When Worlds Collide

There are several words that I could use to describe myself. Wife. Mother. Christian. Speech-Language Pathologist. Joe Girl.
Let me explain.

I first noticed Joe McIntyre of the New Kids on the Block while watching my sister’s “Hangin’ Tough Live” video. And since that moment in 1989, I have been a “Joe Girl.” I barely realized that there were four other members of the group. Joe was (and admittedly still IS) my one and only celebrity crush. My room, as a teenager, was covered in pictures of him. I was a quiet, shy, nerdy girl and listening to their music made me smile. It made me excited about something. It made me feel like I belonged somewhere. You may be wondering why I have been a loyal “Joe Girl” and New Kids fan for over half of my life. Why didn’t I leave him behind with the angst of my teenage years? Because that shy, nerdy, excited teenager is still there inside of me. I think that Joe is extraordinarily talented. His voice is amazing. He is also very funny. And let’s be honest. (I’m going to try to say this in the most professional manner that I can.) The man is easy on the eyes and has a stage presence that blows me away. And, most importantly, he has brought some of the most amazing women from all over the world into my life as my friends and sisters.

As a teenager, all I thought about and all I wanted was to meet Joe. I just KNEW that he would like me too. :) The first time that I ever met Joe was in his hometown of Boston in 1993. He was so kind as to stop and talk to my friend and me. When he left, I cried like a baby and thought I was going to faint. I couldn’t believe that I actually met him. And, as I’m sure you figured out, he didn’t like me back! I have been very fortunate to meet Joe a number of times since 1993. He has always been sweet, appreciative, and generous. Joe congratulated me on the birth of my daughter, held my hand and thanked me for being a fan, flashed his smile, posed for photos, and gave me hugs. Yes, many of these meetings were a part of his “job”, but he never HAD to do anything extra special. He didn’t have to do ANYTHING. He did it anyway.

I have been a speech pathologist for over seven years. My professional life and my celebrity crush collided this past spring when I read the People magazine article about Joe’s son Rhys, who was born with severe hearing loss.   I cried when I read that article. As a fan–because even with new research and technology, Rhys may never fully hear his father’s songs. As a professional–because I knew the implications of the diagnosis. As a parent–because I could empathize with the roller coaster of emotions that comes with getting a diagnosis about one’s child. But then I was filled with hope for Joe and his wife Barrett as I read about their positive and realistic outlook on Rhys’ hearing loss. Joe and Barrett are just like all the other parents who I’ve had in my office…who we have all had to talk to, comfort, encourage, and educate.

When I learned that Joe was going to be the recipient of ASHA’s Annie Glenn Award, I knew that I had to be there to see it. And I am so thrilled that I was. I have been to numerous New Kids’ concerts and Joe’s solo shows. I saw him live on Broadway. (I may have missed a few engagements over the years–please don’t tell him!) But seeing him receive the award in Philadelphia was the most memorable and it meant the most to me. Why? Because on that night, he was there as Joe McIntyre–a father–who gave us glimpses into private moments. He was real and raw as he spoke about his son’s hearing loss. He also expressed gratitude to our profession. Joe sprinkled in some trademark humor, as well, but it was a Joe that I had never seen before. Seeing him in that light made me admire him all the more. He is a father trying to do the best he can for his son. He is making a difference, contributing to the discussion, raising awareness, and I know that he will continue to do so. I have never been prouder to be a “Joe Girl.”

In 1990, I wrote Joe fan letters and had to send them to the fan club. In 2010, I am able to tweet him whenever I want, but I am restricted to 140 characters. This blog, I guess, could be considered the ultimate fan letter. But please indulge me and let me tweet….

@joeymcintyre I am a Joe girl for life. Thank u will never be enough for all u do & for making me smile. With love to you & the Macs~Me xo

Jeannette A. Wesseldyke, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist who lives and works in northern New Jersey. She resides with her husband and their almost-4-year-old daughter. She would like to thank Maggie McGary for the opportunity to attend the awards ceremony and write this blog post.

I Came…I Saw

The 2010 ASHA Convention in Philadelphia has come and gone, though its memories remain fresh in my mind.  Like all conventions there are things which I’ll remember fondly and others, well…not so much.  In the spirit of channeling my inner movie critic, I present my list of convention HITS and MISSES.

Street flag "Welcome with Love Philadelphia xoxo ASHA"

Photo by Kenn Staub

HIT: Reunions with old friends…Walking throughout the convention site I was occasionally startled by shrieks as long time friends greeted each other, often with warm embraces.  Some had not seen each other for months, others years.  I myself was not immune (though I do not shriek)…whether it was reminiscing about the 1992 Penguins/Blackhawks Stanley Cup playoff series with Richard Peach…listening as a former professor, Larry Molt, told my current students embarrassing stories about my college days (“Don’t eat the eggs”)…chatting-up Leisa Harmon about the state of affairs at a university where I once taught (Minot State in North Dakota)…dining with Charles Ellis and shooting the breeze, talking about this, that, and other things as if we had just seen each other yesterday and not two years ago.

