We recently sat down with Rachel Mashtare, M.S., CCC-SLP, to dive into her background and experience, clinical approach, inspiration for becoming a speech therapist, and more. You can read more about Rachel here.
Can you spend a few minutes talking about your experience and background as a speech therapist?
I earned both of my undergraduate degrees from Plattsburgh State University of New York in 2004 and 2006, respectively. I’ve been working as a speech-language pathologist for the past 14 years.
I started my career in Early Intervention and Preschool Services and then spent a few years providing services for school-aged children. I had the opportunity to work with so many different children and families, at all levels and with a variety of needs including: autism, childhood apraxia of speech, language disorders, language delay, articulation and phonological disorders, fluency (stuttering), cluttering, and auditory processing.
I transitioned from schools to providing services for adults and geriatrics in a skilled nursing setting with disorders such as stroke recovery, aphasia, traumatic brain injury, dysphagia, and dementia. It was an interesting transition from children to adults/geriatrics, but I connected with my patients and felt honored to work with them. I feel truly fortunate for the depth and breadth of these experiences.
Why did you decide to become a speech therapist?
When I started out as a physics major at Georgia Tech, I had no idea I would end up as a speech therapist. In my sophomore year, I decided to take a “dandelion year” to explore life a little and ended up starting a family shortly after I returned to school. When my daughter was two years old, she needed speech therapy. After attending a few sessions with her, I decided to switch my major. I loved being able to research and understand the science behind communication disorders and put them into meaningful practice to improve the quality of life and development of life skills.
What areas of speech-language pathology interest you most?
I really like all aspects of my career, from accent reduction and fluency to language acquisition and aphasia. I think that’s one of the reasons this field drew my interest -there are so many interesting aspects!
What part of your job do you find most enjoyable?
Definitely seeing the progress my clients and families make together and the ability to be creative in my lesson plans and materials.
Among all the clients you’ve taught throughout your career, is there a particular success story that stands out in your mind?
As speech-language pathologist for 14 years, there are so many to choose - so forgive me if I pick two.
The first is a little guy who I started seeing when he was almost four years old. He had a three-word vocabulary. I recommended to his parents that he start using a picture-based communication system. At the time, they thought I was a little out of my mind, but ultimately decided to pursue it. Fast forward three or four months to Christmastime. The kiddo brings his dad a sentence strip that reads, “I want train,” and they were subsequently able to play with the Christmas train set for hours. His dad called me the next day to tell me how meaningful the experience was for their family. When the child started using verbal communication a couple months later, I felt like we had climbed Mount Everest.
The second client that will live in my heart forever is a gentleman who had a severe stroke several years before I met him. He had no functional communication and was often depressed and frustrated. We worked together to make a visual communication system that was helpful for him. One day, we decided to take a break from traditional therapy and play a game of cards. Little did I know how much this would change his world. I set up a simple visual system for Go Fish and played a couple hands with him. A few weeks later, I found out his granddaughter went to the elementary school down the road and she was stopping by every day after school to play Go Fish. Not only did he eventually teach me how to play poker, but he organized and ran a card club in his long-term living facility. His smile spoke more than words ever could.
How do you assess and monitor your clients’ progress?
Assessing and monitoring comes down to data. However, data comes in more forms than putting a "+ or -" in a box (although I do that too)! I often ask my clients for feedback and to reflect on how they are feeling about a technique or skill progress. I discuss cognitive load and readiness to move onto more difficult areas with adult clients for a more dynamic assessment of skills.
What attracted you to online speech therapy?
I like the idea of being able to work with a greater variety of people during the day, but could never find an agency/opportunity that allowed such flexibility. When my children started to attend remote schooling, I felt I needed to be home with them, so I started looking for an opportunity to work remotely and was blessed to find Expressable!
What are your hobbies or passions outside of speech therapy?
I am an avid distance runner (I’ve run 3 marathons and 2 ultras!) and I love backpacking. I’m currently working on section hiking the Appalachian Trail. When the weather is bad, I enjoy crocheting, knitting, and painting. I’m also learning to play the ukulele.