Spotlight on Amy Bilson, Speech-Language Pathologistby Mrs. Heidy Arts
Amy Bilson, MA CCC/L-SLP/TSHH was born in Buffalo NY, Amy attended the University at Buffalo achieving her B.A. in Speech and Hearing Science, and her M.A. in Speech-Language Pathology. She has been working in the school district for five years, and takes part in community events like the Variety Club Telethon, and EA Schools’ charitable events.
What made you decide to pursue a career in speech and language pathology?
I have known ever since I was in middle school that I wanted to pursue the field of speech-language pathology. I have a brother who is five years younger than me. When he was a toddler, he did not follow the normal developmental pattern for speech and language. I can remember him using his own “sign language” and grunts to express himself. I also had to interpret his messages to my parents so that they knew what he wanted as well. During his preschool years, he attended the Language Development Program at Buffalo State College to help improve his communication delays. It worked! He started talking more and using less sign language. When he was in Kindergarten, he received speech-language therapy services to continue to help him make gains. Soon, after 4th grade, he had “graduated” from speech therapy! Watching and helping my brother go through all his therapy really piqued my interest in the speech-language pathology field. I was so happy for my brother and all the gains he made with his speech that I wanted to do the same for other children in the future. So far it has been such a rewarding field to work in!
Helping students with their articulation needs is a small part of what you do; can you describe other issues students have that you work to improve?
Many people think that speech therapy is just for improving your sounds or articulation skills. However, that is just one part of what we do! I see many students who need support with their expressive or receptive language skills, written language skills, pragmatic or social language skills, fluency or stuttering, voice disorders, auditory processing skills, hearing disorders, and feeding and/or swallowing disorders. Many people are surprised to find out we treat all of those types of disorders.
How many students do you work within a week?My entire caseload includes about 43 students at 3 different schools. In a given week, I am in contact and working with about 64 students. That is counting some students twice, based on their level of frequency for therapy.
Describe what you might do on a typical day.I usually start my day reviewing what I have planned for that day – therapy sessions, meetings, etc. Depending on the day, I can have as many as 7 therapy sessions to do with various students. I either push-into a classroom, usually an ELA or English class, or have my speech students come to my room for therapy. During or after each therapy session, I track progress or record notes on how the lesson went. I usually refer to those notes to plan for my next therapy sessions with the students. Of course mixed in with the therapy sessions, you can usually find me in my therapy room doing paperwork! Unfortunately, paperwork is a big part of being a Speech-Language Pathologist. At any given time I will be checking emails, scoring tests, writing reports, planning the next day’s lessons, writing progress notes or IEPs (individual education programs), completing Medicaid forms, calling parents, collaborating with teachers, planning meetings, attending meetings, etc.
Why do you go to Immaculate to service students there?For those students who attend a private school within their district, they are entitled to any additional support services that they would have received if they attended that public school. So, for those specific students at Immaculate who require speech-language services, a Speech Therapist from our district travels to their school to provide therapy. This year, that happens to be me! I provide therapy for about nine students at Immaculate Conception School. All of my students at the school are working on improving their articulation skills.
What is most challenging about your job?I think the most challenging part about my job is finding time to complete all the necessary paperwork that has to be done, while still providing therapy for my students. At times the paperwork can be overwhelming, but somehow it all gets done! My goal for myself is to stay organized and on top of it so it doesn’t get out of control. I went into this field to help support students, so I hate it when the paperwork gets in the way of interacting with my students.
Is it ever difficult to diagnose a child?With the use of standardized tests and input from teachers and parents, I think that most areas of concern are identified and will lead to the most appropriate diagnosis and support for that student. Occasionally, it may take some time, a variety of tests, and numerous meetings or conversations with teachers and parents to pinpoint or rule out certain things, but eventually the student is diagnosed as accurately as possible and is given the necessary support he or she needs.
What kinds of testing do you do to determine a child's specific needs?As Speech Therapists, we use a variety of standardized tests to look at the different areas of communication. For example, to take a look at overall language skills, we would use the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF) test; for written language skills, the Test of Written Language (TOWL) would be used; for articulation skills, the Goldman Fristoe Test of Articulation (GFTA) would be used; etc. As for evaluating auditory processing skills, Speech Therapists can use the Test of Auditory Processing Skills (TAPS) or A Test for Auditory Processing Disorders (SCAN) with their students, but only a formal diagnosis of an auditory process disorder can come from an Audiologist. Most of the formal tests that we use are in-depth and require about 40 minutes or longer to administer. However, we also use various screening forms that are shorter in length, as well as observations, to help determine a child’s specific needs.
Have you seen a rise or decline in student needs since you have been a speech/language pathologist? To what do you attribute that?Since I have been in the East Aurora School District, my caseload has stayed pretty much consistent. Each year I have had about 45 students on my caseload. TheNational Institutes of Health has some interesting facts on the topic: 8-10% of people have a communication disorder; 5% of children have noticeable communication disorders and, according to the US Department of Education, speech, language, and hearing impairments account for 20.1% of all special education students in the United States. Based on those figures, I am confident that I will be able to continue to help many students in the future who are in need of speech-language therapy services.