Works and Days

Winter Externship 2015, Speech and Language Pathology with Daniela Deyoung,Qingyang Xie

This past winter (2014), I shadowed Daniela Deyoung, a speech and language pathologist at the Portland Public School Early Childhood Team, for two weeks in January. Dani is mainly in charge of the transition from preschool to kindergarten for children with development delays, so she not only does speech development evaluations, but also communicates with preschool and kindergarten teachers and therapists to help with a smooth transition for children with special needs at school. Dani works with both English and Spanish speaking children. I followed Dani around the city to different meetings with parents and school staff and to observation sessions of children who need evaluations. Thanks to Dani, I also got to observe her colleagues during their evaluation sessions of children who were brought to the Early Childhood Team by parents with concerns of language or general development delay. It was very exciting and fun to learn about the child language development and observe the diverse tasks she and her colleagues perform on a day to day basis. Everyone was very friendly and helpful and was very patient with my questions.

I applied to the externship because I am very interested in languages and would like to learn more about the language development process of children. It was also a great opportunity to explore a completely new field. Dani was very engaged and helpful in the process and I learned a lot about autism and typical and non-typical child development at different age groups. Since Dani works with many children who fall in the autism spectrum, she started sending me articles about autism spectrum before the externship started and familiarized me with the symptoms. She was a great teacher and pointed out the children’s behaviors that might be indicators of autism to me during the observation sessions. She also gave me the opportunity to apply the autistic symptoms I learned by taking observation notes and gave me detailed feedback on them. I learned a great deal about child development from her within two weeks.

One important thing I learned is the importance of child play. Child play is an indicator of children’s social skills, their motor development and their intelligence development in general. Child play should be functional, meaning that children should play the toys the way they are designed to be played, have a story about what they are playing, or use the toys in innovative but still sensible ways. It is a lot of the times an imitation of adults’ activities—like cooking, driving cars, building a house, etc—and sometimes require cooperation with other children. When a child is not playing functionally, but uses a toy to make repetitive movements such as dragging a train in a circle nonstop or staring at car’s wheels spinning, it might be an indicator of autism, but of course the language pathologist has to see other symptoms of autism to qualify the child for special education. It was fascinating for me to learn about the functions and complexity of child play and helped me understand the typical behaviors of children.

When Dani had meetings that I couldn’t attend, she made arrangements with her colleagues so that I could observe their evaluation sessions and have something to do when she was not available. An evaluation session is usually comprised of a short play session with the child and some language and motion development assessment tests. I saw examples of children with severe development delay (with symptoms like not speaking at 3, not responding to their name, not responding to directions from evaluators etc.), children who fall in the autism spectrum, and children who only have language development delay. After the evaluation, I had the chance to chat with the evaluators, usually a special education teacher and a speech language pathologist, listen to their analysis of the child’s performance, and ask questions, so I had many opportunities to map the theory I learned to real world examples of children’s behaviors.

Dani told me that the most difficult part of the job for her is to keep track of the different tasks and cases she is working on because she works on a variety of tasks and has to follow through cases throughout the school year. The job of speech language pathologist also requires very good social skills. One needs to be able to explain to the parents what their child’s diagnosis entails, work with the parents to come up with ways of helping their children learn language skills at home and advocate for the children with special needs at their school. One also has to be compassionate and supportive because parents can be under a lot of stress and be accused of being incompetent.

In two weeks, I learned about basic knowledge of child language development and observed the day to day work of speech language pathologists in the context of early childhood evaluation. It was a great experience thanks to Dani’s dedication to giving me as many opportunities as possible to participate and engage in her work. She mentioned that many people come into the field of language pathology with working experience in different fields. Although I am not considering pursuing a speech language pathology degree directly after graduation, I think it is an appealing option for me if I would want to change career path in the future. 

Tags: psychology, winter externship, pathology, autism, child development, speech, language, children, education