Learning How to Teach A Child’s First Teacher

Written by Jonathan Jolivette

Alison Tucker (left) and Sarah Radlinski (right) celebrating Sarah’s completion of her LSL Specialist Certification application, a three year process.

When I meet someone for the first time, the conversation invariably turns to occupations. I typically respond to queries about what I do for a living by indicating I am a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) who helps children diagnosed with hearing loss learn to listen and speak. I also explain I am an SLP who is trained to teach caregivers what they need to know to help their children develop listening and spoken language skills.

A caregiver is a child’s first teacher, so it is important that caregivers of children with hearing loss are taught by therapists with extensive knowledge of hearing loss, child development, listening skill development and language development, among other subjects. The Listening and Spoken Language Specialist (LSL Specialist) certification is the ideal method for developing the knowledge necessary to teach caregivers. By teaching caregivers, therapists help ensure children have a teacher for a lifetime instead of only having a teacher while receiving services from a therapist. Although there are two certified designations recognized by the AG Bell Academy for Listening and Spoken Language, I can only speak about my experience pursuing certification as Listening and Spoken Language Specialist Certified Auditory-Verbal Therapist (LSLS Cert. AVT).

Learning how to teach caregivers is as important as knowing what to teach caregivers to help them on their journey to a spoken language outcome for their children. This is most evident when therapists encounter families with characteristics that could affect outcomes including: a child’s co-morbidities or other challenges; family structure; and life stressors. The three-year certification process provides numerous opportunities to learn how to provide service to families with unique characteristics or circumstances.

Some therapists have been fortunate to attend graduate school programs with a focus on treating children with hearing loss. For those therapists who have not, joining a clinic with a focus on helping children with hearing loss not only provides an opportunity to pursue an interest that may not have been available previously, but also allows therapists the opportunity to pursue certification. One such clinic is the Auditory-Verbal Center (AVC), a non-profit clinic that has helped children with hearing loss develop listening and spoken language skills for more than 40 years across the state of Georgia. AVC provides services via in-person sessions at their Macon and Atlanta locations as well as via teletherapy and requires all therapists to pursue certification.

AVC’s Clinical Supervisor, Alison Tucker, M.Ed., CCC-SLP, LSLS Cert. AVT, has mentored numerous professionals throughout her decades-long career and values having numerous certified LSL Specialists on staff. Currently, Alison’s team consists of five therapists, three of whom are certified LSL Specialists and two who are currently pursuing certification. In addition to formal mentor observations and feedback, certification candidates at AVC benefit from exposure to other certified LSL Specialists through daily knowledge sharing and weekly team meetings that allow for case study discussions.

Brooke Steinwascher, M.S., CCC-SLP, is the most recent member of AVC’s therapist team to benefit from this type of learning environment. She will be completing the certification in the fall of 2021 and has appreciated the opportunities for improvement. “Learning from feedback and self-reflection on what I could have done differently after each session” has been valuable to her. For those who do not work in clinics with mentors or other certified LSL Specialists, technological advances have made remote mentorship opportunities possible. Additionally, the wide availability of books and online continuing education have made certification a more accessible pursuit than in previous years.

I have frequently heard professionals in our field speak of how they still learn something new every day. Sarah Spencer, M.S., CCC-SLP, who is hoping to sit for the LSL Specialist certification exam this summer, noted this while continuing to also expand her knowledge through reading and studying outside of work. “Rooting the textbook knowledge into the experiences with children I’ve served helps to create a more robust memory for the material, in a way that both better serves that child and other children like them as well as the professional seeking certification,” said Spencer.

Sadly, some families are misled regarding the qualifications of therapists who help children with hearing loss. The certification provides a clear distinction between qualified therapists and those therapists who may not have been trained to provide the necessary service to families of children with hearing loss. “It’s so important to teach families the guiding principles of the AV approach and what sets it apart from traditional speech therapy. Caregivers must understand that we’re wiring their child’s brain for listening, to lay the foundation for spoken language—and that they are their child’s primary teacher!” said Lauren Seale, M.Ed., CCC-SLP, LSLS Cert. AVT.

Most certified LSL Specialists would agree the most challenging aspect of the certification process is the final step—the high stakes examination. I recall spending significant amounts of time preparing for the exam. Although preparation was necessary, in hindsight I realized the hours of therapy and mentor feedback prepared me for the exam more than the hours of obsessive studying. Sarah Radlinski, M.S., CCC-SLP, LSLS Cert. AVT, recalled a similar experience. “The LSLS exam is not the type of test that you can just cram for the month before; the exam is the culmination of three years of coaching, learning, and professional growth. Rather than just being a test of memorized facts, the LSLS exam is meant to practically assess one’s capacity and fitness as a certified professional who can apply his or her knowledge to effectively work with children with hearing loss and their families.”

LSL Specialist certification is a challenging but rewarding pursuit achieved by fewer than 1,000 professionals worldwide. The certification is a clear indication of the dedication and time a therapist has spent developing the knowledge necessary to assist families with their listening and spoken language goals. If you are considering pursuing the certification, I encourage you to go for it! Your clients will appreciate your dedication to the field.

Jonathan Jolivette, M.S., CCC-SLP, LSLS Cert. AVT, is a speech-language pathologist at the Auditory-Verbal Center, Inc., in Atlanta, Ga.


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