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  • Writer's picturePeta

Empowering Disabled People: The Role of Speech Pathology

This week Peta dives deep into the world of speech pathology, exploring its vital role in empowering disabled people.

Joined by Gabriella Ptasznik, founder and CEO of GRP Speech Pathology, and her client Lloyd, they discuss how speech pathology can enhance communication and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Connect with Gabriella and GRP: 

Connect with Peta:

Instagram: @petahooke


Episode Transcript:




Peta [00:00:03] Hello and welcome to the I Can't Stand Podcast, the podcast answering your questions about what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta. I have cerebral palsy and I'm your host. This week is a special deep dive on speech pathology. As disabled people. Many of us can have complicated relationships with the medical system. I want to deeply explore, to better understand, in particular for this episode, how speech pathology can help disabled people. I'm speaking to founder and CEO of GRP Gabriella Ptasznik and one of her clients, Lloyd, who lives with disability, to understand how speech pathology can impact disabled people and what the future looks like for disabled people in and around how we're considered within the industry. I hope you enjoyed this episode. I plan to deep dive into more allied health, so if you have any suggestions on the next sector I should explore, please let me know. But until then, let's hand over to Gabriela.


Gabriella [00:01:28] My name is Gabriella Ptasznik, and I'm the founder and CEO of GP Speech Pathology. And our mission, which we are so passionate about, is to empower every individual to achieve their full potential.


Peta [00:01:41] Thank you so much, Gabriella. I'm going to call you Gabby because that's who I know you by. Oh, it's such a pleasure to have you on today on the podcast. And a lot of people would be thinking, oh, this is a bit new. We don't normally talk about a certain subject, but it's a subject I know you're really passionate about. You live your life through this. It's your professional career and your passion, and that is speech pathology. And I know speech pathology can be really important for so many disabled people. So I'm so excited to explore this topic with you today. So firstly, I never like to assume that people have knowledge of any given subject. There is no such thing as a silly question or the Icard said podcast. So first and foremost told me that what speech pathology is.


Gabriella [00:02:32] Absolutely. And I'm so glad you asked, because I think there are so many assumptions that are made about what speech pathology is and what speech pathologist do. So I think typically most people that I meet when I explain that I'm a speech pathologist, most people think, that help someone with a stutter or a lisp or, basically clearing up their speech. And absolutely. That's a segment and a tiny portion of the work that we do. But in today's world, speech pathology looks so much more diverse and different to the way it did ten, 20 years ago. And so I think we actually misnamed as speech pathologist, I think we should be cold communication specialist or something related to communication rather than speech in isolation. And so when I break down speech pathology, I think of it in three pillars. So firstly we've got expressive language and that someone's ability to express their needs and wants and how they're feeling and what they want and what they're passionate about, which is obviously so important in everyday life. Then we've got receptive language, and that's one's ability to absorb information and make meaning of sound in a way that is meaningful for someone's understanding in conversation. And then we've got pragmatic language, which is often the forgotten pillar of communication. But it's the way that we put expressive and receptive language together to create a meaningful social interaction. And so all three of those pillars are areas we can focus on independently or in combination with each other. Because as we know, that one can't exist with the other. But so everyone's got different goals. And so our role as a speech pathologist is to truly identify where that goal in that meaningful, gap is for somebody and expose someone's potential to leverage what they can do to create the most meaningful social participation opportunity in someone's life.


Peta [00:04:22] Which just really illustrates how varied and important your work is, right? So I like I think there's a lot of misunderstanding and I'll only speak on my perspective, but I really did not understand how broad speech pathology could be. And then clearly how many disabled people you can support through your work.


Gabriella [00:04:44] Yeah, absolutely. And just talking to the broadness of the spectrum of work that we can be actually working in. We talked a lot about communication. I think one of the forgotten things in speech pathology is that we also work with people's ability to eat and drink, safely. So that's ensuring that the food and drink is going into your stomach and not into your lungs. When you're eating and drinking and working in the disability space means that we come across a lot of those opportunities to really help someone in their quality of life, to ensure that what they're eating and drinking is, is safe and is comfortable for them during meal times as possible. So we really combine the communication element with those pillars that I've described, as well as, someone's ability to eat and drink safely and comfortably.


Peta [00:05:30] I'm always very aware of how privileged I am to be able to communicate in a way that people can understand me and want to listen to me, and I know that's not something everybody can do, and I really value that in my ability to do that. And I think that's why what you do and what your team does is so important. I have no doubt that you love language as much as I do, but I'd love to speak to you in and around how we view communication, and I really hope one day we give people who are non-verbal also the privilege that we give people who can also articulate themselves.


Gabriella [00:06:14] Now more than ever. There's so much opportunity, there's so much new tech and technological advances as well that can support exposing someone's communication potential. And our role as speech pathologist is truly to do just that. And we know more than ever that just because you might not be speaking with words and sounds absolutely does not mean that you don't have something to say. I think speech is such a small part of the work that we do now more than ever, because our biggest role now is being able to find what it is to give someone that opportunity to communicate. And even if it's not with speech, we don't care. We're going to find that solution that gives that person the most opportune communication opportunities.


