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How can I be an SLP that incorporates ASL in my practice?

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Hi there! I've studied ASL all through high school and college (I'm a senior in college now), originally double majoring in ASL and speech pathology - now just majoring in SLP and minoring in ASL.
I desperately want to incorporate ASL into being an SLP, but I've had professors tell me it's impossible/too rare of a circumstance to make a career out of.
My question(s): Is it really impossible? What can I do to be able to to both in the future? I've been told to just say that I'm "deaf friendly" to patients, but what area of SLP would that fall into?
My original thought was to offer ASL or re-learning spoken speech to those who lose it from trauma, like severe Dysarthria, but that's where I was told it wasn't 'a thing'.
Does anyone have any input or advice? Thanks!

#asl #slp #american-sign-language #speech-language-pathology

If you want to exclusively work using ASL, you would need to find an educational setting working with students who are deaf. This may be in a setting where sign is the preferred means of communication, but could also be in a setting where kids are learning sign and spoken language. However, you can also teach sign to parents to use with their toddlers who are not yet verbally communicating and this will help them develop (verbal) language. You could potentially treat adults who have had a traumatic brain injury and have lost their ability to speak. I also use simple signs in my setting (a school) as cues for students (to slow rate of speech, to cue sound production without verbally interrupting, etc). Good luck!! 😁 Bree Geibel
Hi! Thank y’all for answering! So since I posted this, which I forgot about to be completely honest lol, I’ve gotten a job as as SLPA at a school district and we definitely just a couple of signs for non verbal and AU kids! Thank y’all so much for your input and expertise! Miranda Cartwright
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Jennifer’s Answer

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Hi Miranda!

So first of all, I want to welcome you to the wonderful specialty area of being a speech-language pathologist within Deaf education. I am currently a speech-language pathologist at an elementary school for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students. It is located on Gallaudet University's campus. We serve students from birth (we have a parent-infant program) to the eighth grade. We are a bilingual program. This means that all academics and school-related functions and activities (yes, this includes after-school activities, IEP meetings, staff meetings, professional development, etc.) are in American Sign Language and written English. The development of spoken English skills are encouraged but not required.

I provide my students with a large variety of services. This includes producing spoken English (articulation, grammar), listening (this is a specialized skill that I do borrow some auditory-verbal techniques with students working on this skill), speechreading (this is both receptive and expressive), language in general (including ASL development), vocabulary (in spoken English, ASL, and/or written English), social skills (in English and/or ASL), life skills (in English and/or ASL), AAC, and literacy. It is just dependent on the student and the family's goals for their child. I also do a lot of collaboration with my school's ASL specialist and school psychologist.

So to answer your question, you 100% can work in the field of speech-language pathology in a Deaf space. We are a small area of our field and we need graduate students who are passionate about supporting deaf and hard-of-hearing students using a visual language.

I have some advice for you: Do not let your professors influence your passion and look for a graduate program that has a positive and open-minded view of collaborating with professionals within Deaf education. In other words, does the school's deaf education masters program support signing or is it an oral only approach? Ask the graduate program if there are opportunities to intern at the local school for the Deaf. My graduate program did not have a lot of resources for me and so I created my own independent study classes in collaboration with the ASL department. This opened up a conversation with my supervisors about finding clinic placements that matched my passion. In addition, find your local Deaf community. It will only improve your signing skills and will get you involved in the community. I would also highly recommend looking into Gallaudet University's graduate program. I was very intimidated to apply due to my signing skill level at the time, but I have since learned on the job that all speech-language classes are in English and they have mandatory ASL classes for all students in order to support the development of their skills.

Feel free to reach out to me for any other questions about this area in our field. It is wonderfully challenging. There are no ready-made materials and almost no teachers-pay-teachers printable activities for this area. It involves a lot of critical thinking and creativity and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has a spark of an interest and passion for the population.

