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Celebrating Speech Pathology Week: Q&A with Tiff Simmons

25 August 2019

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Sunday 25 August marks the start of Speech Pathology Week across Australia. The week is an opportunity to make all Australians aware of those in our community who have a communication disability. We asked one of our experienced speech pathologist, Tiff Simmons, to tell us more about her work at Aspect and how speech pathology can help kids and adults maximise their communication and quality of life.

How long have you been involved in the disability sector and when did you start with Aspect?

My journey in the disability sector has been a long one! Initially, I began working at a summer camp program for children with disabilities, in my home town on the east coast of Canada. I worked there for several years and helped set up the autism-specific program working alongside the town’s Autism Resource Centre (ARC) as it was getting off the ground. I went to University and worked as a Therapy Assistant until I was accepted into the Speech Pathology program in Australia. Whilst studying, I always knew I wanted to specialise in autism. After graduating in October 2010, I had the opportunity to interview with Aspect and I’ve never looked back.

Could you tell us a bit about your role with Aspect?

My roles at Aspect have shifted and changed. Aspect Therapy has always been incredibly innovative, with plenty of opportunities for staff to take on new and exciting projects as they arise. At Aspect Therapy I have had the pleasure of working with children, adolescents and adults across many environments such as home, preschool, school, respite centres, work and/or in the community. At one stage I was working as the Speech Pathologist at Vern Barnett School and took part in a research project using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Currently, I continue to work with individuals and their families to achieve their goals, facilitate social groups, run workshops for Aspect Practice, and I supervise two amazing speech pathology teams in our South West Sydney and Nepean Blue Mountain regions.

How do you find working with Aspect?

Aspect has grown and developed over the years. It has been absolutely amazing to see our Aspect Therapy team grow to now cover regions all over NSW, the ACT, Victoria and South Australia. I can see how hard Aspect is working to support as many individuals and their families as possible. The addition of teams such as Choose & Connect and Aspect Employment is fantastic. Working at Aspect has its challenges, it’s hard work but it is also very rewarding work. Our therapists are passionate about the strengths, interests and possibilities of our clients.

What resources does the speech pathology team within Aspect use?

The speech pathology team use a number of internal resources that have been developed within the Aspect Practice and Research teams, such as the Aspect Comprehensive Approach (ACA) and the 5 Point Star. Our Speech Pathologists also complete online learning modules to support the work that we do on a day-to-day basis. Our Speech Pathologists receive additional training in Positive Behaviour Support (PBS), and crisis prevention training At Aspect Therapy, we have therapists who specialise in specific areas (e.g. AAC, Hanen) that our team can call on if they need additional support with their clients. Aspect Therapy also runs a fantastic New Graduate program for employees who join us directly after graduating from university. These autism-specific online modules are also made available to all staff and cover topics such as sensory needs, anxiety, supporting families, etc.

What do you enjoy most about your career in Speech Pathology?

What I enjoy most about being a Speech Pathologist is being able to work with people every day on their goals and to support individuals and their families during challenging times as well as celebrate their achievements. I enjoy working with other Speech Pathologists, as well as mentoring and supporting people early in their career.

What are some of the most remarkable changes you have seen in Speech Pathology over the years?

There have been significant changes in our field of work, especially in the disability field. The community appears to have a better understanding of what we offer and support, which in turn is driving a higher need for Speech Pathology services. Our scope of practice has also changed to include more involvement in behaviour support and augmentative communication. Technology has played a big role in changing the way people can now communicate, such as using more advanced communication aids. The largest and most recent change is most certainly the introduction of the NDIS.

What makes your role as a Speech Pathologist at Aspect unique?

At Aspect Therapy we pride ourselves on the autism-specific work that we are doing. We collaborate with external providers to provide the best possible services to our clients. Individuals and families come to Aspect to access specialist services. We use the most up to date evidence-informed practices in Speech Pathology and autism. Our Speech Pathologists get significant autism-specific and positive behaviour support training as well.

If you’re working with a Speech Pathologist who is just starting out, what are some of the things you’d tell him or her?

As someone who started with Aspect after graduating I would pass on the following tips to anyone who is just starting out as a Speech Pathologist:

• You don’t need to know everything! You will feel overwhelmed and that is okay. No one expects you to know it all straight away, take the time to learn at your own pace.

• It important you seek support where necessary, use the people around you, they too were once just starting out.

• Always keep self-reflecting and learning. In the disability sector, things are always shifting and changing, if you want to survive you will need to be flexible and adaptable. Change is good, change is progress - embrace it!

• Never underestimate the importance of taking time to build rapport with clients, families and teachers.

• Some days are going to be tough, but if you are passionate about working in the disability sector you will take every challenge as it comes, learn and grow from it.

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