In the nearly two years since the Barkley Speech Language and Hearing Clinic at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln received its first referral for gender affirming communication services, the number of clients receiving the services has steadily increased. Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the clinic continues to successfully offer the services through telepractice.
Candidates for the services include individuals who identify as transgender, gender fluid, gender diverse, gender nonbinary or other gender identities. Clients meet with a speech-language pathologist about once per week to work on adapting or modifying aspects of their communication, including pitch, resonance, articulation, inflection and intonation, vocabulary, and body language so their self-expression more fully aligns with their gender identity.
The first step is for the individual to schedule an initial evaluation, which includes meeting with a certified speech-language pathologist, alongside two graduate clinicians. During this appointment, clients and clinicians collaborate to determine the goals for the process and how best to help accomplish them.
“During the evaluation, we complete a thorough interview about goals and lifestyle so we can ensure that communication changes are safe and healthy throughout this process, as well as meet the communication needs for the client,” said Abby Pelster, lecturer and clinical supervisor in the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders. “The entire process is very client-driven. It’s a real partnership between client and clinicians.”
On top of their weekly meetings with the speech-language pathologist, clients are also given activities to work on at home on their own. These home assignments range from finding voices to emulate to practicing phrases they use frequently in their daily lives.
“We’re looking to develop a new communication style, so the home programming component is really important,” Pelster said.
In addition to helping the clients reach their own goals, Pelster also appreciates the positive impacts providing these services has made on her as a clinician, as well as the graduate student clinicians at the Barkley Clinic.
“We’re pleased to provide this service to the community, and train future clinicians to take these skills into the field,” Pelster said. “We have wanted to get our students more voice experience in the clinic, but voice services in general are a lower incidence population. This has been a really great source of teaching and training, and we hope the clients have found it beneficial as well.”
The gender diverse communication services at the Barkley Clinic are available to individuals of all ages. Learn more at go.unl.edu/gender-diverse-comm. To schedule an appointment, call the clinic at 402-472-2071.