Communication Disorders in Professional Careers

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While many communications majors devote their professional careers to ensuring effective communication within corporations, with the media, with consumers, or through human and social service programs, there are those who prefer to work with individuals who suffer from a wide range of communication disorders.

These practitioners, who are commonly called speech-language pathologists or audiologists, are communicators as effective as the professionals whose jobs we explored in earlier chapters, but they have a different focus, work with a different public, and have a different set of acquired skills.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), speech and language disorders are "inabilities of individuals to understand and/or appropriately use the speech and language systems of society. Such disorders may range from simple sound repetitions or occasional miscalculations to the complete absence of the ability to use speech and language for communication."



For every twenty Americans who communicate "normally," there is one individual who is afflicted with a speech-language disorder. They number nearly ten million people.

Hearing impairment ranges from the inability to hear speech and other sounds loudly enough or understand speech even when it is loud enough, to the complete loss of all hearing.

Based on studies conducted a decade ago by the National Center for Health Statistics, it is estimated that hearing impairment in one or both ears affects approximately two out of every one hundred school-age children; twenty-nine out of every one hundred people sixty-five years of age or older; and a total of 21.2 million Americans.

A career as a speech-language pathologist or audiologist offers an opportunity to help and interact with a wide variety of individuals, providing rewarding experiences for both the client and therapist. It is also a career suited for the researcher dedicated to finding new therapeutic approaches and technology.

Research

There are those who, rather than practice or teach, are more interested in a career in research. They are fascinated by the different problems human communication presents and work to find solutions to prevent, identify, assess, or rehabilitate speech, language, or hearing disorders.

ASHA reports the following advances that research scientists have made. They now know that:
  • Communication starts long before babies say their first words.

  • Hearing can be measured at super-high frequency levels.

  • Every individual has a unique voice that can be used for identification, much the same way fingerprints are used.

  • Damage to different areas in the brain results in different types of language problems.

  • Technology can be used to develop better hearing aids, electronic voice boxes, and computers for communication.

  • In addition to sensing sound, the ear is also capable of producing sound (cochlear emissions).
Areas of interest for researchers include:
  • Investigating the physical, biological, and physiological factors underlying normal communication

  • Exploring the impact of social, psychological, and psychophysiological factors on communication disorders

  • Cooperating with other professionals, such as engineers, physicians, and educators, to develop a comprehensive approach to working with people with communication disorders

  • Researchers are most often affiliated with universities, dividing their time between classroom teaching and work on various research questions. The usual requirement for a research scientist is a minimum of a Ph.D. degree.

  • Some research scientists work in industrial settings, for pharmaceutical companies, or for manufacturers of hearing aids or computers.

  • The following list includes other indicators of increasing employment opportunities in this career path:

  • Higher success rate at saving children at birth with potential for communication disorders

  • A substantial increase in referrals of preschool and schoolage children for speech-language and hearing services

  • More emphasis on preventative health measures

  • Larger bilingual populations. Estimates suggest that more than five million individuals from diverse backgrounds have a speech, language, or hearing disability.

  • National public health policy plans for early identification and diagnosis of hearing disorders in infants and toddlers

  • Ongoing promotional efforts by ASHA and other concerned associations to raise public awareness

This is good news for future speech-language pathologists and audiologists. Not only are there plum jobs waiting for you upon graduation, but money is now available to see you through training. In an attempt to meet the need for more trained professionals, scholarship programs have been set up throughout the country on local and state levels as well as through individual university graduate programs. Some of these programs guarantee employment upon graduation.

To find out more about the various scholarships that are available, check with ASHA, local school boards, or through graduate communication disorders programs at universities.

In summary, job prospects across the country are excellent and will continue to be for some time.

EARNINGS

According to a recent survey conducted by the American Speech-Language- Hearing Association, the median annual salary for full-time certified speech- language pathologists or audiologists who work eleven or twelve months annually is $44,000. For those who work nine or ten months annually, median annual salaries for speech-language pathologists are $40,000; for audiologists, $42,000.

Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest number of speech-language pathologists and audiologists are as follows:

Hospitals $44,800

Offices of other health care practitioners $44,500

Elementary and secondary schools $38,400

STRATEGIES FO R FINDING T H EJO BS

This is one career path where communication disorders majors wont need much help locating a job. Because of the shortage of certified audiologists and speech-language pathologists, graduates will find they have their choice of geographic location and job setting. However, to make sure you don't miss out hearing about any of the best slots, there are some avenues you can pursue to keep yourself informed.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association maintains a computerized placement service and job openings are regularly announced in the professional journals.

Many university departments also hold career days and job fairs, inviting employers from around the country to meet with students and conduct mini-interviews right on the spot.

If you already have preferences for settings or geographic location, you can call the individual personnel departments and let them know of your interest.
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