All in the Family More and more, generations from the same family serve the professions. Here are the stories of four such CSD families. Features
Features  |   August 01, 2014
All in the Family
Author Notes
  • Gary Dunham, PhD, is ASHA publications director and editor-in-chief of The ASHA Leader.
    Gary Dunham, PhD, is ASHA publications director and editor-in-chief of The ASHA Leader.×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   August 01, 2014
All in the Family
The ASHA Leader, August 2014, Vol. 19, 60-67. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.19082014.60
The ASHA Leader, August 2014, Vol. 19, 60-67. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.19082014.60
As ASHA’s story enters its 10th decade, professional communication sciences and disorders families are becoming a growing part of its tale. A parent practices audiology or speech-language pathology, or is a speech, language or hearing scientist; a child, for whatever reason, decides to follow in that CSD wake. Although no statistics confirm the number of such CSD families, given the steady increase of professionals, continuingly healthy job market and sheer generational weight of the professions, it’s inevitable that more and more of these special CSD kinship groups will emerge.
I’ve spotlighted four such families, presenting them in the order of the professional education and experience of the child. We begin with an audiology graduate student daughter, followed by an SLP daughter who just finished her clinical fellowship, and conclude with SLP daughters who are accomplished clinicians, one in private practice and the other in schools. Watch for two questions in particular to surface in each of these tales:
  • Why does a new generation follow in the CSD footsteps of their parent?

  • How does the blending of personal and professional enrich—and perhaps complicate—the relationship between parent and child, especially as the child navigates through school and becomes a fellow professional?