Peta [00:07:01] And that's where it's really important. I think so many of us, and I know you're technically not strictly in the medical field, although it's very related and very important. I think that's where really speaking to you makes me hope that in the future, people who support disabled people will see their role as empowering them to say disabled person rather than trying to fix their disability because we don't want to be fixed, we just want to be empowered in the best way we possibly can.


Gabriella [00:07:35] Yeah, 100%. And I love that word empower. It's actually our mission statement at job. And it's everything I live and breathe. And I'm so proud to say that because I think there is I mean, in the medical model and in the old school world and even in speech pathology, a lot of the work that I'm doing currently and my passion project outside of, purely being a speech pathologist and running GP, is really advocating for a change in curriculum and a change in mindset in the way that we're teaching our speech pathologist and the world to be thinking of impairment versus function. And it's so critical because like you said, Peter, it's it's not about focusing on what someone can't do and basically creating a ceiling or a limit on someone's potential. It's actually the complete opposite. And I think that about the medical field, and I think that about allied health as well, we are here with amazing skills to be working with an incredible population of people that are vulnerable. And our role is to give people the confidence and the tools and the resources to understand the best way that they can be participating in their lives, to lead their best live.


Peta [00:08:41] I know you spoke at the top of this episode about the wide ranging support services that speech pathologist can bring to a disabled person. What are the most common disabilities that you see within your organisation that you're supporting today?


Gabriella [00:08:57] Obviously we do have our bread and butter at speech pathology. You know, little kiddos that have, articulation disorders and they might have a lisp and they might have some speech disorders like a Start-Up. And then we'll go through when someone is just, being diagnosed with autism. So we'll be working really in an early stage with families and parents and their whole care team to provide the most robust support for clients. We do see a lot of people with Down's syndrome with cerebral palsy, a variety of levels of intellectual disabilities, global developmental delays, and then moving on more to the adult population. Obviously, that still remains. So it's about how we engage following school and following really, comprehensive support systems to make sure that someone is still creating a life path that's really meaningful for them in getting work and being able to participate in social clubs, or if they love cooking or if they love the library or, you know, whatever it is, we're we're there to bridge that gap as well. And moving on to that, we could be seeing people in their adult life with progressive neurological disorders like motor neurone disease. Ms.. Parkinson's disease. We also do a lot of rehabilitation work. So someone who's had a stroke or a brain injury from perhaps a car accident or a bike accident, and then we work in the wonderful aged care sector too, which is also a passion of mine. I love, love older people. So yeah, will work a lot with obviously, like I said, meal time plans and swallowing disorders and making sure that the end of life is also really meaningful and quality for them as well. So, yeah, definitely is diverse and there is so much in between all of that that we say, but those are some of the the common presentations that will work with the common, people that we work with.


Peta [00:10:42] Because you deal with communication every day. Obviously, speech is very important to you and good communication is really important to you. But I think inherently it would make you a really good listener. How how would you recommend people be really good listeners, particularly for those of us who maybe have never interacted with people who are non-verbal? Do you have any advice for how we can engage in and be good people?


Gabriella [00:11:13] This really brings me back to the time where I worked at the Aphasia Institute in Toronto. And I'm just bear with me for one second. I'll break down the example. It's really relevant. So aphasia is a communication disorder that's acquired following a brain injury. And so a lot of the work I did before I started am working in the disability space, so as we see it today, is working with people who have had brain injuries and then acquired a communication disorder. And so that can look in so many that can appear in so many different ways. So it can be that someone knows exactly what they want to say, and it comes out like gibberish and they think that it's it's clear, articulate speech. It can be that they can speak clearly, but when they're listening, they're receptive. Language is really impaired. So they can't understand the meaning to the sound. Or it can be a combination of both. So you can imagine that when that listening skills really need to be attuned to that. And I think our propensity as human beings is when there's awkward silences, we jump in. And I do that. I'm so guilty of that with my friends and in general, because I can be impatient. But I think clinically it's so important. Everyone responds at different times, and part of our job is making sure that we're giving someone not only the tools, but the communication opportunity to use those tools. So when I was working in the Aphasia Institute, one of the things that we were taught there is that silence is a beautiful thing. I think it's so important, especially when you're working with people who might have different communication methods and approaches to just sit there, listen and wait and give a person an opportunity to truly express what they want, what they need, how they feel. And if it takes 20s or 5 minutes or 10 minutes, wait and give them that opportunity, and perhaps they might there might be known strategies to help support them as a communication partner along the way. But I think just sitting in silence and waiting is so powerful, especially when we're working with people who communicate differently. Sometimes we do see people that are non-verbal and their families are so fixated on, oh my gosh, you're a speech pathologist. Make my son talk. And after three sessions you haven't succeeded because my son's not talking. And a lot of the work that we're doing is advocating for that alternative, more functional way of let's not focus on the impairment. Let's not focus on what someone's not doing or can't do, but let's focus on everything they can do, which is so much they've got so much in their brain. And let's figure out another way that's just as good as talking to expose what they're thinking. And let's help them write a book with technology and and with their eyes or, you know, with sign language is so many, so much more that we do other than help people talk.


