. Journal of American Special Education Professionals, 6, 133–148.

Flores, M. M., Schweck, K. B., & Hinton, V. M. (2014). Teaching multiplication with regrouping to students with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 29(4), 171–183.

Fuchs, L. S., Schumacher, R. F., Long, J., Namkung, J., Malone, A., Wang, A., Hamlett, C. L., Jordan, N. C., Siegler, R. S., & Changas, P. (2016). Effects of intervention to improve at-risk fourth graders’ understanding, calculations, and word problems with fractions. Elementary School Journal, 116(4), 625–651.

Jordan, N. C., & Hanich, L. B. (2003). Characteristics of children with moderate mathematics deficiencies: A longitudinal perspective. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 18, 213–221. doi:10.1111/1540-5826.00076

Mancl, D. B., Miller, S. P., & Kennedy, M. (2012). Using the concrete-representational-abstract sequence with integrated strategy instruction to teach subtraction with regrouping to students with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 27(4), 152–166.

Mercer, C. D., & Miller, S. P. (1992). Teaching students with learning problems in math to acquire, understand, and apply basic math facts. Remedial and Special Education, 13(3), 19-35. doi: 10.1177/074193259201300303

Miller, S. P., & Kaffar, B. J. (2011). Developing addition with regrouping competence among second grade students with mathematics difficulties. Investigations in Mathematics Learning, 4(1), 24–49.

Miller, S. P., & Mercer, C. (1992). CSA: Acquiring and retaining math skills. Intervention in School and Clinic, 28(2), 105–110.

Miller, S. P., Stringfellow, J. L., Kaffar, B. J., & Mancl, D. B. (2011). Developing computation competence among students who struggle with mathematics. Teaching Exceptional Children, 44(2), 38–44.

Witzel, B. S., Furguson, C. J., & Mink, D. V. (2012). Number sense: Strategies for helping preschool through grade three children develop math skills. Young Children 89–94


Communication Disorders in Aging


By Raymond H. Hull, PhD, Editor of Communication Disorders in Aging

Older adults are, in most instances, no different than younger ones other than the fact that they have grown older. They have the same personality they had when they were young; maybe it’s a little stronger, but is basically the same. They look the same except for some wrinkles and skin that may have begun to sag, and are maybe a little shorter due to the pull of gravity over the years.  Their voice will be the same except for the possibility of some change due to the aging vocal mechanism, so pitch may raise slightly, and they may speak a little louder due to a decline in their hearing. Their walking gait may slow just a little since they may not exercise as much as they used to and their joints might ache. They may be wearing reading glasses since there may be a change in their near vision. But, everyone is different, and some people age faster and more dramatically than others. When I was in my first year of graduate school, one of my classmates by the name of Bob was, at age 23, bald, with an ashen—somewhat prematurely wrinkled—face and had a voice that resembled that of an older man. In other words, he looked and acted “old”, at least to me. So, we are all aging differently. I like to think of myself as a younger/older person, but perhaps I am deluding myself into visualizing myself as such.

The one aspect of growing older that seems to be common is that disorders of communication are observed more frequently. Those are the result of stroke and other related diseases and disorders of the peripheral and central nervous system, Parkinson’s disease, hearing impairment, the influences of drugs and medications on their ability to communicate, and the various forms, or shades, of dementia. Further, environmental factors can have a greater impact on the ability of older adults to hear to a greater degree than younger adults.

Counseling must be adapted to take into consideration the age and status of the older adult as compared to the counseling strategies used with younger adults and children. And, if an older adult experiences a dramatic change in their ability to communicate with family and friends, the result can be even more devastating in light of the many other changes that frequently occur as a person ages. For example, the death of a spouse, difficulties with transportation, financial difficulties, restricted mobility due to physical decline, or the inability to hear, can all influence the ability of an older adult to take advantage of, and respond to, the services of the rehabilitation professional.

The book, Communication Disorders in Aging is designed to help people understand the process of aging, its impact on the human organism, the disorders of communication that are more frequently observed in older adulthood, and the impact of those disorders on them. Most importantly, it provides information on how to serve those individuals who experience the various disorders of communication that can affect them. I hope it helps you to understand the frustrations that approximately 32 million adults over the age of 60 experience as a result of various disorders of communication, and ways we can assist them. That is, in a world of people who may not understand the impact of those disorders on older adults, how best to communicate with them, and importantly, in the many places that are not meant for communication.

The book, Communication Disorders in Aging is intended for use in the academic preparation of all who will serve older adults in a variety of settings, including those in audiology and speech-language pathology, nurses who are preparing to become geriatric nurse practice specialists, those who are preparing to become gerontologists, psychologists, family practice physicians, geriatric medicine specialists, and others who serve or who are preparing to serve older adults.

