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Logopedics study programme celebrates anniversary

Photo of Kristina Hansson and Birgitta Sahlen. Photo: Tove Smeds.
Kristina Hansson and Birgitta Sahlen. Photo: Tove Smeds.

The logopedics study programme at the Faculty of Medicine celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Professor Birgitta Sahlén and Programme Director and Associate Professor Kristina Hansson look back to when it all began, talk about the current study programme – and look to the future.

The logopedics study programme in Lund was the second one to begin in Sweden, and it is estimated that around 800 students have been educated down the years. Birgitta Sahlén was a logopedics student during the initial years, and was also the first to write a thesis on the subject at Lund University. She is still active in both the study programme and research.

– I was interested in children with language disorders, and how they process and understand language. My thesis was about the first cohort of language preschool children. At that time, the focus was on children’s speech, how they pronounced different language sounds, not on their understanding of language. We now know that an early understanding of language and an interest in communicating with others are more important than when they actually start talking, says Birgitta Sahlén.

Logopedics is a broad, interdisciplinary subject that also encompasses medicine, psychology, linguistics and phonetics. One important milestone was when the profession was officially recognised in 1984. But how has the study programme changed since the beginning?

– In the beginning, the study programme was fully integrated with the clinic, and we shared both premises and staff. All teachers were employed as speech therapists in the region and were paid on an hourly basis for their teaching. Now, virtually all teachers are post-doctoral and conducting research. Of course, we have a greater diversity of students, greater demands on higher education development, internationalisation, digitalisation and not least the formalisation – of everything! A lot is good, but it also means so much more administration for the teachers, explains Kristina Hansson.

It’s common for those who qualify to go on to work in speech therapist clinics or schools, but many have also gone on to academia and are conducting research. We see communication and leadership as core competences, and hope that more speech therapists will take on leading roles in both public and private organisations in the future,says Birgitta Sahlén.

The study programme has been enriched by research at the department, and the enthusiasm of working speech therapists who want answers to questions has in turn driven research issues.

– The subject is more integrated nowadays. From the very first semester, students now receive practical experiences relating to logopedics. One important milestone was when we became the Department of Logopedics, Phoniatrics and Audiology. There are actually no clear dividing walls between these subjects in everyday life. Just think how a poor sound environment, hoarse teachers and children’s listening and motivation are interconnected, says Birgitta Sahlén.

The function of speech therapists in schools has been expanded and changed over the 50 years that the study programme has been run. Today’s students are given concrete examples of what they will encounter, how they can support teachers in leadership, about interactions to support language and communication, about taking turns and how vocabulary can be enhanced among children in the classroom. This is particularly important when it comes to multilingual children who do not have Swedish as their first language. It is about the pursuit of schooling that offers equal opportunities, and it is here that the expertise of speech therapists can contribute.

– We look forward to a structure for the study programme in which we integrate to an even greater extent the basic subjects of psychology, phonetics, linguistics and medical subjects into logopedics, giving students experiences right from the outset of what speech therapists work with and how, and making them better prepared when they go out on placements. When it comes to the practice of logopedics, we look forward to more evidence-based assessment and intervention instruments through research, and increased opportunities to implement interventions digitally and remotely, i.e. eHealth in the field of logopedics. It’s also important to focus more on the environment around people with communication difficulties, and to take more serious account of society’s sustainability goals, says Kristina Hansson.