Written by Amy Drew

28th May 2020


What do I mean by that? I woke up with this inspirational thought in my head this morning and had to grab a pot of tea and try to put it in to words…


Parents and others whom have had no previous experience of Speech and Language Therapy, but find themselves in the presence of one who would be tasked with helping their child or loved one to overcome these barriers to learning and communication will often remark “so you’re just playing with toys then?”

Their brains are trying to figure out, what is Speech and Language Therapy with a child? How should it look? How can I tell if it’s good? What is he or she doing to help? It just looks and feels like play! That is the art of illusion that is our job.

“Hot Thinking” is a concept I remember from my readings as a post graduate SLT in training… what is a Speech Therapist actually doing (apart from playing games with the child)? But even that doesn’t truly capture it. I guess being in the middle of a pandemic, where I can’t be face to face with my clients gives me the opportunity to fully and deeply reflect on what I often muse about in #MySLTDay… what analogy truly captures what I am actually doing as a therapist?

The answer is, we are many things, all at once. We are illusionists.

When it looks like we are doing one thing, we are in fact doing many, many more. As with any illusionist, they key to a great performance is in huge amounts of preparation and practice, so that when it comes to the moment the magic happens, it looks effortless to the viewer and it feels wonderful to the volunteer taking part.

I often speak to parents about children viewing me as a travelling magician, with my magical bag of fun tricks… but it’s just a bag of toys, where’s the magic in that? It’s in your therapist.

Your therapist will take a piece of paper, some musical notes, an idea, some energy and some light and give it to the willing volunteer. The volunteer will bravely take a chance of being in the spotlight, delighting in the anticipation of the magic… but they have no idea that the part they are playing was in the design weeks ago, just like all the best illusions we witness.

During the performance, your therapist’s mind is on how the trick went last time, how it is going in each moment and how it will be adapted the next time. Things don’t always go to plan, so illusions are often made up in real time, to keep the magic alive.

The volunteer has played their part and if the tricks are played well each time, they will leave feeling they have been part of something fun and magical and the improvement in their speech, language and communication is an illusionist’s bi-product.

I’ve often joked with parents and other professionals that it seems as if I have a magic wand. In fact, myself and my team have recently been described as ‘magical’. That’s just it though, it’s not magical and yet, it is. The important thing is that it ‘feels’ magical and if by using my knowledge, skills and experience to remove barriers to communication, individual by individual is seen as something of an illusion, I’m happy with that. We’ll do the ‘hot thinking’ while you relax and enjoy the performance, but remember that no illusion is as good without the important part played by the willing volunteer. Crucially, what does a volunteer have to do? They have to place their trust in the illusionist, go with their game. Without their participation, the magic can’t take place. Involvement is key and when it works, the magic can be enjoyed and admired by all.

The commonest of stories from adults about having speech therapy as a child is ‘I saw a speech therapist as a child.  I went to play some games. I don’t remember what happened but I had lots of fun and got better’. They were part of an enjoyable illusion where the therapist ‘waved her magic wand’ and removed the barriers to communication and learning.

So there you have it, I will henceforth sign my reports…

Amy Drew

SLT, a.k.a. Illusionist.