However, due to the very practical nature of this book, it will also prove to be a wonderful resource for family members and other significant others who, in one way or another, serve older adults who possess disorders of communication. The information contained within this book is that which many persons who know or serve older adults request from me when I speak at conferences and conventions around the U.S., Europe, and Canada.

Raymond H. Hull, PhD, CCC-A/SP, FASHA, FAAA
Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Audiology/Neurosciences
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
College of Health Professions
Wichita State University
Wichita, Kansas  67260-0075

Book excerpt – James Jerger: A Life in Audiology

The following excerpt is from the autobiography, James Jerger: A Life in Audiology

American Academy of Audiology

The AAA is now in its 28th year. Younger members may not appreciate what it has meant to our profession. Before the Academy was launched in 1988 we were the step-children of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, commonly abbreviated as ASHA. We followed their code of ethics, accepted their certification programs, attended their conventions, and published in their journals. How this came about was essentially an accident of history. Most of the earliest audiologists were people originally trained in speech science and speech pathology. As such, ASHA was their natural home and they were comfortable within its ranks. Raymond Carhart’s doctoral dissertation, for example, concerned a model of the human larynx.  But as younger people became audiologists they did not share the common bond with speech science and speech pathology so typical of their mentors. As the field of audiology grew, some of the younger members began to ask whether we might not be better served by creating our own national professional organization. Expressing this view, however, met with stern disapproval. Our elders insisted that fragmentation must never happen, that we must always remain one profession because you could not separate hearing from speech and language; they were all part of the unique process we call “human communication.”  I always thought this argument specious. For example, you cannot separate the brain from the foot: they are both part of the whole body, but there are quite distinct medical specialties to treat their disorders. Certainly the more you know about language and speech the better, but that doesn’t mandate that you belong to their professional organization.

In any event, opponents of fragmentation failed to appreciate that ASHA itself began as the American Academy of Speech Correction (AASC) by fragmenting off from the National Association of Teachers of Speech (NATS) in 1925. NATS in turn was formed by splitting off from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) in 1914.

In 1958 I was elected to ASHA’s executive board. At one of our meetings, I suggested that we consider setting up special interest groups that would lend some separate identity to various clearly distinguishable groups within the organization. There was much shoe shuffling, and some support from the aphasia people, but little general willingness to pursue the topic. A fellow board member, one of the revered elder statesman in audiology, came over to me as the meeting broke up, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “Jim, it will never happen. They are afraid we will split off.”  Actually the idea of special interest groups within ASHA did eventually happen, but only after we had formed AAA.

Nothing much transpired for the next few decades, but matters came to a head at the 1987 ASHA convention in New Orleans. Rick Talbot had organized a session on “future trends in audiology.” There were five of us on the panel: Jay Hall, George Osborne, Charles Berlin, Lucille Beck and me. Each presented a thoughtful glimpse at what the future might hold in their particular area. I was the last speaker and my message was simple. I said, “I think it is time for audiologists to form their own professional organization” The response from the audience shocked me. There was a deafening roar of approval, which I truly had not expected. I think that everyone on that stage was also amazed.

Back in Houston I asked colleague Brad Stach what he thought of the idea. He was leery at first, but came around when I drew an analogy with an umbrella organization like the American Medical Association, under which each medical specialty had its own organization, its own publication and its own convention. In retrospect the analogy is not quite apt, but it convinced Brad to take up the cause. We put together a list of 35 audiologists that we considered leaders in their respective areas and sent each one a letter of invitation to come to Houston for a two-day meeting to discuss the possibility of forming a new organization “of, by, and for” audiologists. Only one invitee declined. The rest arrived, at his/her own expense, ready to consider the idea.

We met in the ballroom of a hotel just across Fannin street from the Methodist Hospital. The first morning was chaotic. It was difficult to believe that the group could ever agree on anything. By the end of the second day, however, there was general consensus that the effort at least ought to be attempted. In 2009 I wrote, in my book Audiology in the USA, the following:

 “The first year of the Academy’s existence, 1988, was an uncertain time. The founders were not at all sure that their efforts would succeed. They knew what they wanted to do, and where they wanted to go, but recognized, with some trepidation, the formidable forces arrayed against them. The primary concern was, of course, the ASHA.  It already counted, at that time, more than 8000 audiologists among its roughly 60,000 members, and was not disposed to view this defection in a collegial manner.”

If I were to rewrite that last sentence today, I would undoubtedly use more colorful language, so I had better not try. That passage does illustrate, however, what I perceived to be the most important reason to break away from ASHA. Speech pathologists outnumbered audiologists in the ratio of about 8:1. But, profession-wise, speech pathology is, and perhaps always will be, based on an educational model, whereas audiology is based on more of a medical model. At that time the bulk of speech pathologists worked as therapists in the public schools of America. They worked primarily with children. Most held only the bachelor’s degree.  Our profession, on the other hand, is more like a medical model. Most of us are engaged in clinical services, either in private practice, or in medical environments. At the time we started the Academy, most audiologists held the master’s degree, and there was already pressure to upgrade to the doctoral level, which we have since accomplished with the AuD degree (a move, incidentally, with which ASHA did not initially share our enthusiasm.) Many of us felt that we would never be able to achieve the much-desired doctoral level degree until we were free of dominance by ASHA.