I also want to leave you a link to a wonderful resource: https://languagefirstlab.com/ The woman who runs this website is a very talented SLP from the American School for the Deaf. Her instagram is full of wonderful resources as well.

I hope I answered your questions and, again, feel free to message me directly with any additional questions.

Jenny
Very good information. Debbie Roth
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David’s Answer

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In order to do this, you would likely need to find a job with a large population of deaf students or patients which is not an easy find. I’m sure it is doable but rare. I’ve been working for five years and have yet to experience someone who signs.
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Katie’s Answer

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Just being honest, the Deaf community really doesn’t appreciate English speakers trying to teach the language. It’s not really accepted. It’s better to make sure you are a full interpreter or have the qualifications to teach ASL. It is a language just like Spanish, French, etc. It has its own grammar structure and everything. If you are teaching this to little kids or parents, how do you know if you are signing the right way with the correct parameters? Facial expression, movement of palm/fingers, space for signing, etc. are all a part of signing. You should not be teaching this unless you are a qualified interpreter or otherwise. Just because you have an SLP license or SLPA license does not make you qualified to teach this language! Please. Stop.
In order for others to teach it, they have to go through schooling-so why are you deciding that you can teach it-having no qualifications to?? I’m sorry-I just don’t understand why SLPs do this-it shows a complete lack of respect for the language and the Deaf community.
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Alexa’s Answer

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Hi there! I've worked as an SLP for two years in the school system, and I can tell you that there's a huge need for ASL for those on the autism spectrum. Many families want their children to communicate when they are nonverbal, and being able to use and teach sign to those who lack verbal expression is huge! ASL can technically fall under AAC (alternative and augmentative communication) and you could use that expertise within that market as well! Wherever there is a nonverbal child there is a need for ASL.
Experience talking! Debbie Roth
Thanks for your response! since posting this question, I've actually started a job as an SLPA in a school district. I've definitely noticed that the kiddos benefit from some ASL! Miranda C.
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Jasmine’s Answer

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Hello! I'm graduating with my MS-SLP this semester, and one of the girls in my cohort managed to find a school with an opening in a deaf/ hard of hearing classroom to recruit her :) They are rarer, but I know another girl who used to volunteer in one, so you can seek them out! In our audiology for SLPs class, a certified Auditory Verbal Therapist came and spoke to us; that's an interesting niche too. Best of luck to you!
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Valerie’s Answer

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Hi Miranda,

First of all, I want to congratulate you on considering a wonderful and fulfilling career in speech-language pathology! Unfortunately, I once heard something that rings true about our field and that is that "there are great researchers, great clinicians, and great professors and generally you can be great at two but never at all three." It sounds like your professors, while no doubt great at their jobs, may be a bit out of touch with clinical speech pathology (the one where you actually provide therapy services in the community.) I echo Alexa's sentiment about the utility of ASL as a clinical speech-language pathologist. Many children who are "late talkers" benefit from the use of signs as a pre-linguistic skill that fosters early functional language use as this teaches them about social reciprocity, cause and effect, and reinforces that they are effective communicators. As mentioned above, ASL can also be used as a form of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) for children with additional diagnoses, though these children likely wouldn't use ASL as their sole method of communication long-term given that they are not members of the Deaf community and most of their conversational partners won't be fluent in ASL. Lastly, as a Spanish/English bilingual SLP, I can tell you with confidence that your extensive education in ASL will make you uniquely knowledgable about issues that affect the Deaf community and you will be an asset to any team based on the education you can provide about the ASL language and its own rules and conventions, which are vastly different than spoken English (based on what I recall from my basic introductory ASL courses, which I wish I would've continued to pursue).

