Deborah Ross-Swain ’73, MS ’75 (Speech Pathology and Audiology)

Ask Deborah Ross-Swain ’73, MS ’75 (Speech Pathology and Audiology) to sum up her 30-year career as founder of The Swain Center for Listening, Communicating and Learning and she’ll tell you that she gives families hope. And for thousands of children and adults with communication, learning or processing disorders, Swain is a beacon of light in a dark and confusing world.

“Families come to us and they are frightened,” Swain says. “They don’t know what is wrong with their child and are navigating unknown territory. So when they come in, we give them hope through training, therapy, resources and parent groups. They come in upset and leave so grateful and relieved to know there is something for them.”

Swain opened her Santa Rosa practice in 1985 with a focus on pediatric early intervention for speech and language development delays, as well as autism and autism spectrum disorders. A recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the Sacramento State Alumni Association, Swain credits the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology for helping provide a clear path to her profession.

“The department is superb in terms of setting the standards of excellence for all undergraduate and graduate students. It’s a highly collaborative environment that was always modeled by professors. I have fond memories of spending so much time with my fellow students in collaboration and teamwork.”

After completing her master’s degree, Swain worked for Sacramento’s Easter Seals rehabilitation center with adults who suffered from strokes and head injuries. After just a few years, she became chief of speech pathology at UC Davis Medical Center.

“At that point, the scope of my work expanded to include not only adults, but with the department of pediatrics. I thought, ‘Wow, I really love working with these kids and that’s when I decided to open my practice.”

Over three decades, Swain noticed a significant rise in demand for her services.

“There has not only been an increase in autism, but in speech and language disorders, neurobiological disorders, and in learning and literacy issues,” Swain says. “The skill and expertise that is required by our profession is in a huge trajectory going up.

“We work hard to provide early intervention. By doing this, we can often get a child’s learning and communication skills in a place where they are not going to need special education later.”

Swain received her doctorate from the University of LaVerne and is currently president of the California Speech Language Hearing Association.

“I hope I have served as a mentor and teacher for excellence in our profession to develop professionals and leaders.”