Speech therapists in big demand
Associated Press
Jan. 28, 2008

TEMPE - Jeaneen Duensing's voice is crisp and clear as she questions her preschoolers at Tempe's Getz School. She enunciates each new sound.

"Can you find something white?" she asks one boy, emphasizing the "wh" sound. He stands and points to snowfall on the cover of a book.

Duensing's job is to help children articulate their sounds and communicate more effectively.

As a speech-language therapist - and a bilingual one - Duensing is a highly desired employee at schools across metro Phoenix, and the nation.

Speech-language pathology is one of the fastest-growing career fields with schools, nursing homes, hospitals and private companies all competing to stay fully staffed.

Experts say that more frequent identification of speech problems among school-age children, a higher incidence of autism, as well as an increased number of older adults, has created a growing need for speech and language services.

And the baby boomers who currently make up much of the field are expected to start retiring shortly, leaving schools in even more of a crunch.

The demand is even more pronounced for bilingual therapists, especially in places like Arizona. It is sometimes necessary to assess the children in their native language, because it can be difficult to tell if a struggling child is not speaking well because of a language disorder or simply because they have not yet mastered English.

The federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act requires school districts to have enough speech-language pathologists to meet the needs of every special-education student requiring speech therapy. Therapists work with students - both in groups and one-on-one - to overcome communication problems, either in making sounds or in language comprehension, said Karen Palmer, a speech therapist who works for the Chandler Unified School District.

Often, they serve children with disorders such as autism, Down syndrome and attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder, plus those who have suffered traumatic brain injury or are mentally disabled.