Compression did not begin with digital hearing aids

By Theodore H. Venema, PhD
Author of Compression for Clinicians: A Compass for Hearing Aid Fittings, Third Edition

My career in this field began in 1987 as a new audiologist at The Canadian Hearing Society in Toronto. All hearing aids were analog and provided linear gain, although a few compression circuits floated around too. These used output limiting compression, with its high knee-point and high compression ratio. The knee-point was adjustable, which in turn adjusted the maximum power output (MPO). It was a way to limit the MPO without the use of “peak clipping,” which caused distortion.

Wide dynamic range compression (WDRC) entered the scene with a cannonball splash right around 1990. The action of the outer hair cells (OHCs) was now understood by clinicians as being distinct from that of the inner hair cells (IHCs). As we all know today, the OHCs enable the IHCs to sense soft incoming sounds below around 50 dB SPL. WDRC was thus seen as a rather “intellectual” type of compression, in that it electronically sought to imitate the role of the OHCs. With its low knee-point and a low compression ratio, the focus of WDRC is to elevate the “floor” of hearing sensitivity, rather than to limit the MPO or “ceiling” of loudness tolerance. It is no coincidence that otoacoustic emissions—also known to arise from the action of the OHCs—suddenly emerged as part of clinical practice.

Compression in today’s digital hearing aids hasn’t really changed all that much from then. We continue to use both output limiting compression and WDRC. The point here is that the analog hearing aids of that time (late 1980s, early 1990s) used either one type of compression or another. Clinicians had to know their compression types because their hearing selection for any client depended on this knowledge. Manufacturer fitting software did not yet exist. Today’s digital hearing aids are programmed exclusively by software. Once the audiogram is entered through Noah, the hearing aid signal processing is automatically programmed to provide whatever compression is deemed necessary. We’ve become “dumbed down,” because we no longer have to know how to apply the compression. The manufacturer fitting software takes care of all that!

The cables, the cables, the cables…

The emergence of the cables actually began in the very late 1980s, with the first “programmable” analog hearing aids. A cable from a computer (or more often a handheld programming device) was plugged into a socket on the faceplate of an ITE or on the backside of a BTE. Adjustments were made via this “digital screwdriver.” This seemed like a really “cool” alternative to manually adjusting hearing aid settings by trimmers, trim pots, potentiometers, whatever they were called. We simply turned these clockwise or counterclockwise, in order to raise or lower the MPO, gain, low-cut, high-cut, etc. I used to laugh that if the original settings were somehow lost, one could simply set all the trimmers halfway; that way, one could maximally be only half-wrong.

Back to the cables, it is truly amazing just how many different ones exist, even for the product lineup of any one manufacturer! This issue is not at all new, and I am not the  first to complain about that. I must admit to feeling a little odd though, when hanging a weird looking hook around the client’s neck with cables connected to the hearing aids positioned in the client’s ears. The next step is to sit in front of the computer, hoping and praying the manufacturer’s fitting software will read the hearing aids.

Manufacturer fitting software, fitting software, fitting software…

Fitting software emerged at the end of the analog era (mid 1990s) and flourished with the advent of digital hearing aids in 1997. Of course, with each manufacturer, the fitting software is completely different. Oh, there are some similar traits among them, but the look, the feel, the labels, and also the quirks and exceptions, are different for each manufacturer.

Digital technology and software certainly do add flexibility; they also however, invite their best friend, complexity. There are so many parameters involved with fitting now: noise reduction amounts and types, directional microphones and associated polar plots, feedback suppression adjustments, linking binaural hearing aids, and don’t forget about the battery indicator beeps! It gets better; we in separate programs, make combinations of the above-said parameters, in order to specifically address various different listening situations, such as quiet, conversations, and traffic.

Has anyone seen ANSI? Where did it Go? Sometime during the late 1990s, with the advent of digital hearing aids in 1997, ANSI slipped away. It happened in the middle of the night. Since the 1950s for hearing aids, ANSI was intended to be a measurement standard for hearing aid hardware, which consists of the microphone, amplifier, and receiver (aka speaker). Add a few capacitors, resistors, inductors (and trimmers to adjust their behaviors), and you still have nothing but analog hardware. Such was the consistency of analog hearing aids. ANSI ruled in the analog land of hardware, but now fitting software rules. Quaint concerns about OSPL90, Reference Test gain, Harmonic Distortion, and Equivalent Input Noise have almost faded from view. Today it’s all about software. Most clinicians today never bother with ANSI because they are just trying to figure out the fitting software.