HIT: Meeting new people…As anyone who has ever attended a convention can attest, part of the attraction is networking.  Meeting new people, hearing other perspectives, learning from each other.  In this I’m sure I was not alone.  It was my pleasure to have met, among others…Maggie McGary, the moderator of ASHAsphere, who was kind enough to share her perspective on ASHA’s involvement with social media…Todd Tyler of Dynavox, who discussed developments in the world of alternative and assistive technology…Lesley Magnus from Minot State, who had some interesting ideas for further development of a poster I presented (“No, I had not considered that”).  Like my students, who were excited to meet and pose for pictures with Barry Guitar, I was not immune to being “star struck”…it was truly a privilege to discuss professional ethics with Norman Lass, an individual I’ve admired since reading his multi-volume collection Speech, Language, and Hearing in the mid 1980s (when I was a student).

MISS: Long lines…Whether it was waiting for coffee in the morning, trying to get served at lunch, or simply picking up registration materials, a line could be found snaking across the convention floor at almost any given moment.  After talking with many attendees, it seems that waiting to pick-up registration materials was the most galling.  True, ASHA provided an option for materials to be sent in advance, but a one-and-a-half hour wait to pick-up a paper badge, receipt, and swipe card on Thursday morning…after having already registered on-line…really.

HIT: Watching students come into their own…Like many college faculty in attendance, I was looking forward to presenting with my students and seeing how they would hold-up under the scrutiny of a nation-wide representation of speech-language pathologists.  Luke Martin discussing the perception of accented speech by SLP students for nearly three hours…Sara Johnson and Vanessa Wheatley, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 8:00 on Saturday morning ready to explore the portrayal of SLPs in print advertising with interested parties…Greg Hoover unveiling one of the first speech pathology-specific studies pertaining to effects of Lyme disease on cognitive-linguistic function at 3:00 on Saturday afternoon…they all acquitted themselves well and should be proud of their accomplishments.

MISS: Lack of session moderators…Though short courses had moderators, they were noticeably lacking at technical sessions and seminars.  Who was going to start the session…how were the speakers to be introduced…who would ensure that speakers did not stray from their allotted time…how were questions to be solicited from the audience.  Fortunately confusion was held to a minimum, at least in the sessions I attended.

MISS: Closed sessions…Fortunately none of the sessions I wanted to attend were closed (I suppose voice disorders weren’t that popular this year), but I heard grumblings from colleagues about having to sit on the floor and being turned away from packed rooms.  This, in fact, led some to leave sessions early or miss ones they hoped to attend in order to get seats (possibly) at others.  The end result was the same…missed continuing education opportunities, missed learning experiences.

HIT: Poster sessions…I love the diverse nature of the presentations which can be found at any one time in the Poster Hall.  Who knows what interesting subject is just around the corner??   I learned, among so many interesting projects, the history of aphasia therapy…how to prepare my students for potentially difficult clinical placements…that some SLPs still might consider blowing and sucking activities as effective for treating velopharyngeal dysfunction…how to make grad school more appealing to non-traditional students…the list goes on.

As with everything in life, there was some positive, some negative.  I’m confident, however, that my memories of what I learned, who I met, and how I enjoyed myself will last far longer than any negatives which might have been experienced.  This being noted, I do know one thing for sure…I can’t wait for the next ASHA convention.

This blurb represents the opinions and experiences of this author and this author only.  If you have a “HIT” or “MISS” or other memory from Philadelphia, feel free to share them in the comments section.

Kenneth Staub, M.S., CCC-SLP, is an Assistant Professor, Communication Sciences & Disorders at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. He will be a regular contributor to ASHAsphere and welcomes questions or suggestions for posts.

ASHA 2010 Highlights

It is hard to believe that the ASHA convention (AKA #ashaconv) is already over. I arrived in Philly Wednesday night, and I am now (Saturday) on an airplane on my way to Tokyo, Japan. This was by far, the best of my 6 times at the #ashaconv.

Side Note: If you are not a twitter user, #ashaconv was the “hashtag” we used to tag all ASHA’sconvention-related posts on twitter.

So much happened to me in Philly in two days that I am still trying to wrap my head around it, (and) it was a lot of fun.

The expectation: Being a social media enthusiast, there were several people I was looking forward to meeting in “real life”. I chat and tweet with so many people on a daily basis on the Internet, that sometimes it feels like we already know each other in real life, or even more, that we are best friends. I looked forward to meeting famous people such as Samuel Senott (the creator of Proloquo2go) and “speech techie” as well as friends I had not seen since the last ASHA convention, and meet a few of the other app developers and my #slpeeps (also from twitter) at the tweetup organized by ASHA. My biggest question was: will anyone recognize me as @geekslp?

