May WAS Better Hearing and Speech Month

Jun 5, 2013

If you read the “IHP News” you know that in May each year, associations and professionals and patients that care about speech and hearing celebrate these functions. I have procrastinated on a well-intentioned blog about May being “Better Hearing and Speech Month. I have lots of excuses:  1. I already wrote a blog about Nurses Week earlier in the month. 2. Since I recently have experienced my first personal experience with speech and hearing problems, it’s just too hard to talk about in a blog. 3. !Having spent the last 30+ years focused on this particular set of conditions, there is just too much to be said 4. None of the above Number 4, none of the above, is my reason. Actually, I have been struggling for weeks. I have really thought about the personal angle, the life experience and patient experience angle, and the perspective of how important our own Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders is to the Institute. Each of these topics is particularly meaningful to me. As I thought and thought about what to write, none of these topics “did it” though. I just couldn’t become inspired enough to write about them.To be honest, they were too simple and trite. Writing on these topics, somehow couldn’t touch what I know with great confidence: The profound impact of the discipline of human communication sciences and disorders is yet to be realized in society. Let me say that again, this time with italics: The profound impact of the discipline of human communication sciences and disorders is yet to be realized in society. (Can you hear violins in the background?). Is this an admonition and a warning? Is this a cautionary moment? Am I attempting to overstate? Think about it for a moment. 160,000 or so speech-language pathologists and audiologists in the US spend their time studying, thinking about, diagnosing and treating patients with speech, language, hearing, reading, cognitive, and swallowing problems. Additionally, basic scientists from CSD, but also from medicine, rehabilitation, engineering, psychology and a myriad of other disciplines devote their work to understanding how it is that people carry out these functions. Where does communication originate in the brain? Can it be reorganized in the brain? What is the genetic basis? How does something as “simple” as the human voice mechanism produce thousands of different adjustments to produce everything from perfect musical tones to the most primal sounds associated with fear or pain (and everything in between)? How do blind people learn to read? How do deaf people learn to speak? How can a child go from a few vocalizations to adult-like speech in matter of a few years? How do people, who cannot move, learn to communicate using technology? Here in Boston, we are lucky to be surrounded by people who provide wonderful examples of best practice in clinical care for many patients with speech, language, swallowing, and hearing problems. The legacy of the Boston VA, Boston University, Children’s Hospital, Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary, Spaulding and Mass General ,( and more recently, the IHP)  in developing and applying innovative treatments for people with these conditions is well known in the speech and hearing community. Similarly the great work of teams of speech and hearing scientists, neurologists, SLPs and audiologists at these institutions, as well as at Harvard and MIT, have been significant at answering questions about aphasia, voice, swallowing, augmentative communication, hearing loss, head injury, and so forth. In our MGH Institute community we are honored by the presence of remarkable leaders like Gregg Lof, Howard Shane, Marjorie Nicholas, Bob Hillman, Charlie Haynes and others who have left indelible marks on the timeline of communication sciences and disorders and will continue to do so. So, given the environment in which we work, why does society continue to undervalue these important contributions? I have come to believe that the answer is an evolutionary one. At our most primitive moments we focus on survival and on satisfying those needs that are most basic. Living in a society where health care and education, the primary environments where SLPs and audiologists work and study, are undervalued is clearly a piece of the puzzle. How can one say that the most human of functions (talking/understanding) is vital when we have trouble identifying these as central to primary care in the health system or see them as non-essential to education? I have lots of ideas about why this has happened and how it needs to change in a progressive society. I hope to hear your ideas as a follow up to this blog. Let’s talk and listen to each other about speech and hearing. What are your thoughts? I hope that YOU will take a few moments to comment below.

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