Sit back and enjoy. The stories of these CSD families are fascinating, distinct and, let’s admit it, inspiring.
Same footsteps, different paths
Sometimes, it all just fits perfectly together. Encouraged by her SLP mother’s love of her job, Rachel Casey began taking undergraduate classes in speech and hearing at Purdue University. Her decision could not have resonated better with the cadences of the CSD universe—years before, while a graduate student in exactly the same university and department, Debbie Casey had given birth to her daughter. Rachel’s early days were spent in a carrier or stroller in just the Purdue classrooms and clinic that she now frequented. She and her mother even worked with some of the same people. That special connection made a difference. “It really gave me motivation,” Rachel recalls, “to know that I was almost literally following in my mother’s footsteps and it saw me through some tough times.”
But her steps soon took a different turn. “One day we were talking about a class in which Rachel observed speech therapy sessions with a young child,” Debbie remembers. “She asked, ‘Why on earth would anyone want to do that?’ After a pause, we both just laughed when she realized that that is exactly what I do and love!” Realizing that audiology appealed more to her personality and interests than speech-language pathology, Rachel chose to pursue an AuD. Today, she’s a graduate student at Northeastern University in Boston, where she recently received the First-Year Promise Award from the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology.
There’s a gratifying side effect of her graduate education—enriching the already strong bond between mother and daughter. Both Debbie and Rachel are learning to connect on another level as Rachel continues to work toward becoming a fellow CSD professional. The SLP and future audiologist are discovering that they have more and more in common. Mother shares audiology news articles with daughter, enjoys hearing about classes because it reminds her of what she learned in school years ago, and even has been inspired to take a few more graduate courses to expand her own professional options.
In turn, daughter now understands her mother’s string of specialized references and asides—IEPs and lateral lisps are mysteries no more—and really appreciates her perspective and advice on working with patients and their families. They’ve attended the ASHA convention together and explored their professional interests by going to talks that interested them both.
And let’s not forget those times at home in central Indiana, when Debbie and Rachel get so caught up speculating with each other about whether a personality on television or radio has a speech disorder that it, well, baffles the rest of the family.
Both take great delight in sharing their days with each other. Daughter having a rough or successful time at the clinic? Mom’s there to listen, and to share something funny or frustrating from her own work. “My mom and I really connect over the love we have for the people that we serve,” Rachel notes. “I love talking to her about these things because she can appreciate the unique struggles and meaningful victories that we experience while working as clinicians.”
Debbie and Rachel Casey may be following two separate CSD paths, but they’re always in sight of each other. “Our relationship is definitely enhanced by the shared professions,” Debbie acknowledges. Rachel agrees: “My mom and I are absolutely becoming closer in a different way.”
There and back again
And here’s the tale of a little girl who grew up in western Oregon surrounded by the speech-language field, left to find her own career, but ultimately, inspired by her SLP mother, made her way back. As the daughter of an energetic and passionate school-based SLP, Kelsey Fowler never knew of a life outside of CSD. And it all started from the get-go. Her mother, Kathy, admits that “My dad told me he had never heard anyone talk with a baby as much as I did!”
Growing up, Kelsey and her younger sister were inevitably swept up in the flurry of professional goings-on around them. Once, Kathy had an IEP meeting scheduled early in the day before Kelsey could be dropped off at daycare. Solution? Daughter sat and played quietly (“as much as a 2-year old can,” Kelsey acknowledges) under the table while the meeting took place above. Another time, when Kelsey was in kindergarten, she helped her mother make a Christmas bingo game, which Kathy has used many times since in treatment sessions. “My students love the pictures Kelsey drew—and they make me smile to this day!” she exclaims.
When Kelsey reached fourth grade, the CSD connection with her mother strengthened even more when Kathy became an SLP in their local district—and in Kelsey’s school. The daughter then had many opportunities to observe mother in practice. Kelsey remembers spending quite a bit of time at school volunteering and “helping my mom.” This help—which lasted for years—included providing correct models of speech sounds for her mother’s articulation groups. According to Kathy, “By high school she most likely could have done articulation therapy by herself!”
Then came college, choices and change. With a few introductory speech-language courses under her belt, Kelsey soon realized that her heart wasn’t in it. All those years observing and assisting her mother had, ironically, convinced the undergraduate that working with children, “deep down, it wasn’t for me.” And so the little girl raised in CSD wandered away, looking for career traction and passion elsewhere. A bachelor’s in political science led to work at an insurance company that she truly despised. Ugh. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she concedes. “I just knew I hated what I was doing at the time.”
What to do? Tough, tough times, toiling away at an empty, meaningless job—we’ve all been there. As Kelsey pondered options, her thoughts kept returning to her mother’s decades of rewarding work in the schools. “I decided if I could be half the caring, passionate clinician my mother was, I would be successful,” she recalls. Speech-language pathology, it seems, had never completely left her side. At last, one day, it suddenly all came together: Kelsey realized there were settings, clients and careers for SLPs other than working with schools and children.