The dongles and Bluetooth paraphernalia…

On a semi-annual basis, the goals and deadlines of their product management cycles dictate that manufacturers must pound out new and updated products. The cacophony of their escalating product releases has become deafening. What’s more, hearing aids now come with all kinds of dongles, Bluetooth remotes and gadgets to be used with other devices that work with the phone, television, etc. Of course, these have to be “paired” together to work with the hearing aids. Despite the best efforts of manufacturers to explain things, it does make me feel a bit like “Ted the Cable Guy.”

Clients commonly come back to the office with bags containing unused cords, boxes, television streaming devices, and dongles. It can be quite difficult to get elderly people to make sense of it all! Bottom line: Clinicians today are still constantly “putting out fires,” much like they always did in the past.


It’s obvious that hearing aids today are far better than the squealing, beige “banana-shaped” BTEs of yesterday. The disappointing thing, however, is that the rate of client satisfaction has not risen at the same rate as hearing aid development and complexity. The unwanted byproduct from complexity is confusion, felt by both clinicians and clients.

We have made amazing strides in technology, digital algorithms, and features. The downside is that it has all come at a cost, literally and figuratively, to clients and clinicians. With all the recent progress, I’m not sure clinicians feel that fittings are easier today than they used to be. I also do not believe the monetary cost of hearing aids compared to eyeglasses is at all well understood by clients. Is anyone really surprised at the recent emergence of (and governmental support for) an alternative, namely, those low-cost personal sound amplification products, also known as PSAPs?

Lesson Plans — An SLPA’s foundation for an effective therapy session. Now that I have one, how do I implement it?


By Jacqueline Bryla, co-author of Clinical Workbook for Speech-Language Pathology Assistants

Responsibilities of a Speech-Language Pathology Assistant are many and can vary.  One key component within the scope of practice for a Speech-Language Pathology Assistant (SLPA) is to follow documented treatment plans or protocols developed by the supervising Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). For a new SLPA this can be tricky and requires some experience in order to provide an effective therapy session for their clients and students.

Presenting a Lesson Plan

A guideline will make your clients and students aware of what they will be learning or practicing during the therapy session in addition to keeping them engaged and on task. An SLPA can share the lesson or treatment plan by telling their clients or students what they will be learning.  Providing a visual schedule by outlining the therapy tasks on a tabletop white board (i.e., warm-up; 5 minutes, articulation practice; 15 minutes, homework/carryover assignment, reward) can also be very effective for providing expectations of the therapy session time. Adding icons or photos to illustrate the task can be helpful for those who are not yet readers. Depending on the goals and objectives for the students, an SLPA might spend a portion of therapy time working on an articulation goal (i.e., medial /s/ in sentences) and the rest of the session on a specific language goal (i.e., concepts).  Considering how to incorporate multiple student goals or objectives within a therapy session will come with quality guidance from the supervising SLP as well as practice and experience. Providing a clear agenda for your clients and students at the beginning of the therapy session will be extremely helpful for you and your students to stay on task.


When appropriate, offering choices for student and clients can set the stage for a productive therapy session. Allow your students to choose to work on one sound before another (i.e., /s/ or /l/), or to choose a board game or token piece that might be used during the session (i.e., Candyland, Snail’s Pace Race, red or blue token) or to use an articulation card deck or an app (i.e., Little Bee Speech Articulation Station, Smarty Ears Articulate It). Knowing and understanding your students’ interests will aide in keeping them engaged during the therapy session. Some students thrive on verbal positive feedback (i.e., you’re doing great, that was an awesome try), others will likely stay engaged by being allowed to have a little control by choosing the activity and yet others will need some additional motivation by earning a short timed reward at the end of the session or during the session (i.e., using a fidget, receiving a sticker or stamp). Seeking guidance from, in addition to observing, your supervising SLP provide treatment sessions can be helpful in this area.

Tool Box and Resource Efficiency

Become familiar with the materials available to you for therapy. Is there a closet full of games and therapy items at your disposal (i.e., an iPad with apps, articulation card decks, language or pragmatic resources)? Taking time to read the game directions and instructions of use or viewing an app tutorial prior to the therapy time will allow for a more efficient therapy session by allowing an SLPA to instruct their students and clients from the start. Being prepared and familiarizing yourself with materials reduces the opportunities for clients and students to veer off task. Always keep in mind that an SLPA must perform only those tasks assigned by the supervising SLP. Many therapy sessions are only 30 minutes, to provide a quality session for clients and students preparation is of the utmost importance.


There is no one way to describe or predict each therapy session scenario. A lesson plan may not work as well as you expected or go as planned. Do not get discouraged; this is an opportunity for you to learn what may work and what may not work. Being prepared and following your supervising SLPs guidelines will allow you to have the most productive therapy session, one that allows your students to work toward their goals and objectives.