As for clinical settings where you might be able to BEST use your skillset, I know some children's hospitals, like Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio (where I was blessed enough to work for 4.5 years) have strong hearing impaired programs and work closely with audiology and ENT to treat this unique population from identification, to fitting with amplification, and subsequently ongoing therapy. I know for that hospital in particular you could apply as a bilingual (ASL/English) SLP and, if hired, they could provide additional training to help you become an auditory verbal therapist, which would further hone your skills working with this population. Additionally, if you prefer to work in a school setting vs medical setting, depending on the city, you might be able to work at a specialized school for the Deaf and Blind - I would suggest you look into those wherever you plan to settle down upon graduation. Finally, as you are considering graduate programs, I would encourage you to look into Gallaudet University if ASL is a passion of yours (which you've indicated) as their program provides a special emphasis on the communication differences of many individuals who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing.

At any rate, I hope you can feel my passion for our field based on my response, that I've helped to answer some of your questions, and that you do pursue a career in speech-language pathology as I can tell you will be an asset to any team you work with. Good luck and Godspeed, please feel free to reply to this message with any follow-up questions that may come up.

Sincerely,

Val
Thanks! I've definitely found that the signing comes in handy with late-talkers and PPCD kiddos! Miranda C.
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Lorraine’s Answer

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Hi Miranda,

So lovely for you to have such a passion for ASL and SLP! :D I see that other SLP's have already provided great answers! Here are some notes of my own. I'm not familiar with using ASL in adult TBH populations, but I do have some experience with DHH within the school system.

-There are deaf schools and clinics that are specialized in DHH, so I don't think it's impossible to get work here. But it may be at times, hard to land a job if they already have an SLP on their team.
-However, I don't think this means there are no opportunities
-SLPs are in very high demand, and it could very much be the case where you use ASL as part of your AAC cases in a non-specialized DHH setting; and then work your way towards a more specialized DHH placement in your job later (after you acquired more experience).

Another note that is very important to mention, is that DHH can be a very political field. I don't have a lot of experience with this directly, but have been warned; and have seen evidence of how hard it can be when there are disagreements. For example, this can mean that recommendations that you make, even if you feel they are best practice- may not accepted, and could cause massive disputes between different professionals and family on the student's case. I believe this partially stems from the fact that it is very challenging to meet every team members expectations, especially if they come from distinct perspectives and fields of thought regarding DHH and the student of interest. This can be very frustrating for SLPs, especially b/c I find our expertise can be easily over-looked. However, it's also a very interesting field that inspires a lot of creativity! So I guess you have to take the pros with the cons- like anything. But do be aware, the politics can be heavy!

I hope this helps!
Regards,
Lorraine

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Carole’s Answer

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Miranda-
Yes you can find jobs that allow you to use your ASL skills. These jobs are not common but SLPs with ASL skills are needed. I belong to a group on Facebook and we meet at ASHA each year. Start you job search at specialty school for the Deaf. Some schools also service kids using heating aids and cochlear implants so gaining skills working with Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT) is important to learn too. Good Luck and let me know how I can help you. I’m from Texas but I live in Hawaii.

Carole recommends the following next steps:

  • Contact State Schools for the Deaf
  • Find a Facebook group SLP working with ASL
  • Go to ASHA
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Lisa’s Answer

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Hi Miranda!

I also agree with what everyone is saying!

Looking at it from the adult side, I think it would be VERY interesting to look into aphasia treatment in the Deaf community. I haven’t heard much about this topic and also cannot say I’ve ever ran into it!! It would likely limit your market but would be very interesting and would really help Deaf people with aphasia! As someone stated earlier, the Deaf community is not a big fan of SLPs but they usually have a pretty valid and personal reason for that.. I don’t think they would be opposed to our help in that regards!

You wouldn’t want to teach ASL to someone with severe dysarthria as you would be attempting to teach them an entirely new language when they’re only having trouble with speech not language.. You also have to take communication partners into consideration. It would really limit who your patient would be able to talk to. A speech generating device is often a better solution here!
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Lindsay’s Answer

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I use signs as additional language input with my students as well. With images, signs, text, and verbal cues provided, I feel that the benefits of multiple input improves retention. ASL benefits hearing and non-hearing students
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