Shyla Miller Makes Family Connections That Count
Growing up on the west side of Cincinnati with a large family that included 18 aunts and uncles and 80-some cousins, Shyla Miller, speech pathologist III, often babysat and played with her younger family members. So, when she found herself in college unmotivated by her choice of study (biology), she knew she had to seek out a new major and get back to her roots.
Though interested in science, Miller also knew she wanted to teach. She was determined to find a career path that encompassed everything she was looking for. After doing some research, she learned that speech-language pathology is fueled by science and that it would support her passion for kids and families and allow her to be in a field where teaching is everything. At last, she had found her calling.
Miller's passion led her to Cincinnati Children's where she's been part of the Speech-Language Pathology team for 12 years. She works in outpatient areas providing in-person and telehealth therapy sessions and evaluations to kids with speech sound disorders, language disorders, autism, and velopharyngeal insufficiency—a disorder that results in improper closing of the soft palate. Since her college practicum, Miller has also worked in the Therapeutic Interagency Program with preschoolers who have a trauma history of abuse, neglect or placement into foster care. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), as well as social workers, psychiatrists, occupational therapists and physical therapists from the medical center work together to ensure and monitor the preschoolers’ safety, provide mental health services and enhance developmental/cognitive development.
Travel Inspires Culturally Competent Work
Miller was fortunate to have two inspiring figures in her life—her aunt and uncle—who invited her to tag along on their international traveling adventures. These experiences made her more culturally aware and influenced her work. She has been instrumental in implementing culturally and linguistically diverse practices and competencies in Speech-Language Pathology and educating her co-workers to help the team provide the best care while supporting families.
Miller makes her patients feel welcome through books, a crucial tool used in speech therapy. Reading helps build communication skills, like auditory comprehension, expressive vocabulary and memory. However, she noticed that the main characters in most books were predominantly white males. Miller wanted all her patients to see themselves in these stories, so she made it her mission to find diverse children’s books. She now has 200-plus in her collection.
To share her extensive library, Miller created traveling book bins. The bins allow all the SLPs, and most importantly, the patients to benefit from the diverse children's fantasy and adventure stories.
Improving Access for All
“Creative,” “innovative” and “supportive” are three words Sherry Lanyi, clinical manager, uses to describe Miller.
When COVID-19 caused the cancellation of in-person therapy sessions, Miller, who is telehealth-certified, offered her colleagues training, resources and guidance on how telehealth works. She has created close to 200 activities for SLPs to use in telehealth sessions—all inspired by her patients.
“Shyla is a wonderful team player,” says Lanyi. “She is always willing to go out of her way to teach. Whether it is a new process, a culture topic or learning telehealth, she always ensures everyone is comfortable with the new learning.”
Families are appreciative of Miller’s efforts to make speech-language therapy more accessible, as well. In February, she received a touching letter from thankful mom Amanda Hart.
Hart adopted her son Eli from Hungary in 2020. Eli became so sick that the Hart family traveled from Slovenia to the United States so he could receive care at Cincinnati Children’s. Eli became a patient at the International Adoption Clinic where he was evaluated for many medical conditions, including his speech. Miller recommended speech therapy sessions for Eli.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit right after his initial visit, preventing in-person sessions, and the Harts had to travel back to Slovenia.
Hart was not sure if telehealth visits would be the best possible treatment for Eli. Miller reassured her that she could make it work for him.
Eli looks forward to speech therapy every week. Hart attributes it to Miller’s preparedness, imagination and engaging nature.
Hart and her husband, like many other parents using speech therapy during COVID-19, have also become more engaged in sessions and actively participate. Parents find their kids warm up quicker at home, making it easier to form connections and increase opportunities for language.
“Every week Eli continues to improve and make progress,” wrote Hart. “For our little guy, teletherapy has been great, and I think that allowing him to have speech in a familiar environment with either myself or his dad around has been very helpful.”
Shyla Miller has championed diversity in Speech Language Pathology by making sure the books they use in their therapy sessions represent a full cultural spectrum. Pictured is just a sampling of their extensive library.