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Published on May 27th, 2020


Professional Insights Interview Series – The Life of a Communication Health Assistant

To highlight the work of our members and associates, we have launched our Professional Insights Communiqué Interview Series. We have invited a number of SAC members and associates to share their unique professional experiences, promoting the importance of the professions in communication health. 

For our communication health assistant feature, we interviewed Nicola McCulloch. The interview goes over Nicola’s role as a communication health assistant, the important work she does and her experience working in schools.

Read Nicola’s interview below!

Q1: Can you share some details about where you work and what your role as a communication health assistant entails?

I work for School District 33 in Chilliwack, BC. I work with students from kindergarten to grade 5 doing speech and language therapy, typically in one-on-one or small group settings. I perform hearing screens, administer language screenings and other related tasks which is most of my job. I also do material prep for myself and the speech-language pathologists (S-LPs) I work with. A small part of my job is also a clerical role and data entry. 

Q2: What made you decide to become a communication health assistant?

It was mostly because of an experience I had with my own son. When he was in the fourth grade, we put him in an intensive two-week fluency program and parents were expected to participate. I got to sit in on all of the group sessions and it was really intriguing to me to be able to watch all of the progress that some of the students made. It was a fluency focused program, but I was already familiar with speech issues at that point. 

When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to job shadow and in tenth grade I chose to shadow an S-LP. That said, the profession was already on my radar when asking myself “what do I want to do” a few years later. My initial post-secondary plan wasn’t really feasible, but then I looked into the communication health assistant program. It was something I could take via distance education which was important to me because I had kids at home. I was already interested in the program, but that was definitely a factor for me. 

Q3: What’s your favourite part about your role as a communication health assistant?

Definitely working with the kids. The material prep is the necessary part of the job but it’s definitely working one-on-one with the students and being able to build those relationships with them. 

Another favourite is that there’s always something new and interesting happening. Sometimes I’m presented with a student with a variety of errors to work on. Every term I also tend to get some little thing that I haven’t worked on before, so I have to do a little bit of research and come up with new material. That said, I also enjoy working on stuff I’ve done before. It’s nice when some of my tried and true strategies work with students as well. 

Overall though, I’d have to say that my favourite part is working one-on-one with the students and building relationships with them, and then watching them progress. Sometimes you have the kids who just don’t seem to get it or the kids who were very challenging at first, but after a 12-week term they’ve made such great progress. It’s nice to see them go back to their classrooms being better understood by their peers and teachers. That’s really what keeps you going as a communication health assistant. 

Q4: What’s the most common issue that you see on a day-to-day basis?

The most common things I see are articulation or speech-sound disorders. The next in line would be language disorders. We work on all sorts of language stuff, from grammar to vocabulary. We’re starting to see and work more on phonological issues as well, which goes along with the speech-sound focus. With the kindergarteners we do a lot of work on vocabulary, prepositions and other basic concepts. We’ll also often work with students with autism or other developmental delays and our main goals with them are generally still speech-sound and language focused. 

Q5: If you had to choose one takeaway to emphasize to the public surrounding the importance of communication health, what would it be?

Part of the reason why I thought of this is because some colleagues have had this said to them, as well as friends of mine who are parents. When you have a child with some sort of speech disorder, you’ll often hear from professionals “don’t worry, they’ll outgrow it.” This message often comes particularly when kids are quite young. 

That said, my takeaway is don’t wait to seek treatment thinking that a child will outgrow a communication disorder. There is no need for a child to spend years frustrated, misunderstood or even bullied when there is treatment available. 

I see it happen! I see people just wait. I even see it with older students. I had an experience with my daughter where she was in a group travel situation and she said to me: “That boy still sounds like a baby,” and he was a grade 9 student. I just looked at her and said: “He can’t say his L’s or his R’s properly, that’s why he sounds like a baby.” That’s something that can be worked on and in most cases is not super difficult. It just needs to be practiced like learning any new skill. 

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