Return to Headlines

Speech Language Pathologists making a difference!

Debbie Guajardo, Judson ISD Speech Language Pathologist (SLP), knows what it’s like not to have a voice. After beginning her career helping people find their voices, she found herself hospitalized, paralyzed from her nose down, and unable to speak.

She was on a ventilator, about to receive a tracheostomy, with all the words in her head but no way to get them out. She signed letters into her mother’s hand expressing her desire to wait on the procedure that could make her career infinitely more difficult. 

After a year and a half of recovery and relearning to speak, Guajardo’s calling to Speech Language Pathology had an even deeper meaning.

“I made it my mission to help those that don’t have a voice,” Guajardo said tearfully.

That’s how she has approached her job ever since. This is Guajardo’s fourth year at Judson ISD but her twentieth year as an SLP. 

SLPs have a wide range of responsibilities. They prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and even swallowing disorders. Guajardo is also the Assistive Technology Specialist for the Veterans Memorial feeder pattern, providing instruction and support to students who need devices or other tools to help them communicate.

“There are a lot of hats to wear in our scope of practice, being the expert in stuttering one day, being the expert in articulation the next, and being the expert in an AAC (augmentative and alternative communications).  I never claim to know it all, but I am that clinician that if I don't know the answer, I'll find it,” Guajardo said.

But beyond the clinical aspects of an SLP’s job, lies some of the most important work - the work of making connections with students so that they are in the right space, both physically and mentally, to learn and improve. 

“You are a friend because sometimes you are their only one. You are an advocate. That's probably the biggest thing we are. Making sure that a child's circle understands what they CAN do instead of focusing on what they cannot do,” Guajardo said.

Guajardo says that Judson ISD is a great place for both SLPs and students and families who need services to help their children communicate.

“It’s the culture. Sometimes, it’s [speech] a lost department, but not here. The district supports training, which is important because things are always changing, especially in assistive technology. Everyone is receptive to ideas and collaboration that ultimately make a difference for students,” Guajardo explained.

The work is challenging and is different for every single child. Still, the goals are the same whether the student uses a device to speak or struggles with stuttering or other impairments, give students ways to effectively communicate, not just at school but in the world.

When asked about the best part of her job, it was clear that what she and all SLPs do is not just about helping students succeed in the classroom. 

“When families tell me, ‘My son made a joke,’ or ‘My daughter told me she loves me.’ Whether it's because they said it clearly or they used a device, or they finally cooked up the words that have been in there for so long. I love it when teachers tell me about successes, too. But seeing those human connections, whether they’re with family or friends or seeing them on the playground interacting when those things didn't happen before; that's just gold,” Guajardo said,

Guajardo and Speech Language Pathologists like her change lives. They give the voiceless a voice, they make connections and they believe that every student has something to say and the right to say it.