As home health therapists, sometimes we find ourselves on the isolated Therapy Island, population of one… Traveling from patient to patient, we live in our cars and don’t interact much with other therapists throughout the day. To overcome this isolation and challenge myself to keep learning, I listen to SLP podcasts during my commutes. One of my favorites is First Bite by Michelle Dawson (check out her interview here), which shares inspiring conversations with leaders in the field, like Diane Bahr! It was there, stuck in DC traffic, one hand on the wheel and one hand shoveling my salad into my mouth (these are the realities of home health therapists), that I first discovered Diane’s work. As Diane discussed the importance of understanding typical mouth development and differences between breast and bottle feeding, I found myself jotting notes in my phone and ended up purchasing her book, Nobody Ever Told Me (or My Mother) That! Everything from Bottles and Breathing to Healthy Speech Development. This book is AMAZING and provides step-by-step instructions and checklists to guide parents and therapists in tracking oral, feeding, and speech development. My copy is covered with highlights and post-its, and I utilize Diane’s information daily while educating families and guiding my own professional practice!
I am incredibly inspired by Diane. With over forty years of experience as a speech-language pathologist, she is dedicated to sharing her knowledge, insights, and research with the broader community of SLPs, health professionals, and parents!
On the home page of her website, a yellow post-it note is tacked to the screen, reading, “I spent the first half of my career fixing speech and feeding problems. I plan to spend the second half preventing them.” Thank you, Diane, for going above and beyond to learn, teach, advocate, and push our profession forward.
Thank you for taking the (speech) path less traveled!
Her (Speech) Path: Diane Bahr, a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and Infant Massage Instructor, is a visionary with a mission. For almost 40 years she has treated children and adults with feeding, motor speech, and mouth function problems. While she is a Speech-Language Pathologist by training, she has also honed her skills as a feeding therapist, published author, international speaker, university instructor, and business owner. She maintains a private practice, writes articles appearing in a variety of publications, and is interviewed frequently on podcasts and for other media. Diane is the author of the textbook Oral Motor Assessment and Treatment: Ages and Stages and two parent-professional books Feed Your Baby and Toddler Right: Early Eating and Drinking Skills Encourage the Best Development and Nobody Ever Told Me (or My Mother) That! Everything from Bottles and Breathing to Healthy Speech Development.
“Our speech, language, feeding, swallowing, and oral function assessment and treatment is our ART. Therefore, therapists may work a little differently from one another but attain similar results.”Diane Bahr, M.S., CCC-SLP, CIMI
What advice would you give to a new graduate who is about to start their clinical fellowship (CF)?
I taught for many years in graduate speech-language pathology and reading programs. I advised my students to seek employment in areas of interest they found in school when possible. I would also advise a CF to be open to learning and learn by doing. My CFY was in a small school system where the 12 SLPs in the system got together every month. This gave me a chance to learn, ask questions, and present ideas. CFs are an asset to programs because they often see things from a fresh perspective and may bring updated information to the table.
What is one belief, habit, or routine that has significantly impacted your life?
My husband hates this saying, “If you always do what you have done, you will always get what you have got.” However, I live and work by this idea. So, I am open to learning and trying new things. Our speech, language, feeding, swallowing, and oral function assessment and treatment is our ART. Therefore, therapists may work a little differently from one another but attain similar results. I also believe, “We are all teachers and learners, and we teach what we most need to learn/know.” I learned this in a group I attended on the Course in Miracles many years ago. I learn as much from my colleagues, clients, and families as they learn from me. I also discover many thoughts and ideas as I teach.
Where did you complete your CF? How does the career path you’ve traveled differ from the path you imagined as a new grad?
As I mentioned earlier, I began working in a small school system. I had 5 schools, and I was the first SLP at the middle-senior high school in that part of the county. I split my days between schools by carrying my box of materials from school to school. I ate my lunch in the car, and I worked in chair closets and bookrooms. However, I loved it. When I moved back to Baltimore, I wanted a different experience and accepted a position at the Maryland School for the Blind (MSB) where I was employed for about 10 years. I received amazing training at MSB in feeding, motor speech, and mouth function with children ages birth to 21 years who had significant disabilities. I then sought another type of experience and worked for the Maryland General Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Center (MGBMRC) where I assessed and treated people ages 16 to 99 years with traumatic brain injury, stroke, etc. Both MSB and MGBMRC had wonderful teams of therapists and medical professionals from whom I learned extensive skills. After that, I taught in two graduate programs at Loyola University in Maryland and worked with students and clients in the speech-language pathology clinical program. Since 2001, I have been in private practice which continues to evolve. I have treated clients from infancy to adults with a variety of disorders including babies who were having difficulty breastfeeding. Now, I mostly work with others who want to learn the type of work I do via continuing education, parent education, mentoring, and transdisciplinary teaming.
What book do you most frequently recommend? Is there a book that has greatly impacted how you think?
Pre-Feeding Skills by Dr. Suzanne Evans Morris and Marsha Dunn Klein guided and continues to shape my feeding and pre-speech work. Dr. Raymond D. Kent’s body of work also continues to guide me in the areas of mouth function and motor speech. And, the body of work by Dr. Christian Guilleminault greatly influences my work in mouth and airway development and function. Suzanne, Ray, and Christian have all mentored and continue to mentor me in some way. Additionally, writing my own books (listed in the bio) and teaching many courses greatly assisted my learning process. My books are as criterion-referenced and literature-based as possible. They took many years to write. And, my goal was and still is to compile information from many areas of study to present a thorough and understandable picture of feeding, motor speech, and mouth function for families and professionals.
What is your favorite failure?
My favorite failure was when I briefly worked in a large school system while awaiting my full time employment at Loyola University. I was not prepared for what I needed to do in the large public school setting. I had previously worked in environments where we saw our clients several times per week or per day (even in the small school system where I began). This helped me understand the challenges therapists in the public schools often face and handle.
What areas in the field of speech-language pathology do you see the most opportunity for growth?
I love working in the areas of feeding, swallowing, motor speech, and mouth development/function which I see constantly growing. We have articles from many disciplines and from around the world constantly adding to our knowledge. In 2017, Kristie Gatto and I presented Mouth and Airway Development, Disorders, Assessment, and Treatment: Birth to Age 7 at the ASHA Convention in Los Angeles, CA, USA. It was a wonderful opportunity.
What are bad recommendations you hear in the field or in your area of expertise?
I am an optimist and have great hope for the work we do and continue to do. I can’t think of what may be called “bad recommendations.” I do see recommendations demonstrating incomplete understanding of the literature or certain processes. This was exemplified in the oral sensory-motor controversy (click to read more).
What was a notable turning point or shift in your career? How did this impact your professional journey?
I would say my work at the Maryland School for the Blind (MSB) was a major turning point in my career. I was mentored by my supervising SLP Suzanne Wayson, our director of therapy and health services Sandra Lohmeyer, and many others. As a young therapist, I specifically remember OTs, PTs, and others guiding me until I became proficient in feeding assessment and treatment. It was fulfilling and wonderful to be surrounded by so many experienced therapists and professionals. At MSB, I attained the basis for the work I continue to do in feeding, swallowing, motor speech, and mouth development/function.