Speech Therapists Desperately Needed for Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: Patrick Garmoe Daily Herald Staff Writer

For a while, some parents with children in the Special Education District of McHenry County preschool must have thought their class was a revolving door for employees.

By the time school ended this week for Huntley's Special Education District of McHenry County's preschool classes at Leggee, one therapist and five assistant teachers had quit.

A new therapist has been hired now that the year ended. But that only happened after contracting out to another company for the therapist, said Odette Little, a SEDOM speech and language technical assistant.

She admits that some preschool classes had a lot of turnover. But SEDOM isn't alone.

"There's a chronic shortage," said Barbara Kaplan, coordinator for the Illinois Board of Education northern region technical assistance grant.

"It is very difficult to find, in particular, speech pathologists," said Wendy Neuman, a manager for the Early Intervention Program in McHenry County.

Her group provides center- and home-based therapy for children through the age of 5.

The statistics are staggering.

The Illinois Department of Education stated in a 2000 report there was an "extreme shortage" in speech and language teachers of roughly 25 percent.

A survey by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association found 21 of the 45 Illinois speech pathologists questioned said there was a shortage of qualified speech pathologists in their school district. The group's national survey found half of the 2,009 pathologists felt there was a shortage in their district.

Jodi Fleck, principal special education consultant of the Illinois Board of Education, said the problem has grown increasingly acute during the past 10 years.

She said many factors have caused the problem.

"Instead of shipping kids out of district, they're coming back to their home school districts," requiring more staff in those districts, Fleck said. …