That epiphany was seismic. Kelsey entered the graduate program in speech and hearing sciences at Portland State University and, in no time, found her particular CSD passion and career path—working with adults in an acute care hospital. “I feel at home in the atmosphere, love the fast-paced setting and how quick everything goes,” Kelsey says. “It always keeps me on my toes and I love the focus on assessment and diagnostic treatment. It just matches with my personality and interests very well.”
Perfect fit, indeed. Last year, the Speech and Hearing Sciences Faculty selected Kelsey as Student of the Year; she received her master’s, completed her clinical fellowship and is now working in acute care at Salem Hospital in Salem, Oregon.
Today, this SLP mother and SLP daughter, working with completely different populations and settings, have much to share and talk about, and it’s brought them closer together. “I have definitely developed a new level of respect for all the time and energy she always put into her job,” Kelsey says. “Growing up, I didn’t have a full understanding of what it truly entailed to be an SLP.”
That understanding and respect works both ways, Kathy agrees. “I have learned right along with her and am fascinated with issues dealing with the brain, such as concussions, TBI and strokes,” she says. Poignantly, Kelsey’s different career path as an SLP proved especially valuable for the family in recent years, as her grandfather (Kathy’s father) struggled with dementia. Kelsey educated her family about the loss of cognitive skills and strategies to communicate with him, and she also provided information on feeding and swallowing issues to the caregivers.
In the end, with hard work and a mother’s example, the CSD child found her own way back and then forward. Kelsey’s one complaint about her journey is that people often assume she’s much younger than she is. As a graduate student completing a clinical placement in a high school, staff would ask what she was doing in the hallways; students even thought she was a student. In the hospital, she’s often mistaken for a visitor, especially when working with younger patients.
Hmmm…I wonder if they’re catching a glimpse of the little girl that still shines bright within, the CSD child who helped her SLP mom years ago and, when it counts, still remains at her side.
Private practice partners
In Rye Brook, New York, there’s a lively private practice co-owned by SLPs who are mother and daughter—and exemplary business partners. For Barbara Laufer and Alexandra Laufer Lobo, it was always meant to be that way.
Their partnership began years ago at home, when Alex was in high school. Barbara ran a private practice out of their house, giving Alex the opportunity to witness her mother in action and develop a keen appreciation of how children build language skills. Alex helped her mother prepare materials and served as assistant during the pragmatic language groups.
That special time gave both mother and daughter insight into the other. “Early on,” Barbara remembers, “I saw that Alex had the creativity, keen clinical eye and passion for our field. I knew that she had the ‘bug’!” Alex saw the same in her mother—and learned much. “My mother’s passion for the field was always evident,” she said. “Work never seemed to be a burden to her but more of a creative, stimulating part of her life. There was not a doubt in my mind that I, too, would be an SLP one day. I was very lucky to receive almost an old-fashioned type of ‘mentorship’ from a young age.”
Alex’s unswerving determination to become an SLP led her to graduate studies at Boston University. After graduation, she became very busy working in Massachusetts in a school and in a private practice, wanting to establish herself independently and gain experience in the CSD world under other mentors in the field. Across the miles and years, mother and daughter stayed in close touch, affirming their mutual interests and—above all—dreaming of the day when they would open a private practice together.
For Barbara, it couldn’t happen soon enough. “I had to handle a large caseload while I was building my practice waiting for her to move back,” she says. “It was exhausting and I was chomping at the bit for her to get back to New York so that we could share our caseload and begin our professional dream.”
Seven years ago, it all came true. After Alex married and returned to New York, mother and daughter immediately went into practice together, along with an office manager. Today, the Dramatic Pragmatics Speech and Language Center in Rye Brook boasts a staff of seven full-time and three part-time SLPs.
What is it like to blend the personal and professional every day, all the time, at work and at home? Even their husbands have asked, “Don’t you ever get sick of each other?” Constantly multi-tasking, bantering with each other, and switching back and forth from shop talk to personal matters throughout the day, Barbara and Alex wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We always understand each other’s lives,” Barbara explains. “No one but my daughter knows the demands and responsibilities we have—all it takes is a look at each other at the end of a particularly crazy day to say, ‘Wow, what a day.’”
Alex agrees. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses very well so that we can divide up our responsibilities. We can exchange a glance and know what the other is thinking. It strengthens our family relationship as we get to see each other in all different roles.” And even after a long day, mother and daughter still call each other at night and in the morning to go over their day and plan for the next one.
Of course, it’s not at all surprising that this unique partnership blending spills over at home. Cooking for Thanksgiving while practicing a presentation; Alex editing one of Barbara’s reports while her mother entertains the kids; the tongue-in-cheek use of social-cognitive strategies on their husbands, who inevitably remind them that “We are not your students!” Mother and daughter sometimes give themselves “no-shop-talk” rules, such as on Mother’s Day, when they made a conscious effort to not talk about their upcoming office lease negotiations in front of the family.