Peta [00:13:59] What goals get you most excited? Like if a client comes to you and says, Gabby, I want to achieve X, what gets you most excited? What? What gets you the most fire in your belly?


Gabriella [00:14:13] Everyone that comes with the initiative to say, this is what I want to achieve in my life, and being able to have that opportunity, that honour, to be working with someone to achieve such meaningful goals. Number one, it's just it's always awesome. It's always such a privilege. I'll probably talk to, Lloyd who who's actually coming on your podcast. So Lloyd and I have been working together for about eight years now, and it's been fantastic to see the growth in Lloyd on so many levels, not just with regard to his communication, but just his confidence and the way that he's feeling that empowerment to to take that next step in his life. So I was saying, Lloyd, when he was still in high school, and now he's finished high school and he's actually a chef in a cafe. And so that was always his passion. He watched Master Chef and knew every single detail about every contestant, and would come to me so excited about who was on the last episode and who was going to win, and why they were going to win. And that was, you know, his dream would be to be on Master Chef one day and to be an amazing chef. And so a lot of our goals revolved around the communication that's required to present, to speak clearly, to give instructions and to be able to clearly articulate what his goal is. So we do and and Lloyd might speak to this, but we do every month we'll do a session on cooking. So he'll have we're online and he has to teach me how to cook something because I'm a terrible cook. And and he will give me the instructions in a really clear, articulate manner. And he's now able to really transfer those skills over to his workplace. And he's had some really incredible outcomes and really strong success from our sessions to be able to, number one, attain a job, advocate for himself within the workplace, but also create wonderful social relationships at work, outside of work, with complete strangers, and most importantly, with a full smile on his face. And he feels so satisfied and excited every day to do what he loves. So I feel like, yeah, when you ask me, you know, what are some of the the goals that get me most excited? It's whenever my clients are most excited because it means that I'm doing my job well. If they're feeling really empowered and confident and that they're living the life that they had envisioned for themselves.


Lloyd [00:16:28] Hi, my name is Lloyd. I also have my disability.


Peta [00:16:35] It's such a pleasure to have you here, Lloyd. How does speech pathology help you in your life?


Peta [00:17:33] What does a regular session look like for you when you work with Gabby?


Lloyd [00:17:38] First off, we can always feel each other in what we've both been up to in life. And when we talk about bigger events that are coming up or happened since we last talked. Gabby helps me prepare with some discussions. For example, when I met my favourite AFL player, Adam Treloar, Gabby helped me feel more confident by talking about and planning what I wanted to discuss with him and the best way of doing that. Afterwards, we reflected on what went well and what I learned from the conversation. Sometimes Gabby might help me with other things I might be facing by helping me find the best way to tackle a problem with a friend or someone at work. She helps me to find the right words or way to approach a problem by helping me to see how the other person might be feeling. I feel like have learnt so much about perspective by putting myself in the other person's shoes as well as how  to sit with my thoughts, with better structure and words to most confidently express myself.


Peta [00:19:20] That's so great to hear. Clearly, Gabby has helped you so much, and it's clear that you've grown so much as a person through speech pathology. Lloyd, what's your favourite thing to work on with Gabby?


Lloyd [00:19:37] I really love it when Gaby turns our session into online cooking classes. I am the chef and need to teach Gabby how to cook a dish. It helps me become more confident and improves  my skills on giving clear instructions when I speak. We follow the recipe. So the finished product turns out how it's meant to be. Absolutely delicious. Some of the things we have made together are  scones. One pot Greek chicken lemon rice  Christmas cookies. Zucchini fritters and red velvet cupcakes. The skills I learnt in speech pathology helped me get my job in a cafe. And the cafe is in balaclava and the name of the cafe is all things equal. The purpose is for people with disabilities to work there, either in the front or the back of house. Last Sunday when I went to work, I didn't have my usual hospitality trainer Helen with me. So I had to practice the skills. Gabby taught me to be flexible and work with someone else who helped me for the day instead. I wasn't nervous and I felt calm and excited to work with someone new. This is a big adjustment that I have since I started  speech pathology sessions. I am so much looking forward to achieving more and more my goals with Gabby in our speech pathology sessions to come.


Peta [00:21:48] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. And thank you, Gabby and Lloyd for your time. If you did enjoy this episode, please share it with a friend or someone you think might find it interesting. You can always get in contact with me through my email, which is I can't stand. Podcast You can always follow me over on Instagram. My handle is at Peter Hook spelt PTA h o. Okay, thanks again for listening and until next week, have a good one guys. Bye. I would like to respectfully acknowledge the Wurundjeri people and Bunurong people of the Kulin Nation, of which I record the podcast today. And I pay my respects to both elders, past and present, along with and especially to those in the First Nations communities who are disabled themselves.




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