Reasons for the Shortage

Thanks to more children in need of services, there is an increasing shortage of speech, occupational, and physical therapists throughout the United States. This is especially true when seeking qualified candidates who are able to work with younger kids. The reality is that there are more openings than people to fill jobs which are available. Since advanced degrees cost a lot of money and put most students in debt, they are able to be more selective when accepting a position.

Why are we on the verge of a critical shortage in these therapy areas? A lot of of it may have to do with the amount of schooling, cost of the process, and how difficult the work is to complete. In addition to this, there is a shortage of professors to teach the courses at the college level. Schools that have these therapy programs for college students also have a difficult time keeping full-time faculty. This has meant that there are often a lot more applicants for a small select group of students into the programs.

When graduates are done with their speech, physical, and occupational therapy degrees they have a lot of options. Most are offered multiple jobs because the demand is so great in a lot of states. This also means that many schools rely on hiring therapists who are per diem from agencies. The pay is often greater, and they have more flexibility.

How the Shortage Hurts Students

When there are not enough therapists to work with kids, something has to give. In many states, students are not receiving all of the sessions which they are supposed to have. Reports in Paterson, New Jersey show that nearly 2,000 students are owed speech therapy services alone. A school district in that area notes that due to shortages of speech language pathologists, they owe nearly 19,000 hours of therapy. This is beyond alarming and likely an issue in many other districts around the country.

As kids miss sessions with therapists, they regress. Possible outcomes might cause them to stutter more, not be able to climb stairs safely, and have growing classroom sensory concerns. All of these would be helped with sessions and consults done by a licensed therapist. The longer between sessions and time away from it, the more there will be negative consequences.

States also have had to be creative with waivers to help with services being provided to students.  Indiana enacted a law in 2007 which allows communication disorders emergency permits. Due to a large deficit in speech language pathologists, they needed people to work with their students. Approximately one fifth of their special education population received speech and language services. The permits allow schools to hire students with four-year degrees who are enrolled in master’s programs. Typically, a master’s degree is required.

How has your school had to deal with therapist shortages? Please share in the comments below how you are dealing with this ever-growing problem and what has worked given the laws in your state.