Love, Talk, Read: Early Intervention Strategies for Infants and Toddlers At Risk for Language Impairment


By Celeste Roseberry-McKibbin
Author of Increasing Language Skills of Students From Low-Income Backgrounds: Practical Strategies for Professionals, Second Edition
and co-author of the forthcoming Comprehensive Intervention for Children with Developmental Delays and Disorders Practical Strategies (10 book set)

Statistics have documented the precipitous rise of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), language impairment, and other atypical developmental profiles. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016), 1 in 68 children today is diagnosed with ASD. Many times, these children do not receive intervention until they are 4 years old or even older. Recent research has documented very exciting outcomes that can occur when these at-risk children receive early intervention, which can start as early as 6 months of age. Speech-language pathologists can help caregivers begin, very early in their children’s lives, to implement strategies that improve their language outcomes. The strategies can be summed up in three words:  love, talk, read. Let’s start with love.


Relationships are the cradle of all learning. Babies and young children above all must feel attached to their caregivers through love, attention, and bonding. It is critical, in the early weeks and months of life, for caregivers to respond immediately and with love when a baby cries. Immediate responses help infants to bond with caregivers and trust their world. Leaving babies to “cry it out” teaches them that the world is not a safe place, and can create a shaky foundation upon which to build later language interaction. Thus, immediate responsiveness to a baby’s cries is a foundational building block of later language.


We have all heard the oft-repeated advice, “Talk to your baby.” This is true, and talking to babies and young children is crucial to their developing language. However, research has shown that it is actually parent responsiveness to the baby’s initiations that is even more predictive of early language development (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2016; Ozonoff et al., 2009; Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2001). When a baby looks at something, for example, the parent can follow his “line of regard” and establish joint attention, where the parent and baby are focusing on the same thing. So when the dog walks into the room and the baby’s eyes land on the dog, the parent can say, “Oh, you see Angel. (pointing to dog) That’s right, Angel just came in.” When the baby points, the parent can look at what the baby is pointing to and comment—“Oh, you are pointing at the red balloon. The balloon is pretty!” When babies make sounds, the parents can respond with immediate imitation and add new sounds as well.

Ozonoff et al. (2009) conducted a study with parents of infants (6–15 months of age) suspected of having ASD. Parents were coached to create pleasurable social routines to increase their children’s opportunities for interaction. Parents used toys and words to attract their babies’ attention, and also imitated their babies’ sounds and intentional actions. The treatment consisted of 12 one-hour sessions with the infant and parent, followed by a six-week maintenance period with biweekly visits and follow-up assessments at 24 and 36 months of age. The study’s results showed that in contrast to a control group whose parents did not receive coaching, the children who received the intervention had significantly more ASD symptoms at 9 months of age, but significantly lower autism severity scores at 18 and 36 months of age. By age 3, the group that received the intervention had neither ASD nor developmental delay.

When the baby begins to say words at around 12 months of age, parents can extend their utterances. Extensions have proven to be some of the most powerful ways to increase children’s language skills.  So, for example, if the child points to the dog and says “doggy!” the parent can say, “Yes, our doggy Angel just came into the room and she is wagging her tail.” If the child says “more juice,” the parent can say, “You are thirsty, and more juice is available. Here you go!” When parents add words and new meaning to children’s utterances, semantic and syntactic skills grow. The best part is that this can be done in any language, even if the caregiver is nonliterate and has little extra time. Extensions can easily be added to families’ daily routines with no extra expenditure of time or money.


Parents can share books even with babies, reading and pointing out pictures. Simple books with colorful pictures are ideal. If parents do not read, they can talk about pictures on the pages. Parents can label pictures and actions in the pictures, saying things like, “Look—there is Thomas the Tank Engine! (pointing to Thomas). Why is he happy? (pause) Oh, he is happy because Percy the Train just came up to him and wants to play.” Babies and some young children will not answer questions, but parents can ask the questions, pause for a few seconds, and then answer the question themselves. This shows the developing child that, eventually, turn-taking is expected. Routines such as this help establish joint attention, reciprocity, and eventually conversational turn-taking. Daily sharing of books with babies and young children establishes pre-literacy skills, which are critical building blocks for later literacy.


For infants and young children who are at risk for language impairment and other developmental issues, caregivers can focus on three simple strategies: love, talk, read. Research shows that early intervention, beginning in infancy, can have exciting and dramatic results in terms of helping children achieve successful language and life outcomes.

For more information, visit http://lovetalkread.com.



Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. (2016). Serve and return. Available at http://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/serve-and-return/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Autism spectrum disorder. Available from https://www.cdc.gov/features/new-autism-data/index.html

Ozonoff, S. et al. (2009). How early do parent concerns predict later autism diagnosis? Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 30(5), 367–375.

Roseberry-McKibbin, C. (2013). Increasing language skills of students from low-income backgrounds: Practical strategies for professionals (2nd  ed). San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing, Inc.

Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Bornstein, M. H., & Baumwell, L. (2001). Maternal responsiveness and children’s achievement of language milestones. Child Development, 72(3), 748–767.

