Introducing Sharon Baum, a speech and language pathologist specialising in working with adolescents struggling with language and pragmatic language disorders. Baum's focus is specifically correlated with ASD. Read more about her journey as a speech and language pathologist, including her road to speech therapy and advice to future SLPs.
Sharon Baum's road to speech therapy
The road to becoming a speech pathologist was far from typical for me. I was an aspiring journalist in college and interned at a local newspaper. I steered away from related service therapy positions because as an Orthodox Jewish girl in Brooklyn, New York it was a stereotypical trajectory for many. I was anything but that. I was passionate about politics and psychology. I wanted to help people deal with a variety of psychological challenges because my adolescent and adult years were heavily tainted by my secret battle with a version of OCD that isn't well researched. I also found my opinions about world affairs and my eagerness to engage in any debate playing devil's advocate sending me to law school.
I sit at my desk 11 years later writing as a speech pathologist who currently oversees a speech and language evaluation team. What started off as a leap of faith into a career by taking a class my last semester in college and an observation of speech pathology at a world renowned hospital in NYC - which made me understand that speech and language had so many diverse components beyond articulation - led me down a path that I never envisioned. After receiving my master's degree in speech and language pathology, I entered the school system in NYC and started working at a middle school. I was instantly connected to adolescents. Perhaps it was the loss of adolescence that I experienced to a disorder that tried to rob me of it, that instantly wanted me to help these students at every level. I not only felt like an SLP but someone who was helping them with their anxiety, family difficulties and mental health challenges. They felt my empathy and I felt their gratitude.
I always believed that life has a way of putting you in a place where you are needed. Two years into my career a specialised program in NYC focused on helping individuals with ASD was brought into my school. I was granted the task of helping spearhead it. It changed the way I viewed social thinking and how children and adolescents interpret the world around them. It gave me so many opportunities to lead, and gave me the motivation to mentor future speech pathologists. I fell in love with mentoring others, whether it was interns from universities in New York City or being a clinical supervisor at a graduate school for aspiring speech pathologists. I was always curious to learn about their own processes and journey and still enjoy brainstorming all the different ways that they can navigate such a broad field with so many areas to specialise in.
Advise and mentorship
My speciality with adolescents with language based learning disorders, executive functioning delays, and social pragmatic language challenges fell into my lap, but it was a lesson to my younger self and future SLP's to be patient and see how things can evolve in this broad profession. When I started I was worried that I was leaving some of my passions behind. I was worried I would never write again. I feared that the public speaking engagements that gave me life would be tossed to the side. Instead, I chose to start writing for the ASHA Leader, going on podcasts, delivering webinars on speechpathology.com, and collaborating with many other professions to help all students reach their potential. I wish I could have told my younger self that you can take your areas of interest into any career, especially as an SLP. More importantly, you can always seek out those mentors who are willing to advise you on profiles of cases that are new to you. You are never alone in this big field.
For those starting out now, take advantage of social media for questions and you will find some great SLP and related guides that will help you!
To leave off on a funny note, and I assure many future speech and language pathologists that you'll have many of them: I remember when I was in the middle of a session/social group and we were talking about political science. One of my students stated "America has a problem. If you don't have democracy in your country, they make sure it comes to you." The aftermath was a lot of heated opinions displayed in the group, which was definitely a targeted goal: sharing and acknowledging opinions!
But please never forget that your own mental health is most important, and always advocate for yourself. You are the most important.