Our Spotlight Career Blog for December is Caleigh Simpkins, a speech language pathologist at The Speech and Language Center. The SLC provides speech, occupational, physical therapy, and autism services to Harrisonburg and surrounding communities, including an additional office in Page County opening this month.
What brought you to this career?
In high school, I had the opportunity to shadow my aunt, who is also a speech language pathologist, and I instantly loved it. It was amazing to see how she interacted with children and families, how they responded to her, and how she helped them to communicate through play. When I was an undergraduate, I was also a caregiver for a child with autism who was minimally verbal, and I enjoyed working with him so much. These experiences helped clarify for me that I wanted to do this work.
What is your most memorable experience?
I would say my most memorable experiences probably come from working with younger children (birth to 3 years old) because this can involve a therapy model that includes coaching parents and empowering them to help their children with communication. It is so rewarding to see the families work together and have fun as they are learning.
What is a typical day like for you?
At the SLC, I alternate between seeing kids in a school setting and in an office setting, and I love having this variety in my day. I typically work with each client once or twice a week for 30 minutes-1 hour, depending on their needs. Mondays and Wednesdays, I am at one school all day; Tuesdays and Thursdays I am at three different schools and then at our office in the evening; Fridays I am at one school in the morning and then at the office for the rest of the day. I see clients with a variety of ages, diagnoses, and needs. Typically my clients are children, but we also treat many adults at our office as well. Because of this variety, the therapy sessions are tailored to the individual. In order to address each client’s goals, we try to incorporate fun activities that can range from playing pretend to making slime to completing an obstacle course in our gross motor gym. And this is just what my typical week looks like! SLPs can work in a huge variety of settings with clients of any age and with any form of communication or feeding/swallowing impairment.
What do you like most about your job?
I really value the relationships I build with children and their families and finding fun, meaningful ways to make functional changes in a family’s life.
What advice would you give for someone looking to pursue a similar career?
Graduate school can be a difficult process, but it is definitely worth the effort. I would suggest making connections and relationships with speech language professionals and with your professors in school; this was very helpful for me to learn more about the work.
(What education/certifications, skills or experiences would they need?)
You need a master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology. I have a bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders and a master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology (a 2-year program), both from JMU. After finishing your master’s, you do a clinical fellowship to get a certain number of hours (minimum 9 months) working under the supervision of a certified speech language pathologist. After your clinical fellowship, you can apply for your “C’s”, or your Certificate of Clinical Competency (CCC), and a state license. There are also yearly continuing education requirements.