For Aspiring Singers, Ignorance Is Never Bliss!

Jan_Bickel Bickel_VT2E

By Jan E. Bickel, DMA, author of Vocal Technique: A Physiologic Approach, Second Edition

Singers must understand how to maintain their vocal and overall health in order to keep vocal production at the high levels required of them. In order to achieve this understanding, singers need in-depth knowledge of the anatomic and physiologic function of the complete vocal instrument, a pedagogically well-trained voice teacher, and the knowledge that they can reach out to a team of voice professionals (voice teacher, otolaryngologist, speech-language pathologist, and possibly others) who understand vocal technique and pedagogy as well as voice science and medicine. It is particularly important for aspiring singers to know they have a professional team ready and appropriately trained to help when vocal difficulties arise. The aspiring singer’s trust in this team of professionals must be established at the earliest levels of vocal training. If an aspiring singer is afraid to seek help from the voice teacher, otolaryngologist, and/or speech-language pathologist, valuable time will be lost in vocal development, damage to the vocal instrument may occur, and the aspiring singer may decide to choose another career path. It is imperative that speech-language pathologists and otolaryngologists have some training in vocal pedagogy if they wish to accept singers or aspiring singers as clients, and that voice teachers have a functional understanding of voice medicine and voice science. Ignorance is the quickest path to voice disorders for the aspiring singer.

I wrote Vocal Technique – A Physiologic Approach with the intention of appropriately educating and providing a strong foundation for aspiring undergraduate singers, whether their desire was to enjoy singing as amateurs, or perform as professional singers. In my teaching of undergraduate students, I found these young singers frequently able to produce very beautiful vocal sounds, but having little or no knowledge regarding how their vocal instrument functions when speaking and singing. Most of these singers seemed to have no idea what to do or whom to turn to when their voices were not functioning well. In addition to having a clear concept and understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the vocal instrument, they need to understand how to maintain that instrument on a daily basis; i.e. vocal hygiene, breath management, vocal exercises, careful attention to speaking voice production, and determining what might be detrimental to maintaining healthy vocal folds and bodies. I use Vocal Technique – A Physiologic Approach to teach undergraduate voice classes, initial voice lessons, and again in the vocal pedagogy course in the senior year. I find that students who fully understand the information presented within the book progress much more quickly in the voice studio, and I rarely find them in vocal distress.

Excellent singing requires appropriate posture, refined breath management skills, efficient phonation and resonation techniques as well as the ability to articulate in multiple languages without disturbing the vocal production. Professional classical singing requires perfect phonation; i.e. a clear and resonant tone quality, the ability to create a variety of tone colors, excellent dynamic control, accurate pitch, and the ability to infuse the vocal tone with many appropriate emotions. This means the aspiring singer must have the discipline and dedication to become a vocal athlete with the creativity and imagination of the best professional actor. Learning to sing well enough to perform for the public requires much more than the average person can even imagine. Singers cannot afford to be ignorant about any aspect of their profession if they are to be successful.

There are issues beyond vocal technique that can cause a very well-trained singer to have difficulty with his or her voice – respiratory infection, acid reflux, allergies, inability to “support” the voice appropriately because of bodily injury or illness, interruption in sleep pattern, stress, aging, dehydration, fatigue, and many more. A singer must know intimately his or her voice and how it functions when healthy so that when it is not functioning normally, he/she is fully aware and comfortable reaching out for support from the appropriate professional. A voice teacher can be of great assistance in many cases, but sometimes a singer needs to see a laryngologist, a speech-language pathologist, or a vocal specialist for proper diagnosis and treatment. The demands of professional singing necessitate excellent health, physical conditioning, and careful use of the speaking voice as well as the singing voice, so the aspiring singer must learn how to maintain his or her instrument early in the learning process.

I posed the following question, among others, to 35 undergraduate and amateur singers participating in a choral ensemble and/or a freshman level voice class: “Do you think singers, in general, are reluctant to see an otolaryngologist (ENT) or a speech-language pathologist (SLP) for problems with their voices? 16 responded “yes,” 18 responded “no,” and one did not answer. Of the 16 who responded that singers are indeed reluctant, three had actually seen an ENT or an SLP for a vocal issue. One singer who said she had not seen an ENT or SLP wrote about having “muscle tension dysphonia,” which would seem to indicate that she actually had seen an ENT or an SLP for diagnosis, but did not want to acknowledge this visit. Another respondent wrote that he had “strain and discomfort when singing,” but had never seen an ENT or SLP. Of the respondents who answered that singers are not reluctant to see an ENT or SLP, only two had seen an ENT or SLP, while eight of the respondents made the following statements regarding their own vocal health: “trouble with speaking voice,” “lost voice completely,” “voice hurts when I sing,” “belting created vocal problems,” “laryngitis due to asthma, allergies and bronchitis,” and “unresolved tinnitus, causing problems with pitch matching.”  It follows that these singers might have been helped by a laryngologist or speech-language pathologist, but chose not to reach out to make an appointment.

