Q&A with Clarion Mendes, speech-language pathologist


The Department of Speech and Hearing Science at 901 S. Sixth St., Champaign, Illinois. Clarion Mendes and the department help patients of all ages within the community with audio and speech disorders via assessments, tests and therapy.

By Emma Palatnik, Staff Writer

Clarion Mendes is the director of clinical education for the Department of Speech and Hearing Science and a clinical assistant professor. The Department of Speech and Hearing Science has two clinics, an audiology clinic and a speech-language pathology clinic. The clinics provide a variety of services to patients in the community and at the University.

The Daily Illini sat down with Mendes to discuss the work done in the department’s audiology and speech-language pathology clinics.  

The Daily Illini: What do you do in the clinic?

Clarion Mendes: I am the director of clinical education, so I am a speech-language pathologist by training. My background has primarily been with the geriatric population — that’s my favorite population of folks to work with.

Most of my career was in nursing homes primarily, and then about three years (later), I started working here full-time. The opportunity arose and I couldn’t pass it up, and (I) started as a full-time clinical instructor.

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Then, in August of this year, I took on the role of director of clinical education for audiology and speech-language pathology. I didn’t inherit the role from anybody, so (I’m) learning a lot.

This means that I am responsible for overseeing the clinical experience that audiology students and speech-language pathology students — primarily at the graduate level — are receiving.

For speech-language pathology, that means that students have to get a minimum number of 400 hours of service that they provide to members of the community, to clients, to patients across lifespans (from) itty bitty babies to the oldest of our population and a diverse number of disorders. And that’s done in our inpatient clinic.

The audiology program is a four-year program where they have to get (a minimum of 30) hours of direct client contact and, in their case, their roles can be doing audiological assessments. That includes things like detecting pure-tone audiometry as well as looking at the health and integrity of the inner ear (or) outer ear; it can be assisting with cochlear implants; it can be assisting with the choice of hearing aids as well as repairing hearing aids, because things can go wrong.

A really fascinating thing that they do that a lot of folks don’t think about is, actually, hearing conservation and preservation. Understandably, hearing loss can be very isolating and very upsetting for a lot of patients.

As far as what the students and the clinical faculty do, including myself, for the speech-language pathology side, is we evaluate and treat patients across their lifespan.

Those can be a variety of disorders including your standard articulation disorders where a child might not be developing their speech sounds as quickly as expected, expressive and receptive language disorders; I personally do a lot with voice disorders…

I also work with the transgender community for folks that want to either create a more feminine-sounding style of communication or a more masculine style of communication.

We also do augmentative and alternative communication, so for individuals for whom their method of communication is not just speech, maybe they’re using some sort of computer to assist them with talking.

We have one individual that does early intervention, so working with small children with language delays, birth to three. And our clinical faculty also supervises students at local sites including headstart and a local elementary school.

For the audiology side, they are doing some of the things I mentioned previously. They are doing a lot of audiological assessment… Something called ABRs; they do fitting and assessment of hearing aids and help with the selection of hearing aids and do a lot with hearing conservation.

DI: What kinds of services and tests?

CM: Speech in particular, for anybody that we see for the first time, we need to do some sort of behavioral assessment. And that can include both standardized as well as not standardized measures.

A standardized measure will include some sort of diagnostic test that has been developed that usually includes paper, pencil, probes, questions, things like that. With younger kids it might be a very play-based assessment; you might be looking at some checklist-type things to see what milestones a child has met. Parent interviews can be very, very critical.

Also looking tremendously at what the patient or the client is wanting. So quality of life measures, I try to personally include a lot of those in my individual assessment.

We also do a couple of groups; for example, we do an adult fluency group to help individuals become more confident with their speech despite a developmental stuttering disorder, and use strategies and education to help empower them. I also do a group related to Parkinson’s disease for cognitive stimulation, which is evidence-based protocol that is focused on dementia and has helped individuals to improve cognitive function … because you consider dementia is a progressive disease that gets (worse) over time.

As far as individual therapy, we really like to tailor it to what the client needs, what the client wants and realistically, what is good for the client’s lifestyle. Sometimes we might start with a pretty heavy therapy load, and then decrease it over time as a patient makes their gains.

The way care works for audiology is a little bit different. It’s still big on relationship-building, which is really crucial for our clients. But the interaction can be a little more sporadic.

For example, you go for an audiological assessment and perhaps after that you decide ‘maybe a hearing aid is right for me, or maybe I need some adaptive equipment to help me around the house’… some sort of modification to the house because you can’t hear certain alarms and so on and so forth. You would meet with the audiologist to help select the right equipment for you.

And then as far as the hearing conservation, the students and the audiologists here work with a lot of individuals on campus who experience a lot of noise exposure as part of their profession. So for those individuals, they assess them on an annual basis to make sure they are not experiencing any hearing loss.

DI: What kinds of people are clients?

CM: It’s kind of a range. Most of our clients come from word of mouth, which I think is really a testament to the great work that the students do and dedicate to their patients. But we get referrals sometimes from physicians in the community, pediatricians in the community, support groups in the community. So, I personally have a lot of students who are my clients with connections through the music school, through connections with the LGBT Resource Center on campus. And for the pediatric population we have, that’s primarily word of mouth.

For audiology, they do a lot of outreach in the community, particularly with organizations such as ALI, which is an educational group for older adults.

DI: Do you do any kinds of research?

CM: That’s something that we are hoping to do more and more of.

There’s definitely this movement, which is a very positive thing, toward evidence-based practice as well as translational research, where you’re taking clinicians and research-based professionals. We’re making strides toward that.

But there also are some complications when you’re working with patients who can be considered a protected population.

DI: Is there anything else you think is important that we didn’t discuss about audiology?

CM: I think (the clinic is) an ideal situation because unlike a full-time (speech-language pathologist) or audiologist in the community who has huge demands on their time, the students in the audiology and speech-language pathology clinics have a small caseload that reflects their current level of experience and expertise.

However, all of the services are provided with the oversight and supervision and guidance of fully licensed and certified speech-language pathologists and audiologists. We are all licensed by the state of Illinois and we all have national certifications as well. You get these students who are excited and invested and really dedicate a lot of time to the plans of care of the patients and clients they work with.

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