At 4 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon inside the austerely named Academic Instructional Center, some serious playtime is going on.
Western’s Speech-Language-Hearing clinic is in full swing the first week of the fall quarter. That means all 11 therapy rooms are occupied with clients. On this day, most are kids – one to a room, each getting a ton of gentle attention from a pair of graduate students.
In one room, the students – and their trained supervisor – are singing a hello song to a boy with autism. They’re trying to teach him to follow commands. In another, students shine a flashlight into the mouth of a young girl who had cleft-palate surgery. They’re trying to get her to speak more clearly. In a third room, students use a board game to help a boy who stutters let the words …just…flow.
The students – all clinicians in training – are part of Western’s Communication Sciences and Disorders’ two-year graduate program, where textbook examples and classroom hypotheticals literally come to life.
Starting on their first day, grad students – some just months removed from getting undergraduate degrees – get hands-on experience providing therapy to toddlers, kids and adults coping with disorders ranging from autism and injury- or stroke-related language impairments to hearing loss and voice disorders.
“You get your feet wet super-fast,” says grad student Alyssa Ellingboe (’09, Business Administration), 26, who attended Western as an undergrad.
The clinic diagnoses and provides therapy for language, speech and hearing disorders in people of all ages. About 200 people are seen at the clinic each academic quarter.
But for students, just getting into the program is tough: This year, 173 applicants applied for 20 spots. A total 40 students participate in the program. And the challenges don’t end there.
Along with a heavy courseload each quarter, each student must complete 400 hours with clients over two years. Expect 50- to 60-hour weeks of study and clinic work, first-year grad students are told. That doesn’t count the 10 to 20 hours per week many spend as teaching or research assistants. The biggest adjustment from undergraduate life? Time management.
“My planner is full,” says first-year Helen Strausz (’12, Communication Sciences and Disorders), squeezing in a few minutes of clinic report work while waiting for an interview at an on-campus Starbucks. “On top of schoolwork, we have meetings with supervisors.”