When asked why an aspiring singer might be reluctant to see an ENT or SLP, the respondents made the following statements: “Singers think the problem is fixable by themselves,” “Fear of being told that there is irreversible vocal damage,” “It can be seen as embarrassing or you don’t want to admit you have a problem,” “Some singers simply resign themselves to discomfort or stop singing altogether,” “Singers feel they can resolve issues themselves by rest and homeopathic methods,” “They don’t want to admit there’s a problem because of the competitive nature of auditions. . . ,” “Perception is the ENT does not care about solving vocal problems for amateur singers,” “It is hard for a singer to admit there is something wrong with their vocal mechanism,” “Singers assume a referral means the voice is bad/sounds bad.”

When asked the same question, two professional singer/voice teachers responded with these comments: “I feel strongly that singers, myself included, are afraid to hear that something may be wrong. I also think that singing is a very expensive endeavor, and the thought of having to spend more money on doctor visits, or treatments, in addition to the cost of taking lessons, and coachings and paying tuition, or fees for applications and auditions, is daunting,”  “The ENT I saw did not at all quell my fears. He told me that I had polyps (which I later found out was not the case) and suggested that I start coming in once or twice a week to help rebuild my voice. I had such an uneasy, unpleasant feeling about it that I went maybe twice. He did some pathetic vocal warm-ups that didn’t teach me anything and sent me to work with an SLP down the hall. Likewise, those exercises felt silly and I never felt reassured that this was going to make me better in any way.” This singer later went to a laryngologist and an SLP, both specifically trained to work with singers, and the results were entirely different as stated: “He was very kind, performing a gentle procedure to examine my vocal cords. He printed out photos and explained very thoroughly what I was looking at . . . the SLP was very kind as well. Her exercises were thoughtful, helpful and specific. She gave me reasoning behind every one of them. I actually followed through and did them every morning.” This singer went on to complete a Master of Music degree in vocal performance and to sing several opera roles successfully and is now a professional actress. Clearly, appropriate preparation of the otolaryngologist and speech-language pathologist in working with singers is important. There is no place for ignorance in the area of vocal technique and pedagogy for these professionals if they wish to take on singers as clients/patients.

Aspiring singers spend much one on one time with their voice teachers, perfecting their technique, and learning to trust the voice teacher implicitly. This trust is built up over time, and is an essential part of the training of the singer. “Singing teachers are not only music educators, they are also guardians of their students’ voices. An astute teacher does not just help prevent vocal difficulties by providing a student with expert, healthy singing technique; he/she also is often the first person to detect a vocal problem and is usually regarded by the student as the source of all knowledge about anything vocal.” (Heman-Ackah et al., 2008)

 When a vocal issue arises, the voice teacher is usually the first to hear it in the singer’s voice, and the singer naturally trusts the voice teacher to “fix” the problem. When the teacher is unable to help the singer resolve the issue, the student begins to feel uncomfortable, worried, and even desperate. Their thinking follows the path – if my voice teacher can’t “fix” the problem, it can’t be fixed. I find that undergraduate student singers are particularly fearful of a referral to the laryngologist, even when I explain that this doctor is trained to diagnose and help resolve the vocal difficulty, not to criticize or place blame. I find that many singers find the idea of getting “scoped” to be quite frightening, even though I introduce this procedure in the freshman voice class, showing a video of a singer in the process. I want them to understand this is not painful and will help to diagnose the problem. Perhaps more importantly, for the aspiring undergraduate singer there is a clear social stigma attached to visiting a laryngologist, so if the singer does make an appointment, he or she will keep it a secret.

When the laryngologist refers a singer to an SLP, this seems to be even more difficult for the singer to accept. It says to the singer that it is his or her own fault that he/she has a vocal problem. If the SLP is not knowledgeable regarding vocal technique, and works with the singer as if he/she is the same as every other client who comes into the office for voice therapy, I will have a very difficult time convincing my student singer to continue with appointments as advised by the laryngologist. An SLP working with singers MUST have some training in vocal technique and vocal pedagogy and should be willing to work in ways that are familiar to the singer from voice studio work.

If there is a diagnosis of vocal nodules, even though the voice teacher may have suggested this might be the case, it is always a shock to the singer. The singer generally comes back to the studio depressed and feeling as though his or her singing life is over. Frequently, vocal nodules can be removed through careful vocalizing and establishment of healthy speaking and singing technique, but aspiring singers want an instant cure. Many will choose to do surgery, even when the laryngologist says it is not really necessary, so they can put this diagnosis in the past as quickly as possible. The singer does not want to consider the need to do preoperative speech therapy, surgery followed by vocal rest, postoperative speech therapy, and, finally, slowly bringing the voice back to the ability to sing with excellent technique. If the singer continues to speak incorrectly or without support the outcome, even after surgery, will not be good.