Let’s not forget about the clients…this mother-daughter team has forged special therapeutic relationships with some that have lasted years. Students who were clients in Barabara’s private practice at home are now school-aged or teenagers who work with her daughter. “They come into our center and spot our puppets, now well worn,” Barbara notes, “and say to Alex, ‘Oh my god, I remember those puppets!’”
Alex is treating an 18-year-old man whom her mother began working with when he was 4; another of her clients is an 11-year-old girl who Barbara first saw when she was only 15 months old.
“There are so many clients like these whom we have had the privilege of sharing our lives with,” Alex says.
And it’s a privilege that neither mother nor daughter will soon forget. Their personal and business partnership remains strong, fueled by real feelings of gratitude, professional passion, and just plain family love and respect. As Barbara confides, “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think how fortunate we are to be doing what we love, to be doing it side by side, and to know we created this center from our years of excitement and collaboration.”
A First Family serving others
Sometimes it’s the encompassing, deep sentiments girding the professions that supply the glue for CSD families and inspire a new generation.
Case in point: The well-known Rao family of SLPs, consisting of Paul Rao, former president of ASHA and recently retired from Medstar National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C.; his wife, Martina Rao, now retired from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore; and their daughter, Angie McLean, who works for Howard County Schools and in private practice in Maryland.
Mother and daughter work with children; father’s clients are adults. Today, the daughter and parents live five miles from each other, with Angie’s two children cherished and constantly indulged by the grandparents. There’s no doubt that they’re a very close family who really dig each other.
It’s always been that way. Angie and her two brothers grew up in a home where service to others was the modus operandi. Her parents’ zillions of stories about their work and their unqualified commitment to clients, the many hours the children spent volunteering at the VA hospital— including accompanying patients from the stroke club to an Orioles game—the CSD service ethic sunk in deep with Angie. As she shares, “I’ve had a lifetime of lessons in terms of the expertise of working with those in need. My parents have served as the ideal role models of paying it forward in all realms of life.”
Coming of age, the daughter quietly and very naturally aligned herself with the professional interests of her parents. Without any real fanfare or formal announcement, she began taking courses in hearing and speech while attending the University of Maryland, College Park. Her parents were not surprised. As Paul remembers, “Angie bled compassion and empathy as a child and young adult, and so it was logical that she would opt for a caring profession whose vision is making human communication, a human right, accessible and achievable by all.”
Deciding to follow in the footsteps of her mother and focus on assessment and intervention for young children with significant communication needs, Angie entered the master’s program at Loyola College. Waiting there for her was … err, her father, who was teaching two required courses there at the time. Awkward moment for both? Of course not, in this family. Paul had a front-row seat to his daughter “nailing both courses and becoming clearly a gifted and creative clinician.”
Angie’s equally proud. “Having my dad as a professor was a beautiful experience, to be able to see him not only as a gentle giant but also as a brilliant clinician and master presenter. He really is the best teacher I have ever had.”
The years since have been a whirlwind for this CSD family, especially in 2011 when Paul served as ASHA president. Angie accompanied her parents to the ASHA convention and elsewhere, seeing for herself the national cohort of support and admiration or two people who taught and showed her so much about giving and serving. “My parents are truly adored all over the country—they’ve got SLP fan clubs in almost every state!” she proclaims.
Amid the press of national attention, there’s still been time for family gatherings replete with humor, Rao-style. Paul relates a story of riding to Sunday Mass with Martina, Angie and their son Jeff. As usual, the three SLPs were jabbering away about CSD topics.
“Jeff suddenly spoke up in the midst of our crossfire and asked, ‘Can I ask one favor?’ We stopped and listened for the next shoe to drop … and he plaintively asked, ‘Please, nobody talk!’
“My rejoinder was, ‘Right, Jeff! You have a better chance of seein’ God than three SLPs remaining mute.”
Today, inspired by her parents, the daughter of an ASHA president continues to be a strong advocate in the school system for young children and their families affected by communication disorders. Her father calls her a “force of nature,” a force who owes so much to Paul and Martina’s own abiding examples many years ago. Angie sums up simply the roots of her passion and dedication to helping others: “Having two parents as SLPs has provided me a window to see the importance of life … in that looking beyond yourself is truly living.”

Share Your Family Ties

Are you an SLP or audiologist who has a family member who is also an SLP or audiologist?

In keeping with the 2014 convention theme, “Science. Learning. Practice. Generations of Discovery,” ASHA is collecting stories about family members who are communication sciences and disorders professionals: cousins, parents and children, uncles and aunts, even grandparents. The stories will be featured on signs or session room screens at the 2014 ASHA Convention.

Share your story of how you and one or more family members have started a family tradition of careers in communication sciences and disorders.

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August 2014
Volume 19, Issue 8