So, what I am proposing here is that voice teachers give their aspiring singers an excellent foundation in vocal technique – posture, breath management, phonation, resonation, etc., and carefully teach them about the anatomy and physiology of speaking and singing so they understand the importance of establishing an appropriate speaking pitch, not screaming at the college football game, not speaking over noise at the local club, singing music from the correct voice category, and so many other directives coming from the teacher. Voice teachers should insist that their students see videos such as the ones for which links are provided on the companion website for Vocal Technique – A Physiologic Approach, demonstrating the anatomic function of the larynx, lungs, diaphragm, and surrounding muscles. There are many YouTube videos demonstrating the use of the laryngoscope so that singers will know exactly what to expect when they visit the laryngologist’s office. In addition, voice teachers must coordinate with speech-language pathologists in their universities.

Speech-language pathologists need to understand and be able to demonstrate the diaphragmatic-costal breathing that a singer would use when projecting his/her voice in an opera house without a microphone. SLPs wishing to work with singers don’t need to be professional singers, but they must have a strong understanding of what is required for a singer to produce vocal tones worthy of the concert and opera stage, and it would help greatly for them to have formal training in vocal technique and pedagogy. I think this will change the way they interact with singers, and will certainly help gain the respect of their singer/clients. This should help to improve the communication between the two, and will keep the singer coming back to complete the therapy as prescribed. It will be important for SLPs working with singers to be able to use non-traditional forms of voice therapy that have a solid basis in anatomy and physiology. In order for speech therapy to be successful, the singer must be fully invested in the process, and the process must produce results quickly so the singer can get back to singing within a short period of time.  Because singers have developed higher than normal levels of vocal stamina, and phonation skills, they expect to be treated differently as a client of an SLP. If they are not, they will not comply with prescribed treatment and probably will not complete therapy sessions or exercises at home.

It is equally important for the otolaryngologist to understand vocal technique and pedagogy when accepting a singer as a patient. If the otolaryngologist understands the hesitation and fear that is present when a singer makes an appointment to see him or her, this will help the singer remain calm and accept the diagnostic procedure and the diagnosis and prescribed treatment suggestions. “As vocal athletes, singers require special diagnostic and treatment consideration when voice difficulty develops because they must maintain higher-than-normal levels of phonatory agility, strength, and stamina to repeatedly execute complex laryngeal maneuvers” (Zeitels et al., 2002). It seems best that it is a laryngologist, specialized in the care of disorders of the voice and larynx, who treats a singer, but this is not always possible. When it is not possible, the otolaryngologist must take extra care to understand how the singer thinks and uses the voice.

In addition, there must be open and complete communication among the voice teacher, the speech-language pathologist, the laryngologist, and the singer in distress at all times. As the singer generally has full confidence in his or her voice teacher, but perhaps not as much in the SLP and/or laryngologist, this communication will help the voice teacher to motivate the singer to do the appropriate exercises. If the speech-language pathologist has a good understanding of vocal technique and the mindset of the aspiring singer, this will open the door to communication and success. In this regard, two of the professional singer/voice teacher respondents to my questionnaire stated:

“I have raised concerns about my inability to speak or sing, or concerns about how     medicine will affect my singing voice. I understand that I don’t have a medical degree,   but I do know that my voice is largely responsible for my income, and my emotional       health. Concerns raised by patients should be addressed professionally and respectfully,”

Medical professionals and SLPs should “make sure you know how emotionally      connected we are to our voices. Singing is our life, an echo of our very soul. For our       singing voice to be in turmoil is as scary as telling a runner that they ruptured their          Achilles’ tendon. It’s a very big deal.”

Let’s make sure we all do our part in fully educating aspiring singers to the best of our abilities. Every singer needs to be as educated as possible about the anatomic and physiologic function of the vocal instrument in addition to the many other areas of study. Understanding these concepts fully will allow every singer to seek out an outstanding voice teacher, and will certainly help to remove fear and anxiety about reaching out to the laryngologist, speech-language pathologist, or a voice specialist when vocal problems arise. If the voice teacher, laryngologist, speech-language pathologist, and other voice professionals understand voice science, medicine, technique, and pedagogy to an appropriate extent, and communicate clearly with one another when working with a singer in vocal distress, the outcome will surely be a good one. If we communicate well with one another on a regular basis, we cannot help but replace ignorance with knowledge for our singers, clients, patients, and ourselves.


Heman-Ackah, Y. D., Sataloff, R. T., Hawkshaw, M. J., Corln, V. D. (2008). Finding a voice doctor and voice care team. Journal of Singing, 64 (5), 583–592.

Zeitels, S. M., Hillman, R. E., Desloge, R., Mauri, M., & Doyle, P. (2002). Phonomicrosurgery in singers and performing artists: Treatment outcomes, management theories and future directions. Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology Supplement, 111(12), 21–40.