The arrival: After many hours on an airplane without Internet, I arrived in Philly and headed straight to the convention center in downtown. After dragging my luggage around (for a while), I arrived at the registration booth where I was able to pick up my badge and register my booth. This was the first time I got to have a booth at the ASHA convention, but the process went very smoothly. Setting up was also easy, just put my signs up and headed back to the hotel where I was able to rest for my first day at ASHA, showing the apps I had developed over the last year.

The first day: I love the feeling of walking around the convention center every year when I go to ASHA. I feel the energy of highly motivated individuals with one goal in mind: learn to become a better professional and share their knowledge with others. These are three days of intensive learning and sharing; you can definitely feel the “vibe”. On my first day I had several of my virtual friends stop by my booth to greet me. I discovered that folks such as Maggie from ASHA, Jose Ortiz from Pal Software, Samuel Senott, Jeffrey Johnson from Grembe apps were not only a lot of fun online but also in person. Many people claim that the Internet has been taking away some of the social interaction, but for me it has created an enormous opportunity for meeting some very interesting individuals.

I tried to attend a presentation on apps, but since it is such a hot topic, the room was already full by the time I got there. After the exhibitors hall was closed it was time to head to the Hispanic Caucus meeting, and later that night it was time to get together with the folks from MC2 at the Marriot and get to visit with my friends from the ASHA’s Minority Student Leadership Program; which I had the chance to be a part of in 2006.

Ashaconv day 2: At 7 a.m. I was headed to the Overlook café at the convention center where we had a tweetup organized. Yes, it was a bit early, especially because I did not leave the convention center the night before until 11 p.m. This was a great time to meet some interesting people and laugh about how we look different in the real world. On day 2, I got to meet more of my social media friends, such as Jeremy Brown (a teacher attending ASHA convention) and I also got some attendees who would say, “ Oh! You are Geek SLP!” or “ Look! I already have one of the apps you designed.” At 5 p.m. and with a very hoarse voice (from talking nonstop) I had to head back to the airport for my flight back to Dallas.

I hope I get to see my virtual friends again next year, and get to meet some of the friends I will make until it is time for ASHA 2011, San Diego.

Barbara Fernandes is a trilingual speech and language pathologist. She is the director of Smarty Ears and the face behind GeekSLP TV, a blog and video podcast focusing on the use of technology in speech therapy. Barbara has also been a practicing speech therapist both in Brazil and in the United States. She is a an active participant of the Texas Speech and Hearing Association as a member of the TSHA Culturally and linguistically diverse issues task force. Barbara has created over 15 applications for speech therapists.

ASHA Convention 2010

It’s that time again…time for ASHA’s annual Convention. This year’s Convention is taking place in Philadelphia, PA and promises to offer both great content and opportunities for attendees to connect with each other both online and in person.

The past few years, ASHA has been using Twitter during Convention to communicate with attendees in real-time, and to allow attendees and exhibitors to connect with both ASHA and each other. Even if you’re not attending Convention this year, you can follow along by searching for #ashaconv on Twitter. And if you are there, make sure to check out the “Twitter Wall” in the ASHA Member Service Center.

For the first time, ASHA will be hosting a Tweetup on Friday morning at 7 am in the Overlook Cafe on the 3rd level of the Convention Center. We’ll be posting photos here on ASHAsphere and also on the ASHA Facebook Page. Please feel free to add your own Convention photos to the album on Facebook, and watch the Wall of the Facebook Page for special announcements and deals in the ASHA Bookstore.

Throughout the rest of this week, ASHAsphere will be featuring posts by guest bloggers attending Convention. If you have a post you’d like to contribute, either before, during or after the event, you can contact me (Maggie McGary) either via email at mmcgary@asha.org or look for me in Philadelphia.

Do you have tips for first-time attendees? Suggestions for things to do or see in Philadelphia? Memorable moments from past conventions? Please share them in the comments!

Embracing The Potential Benefits Of Using New Technologies In Children’s Speech And Language Therapy

(This post originally appeared on PediaStaff.com)

Communication is so much more than speech, now more than ever, and the gap between the technological literacy of parents and the Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) assisting children with communication disorders has never been greater – and it is accelerating at a dizzying pace. Speech language pathologists are communication disorder specialists, not computer experts. Many SLPs are from a different, older generation, or just coming out of a newly digitally-connected generation. The communication disorder and sciences profession is rapidly changing at such a fast pace that we must adapt to new tools that were never really intended for speech language pathologists. We must find modern means to keep children’s attention and motivate them to be good communicators.

Doll at computer keyboard

Photo by Kodomut

Since facial expressions and simple gestures, humans have attempted to figure out all kinds of messages one person is trying to get across to another person, or, in a sense, what a sender is trying to convey across to a receiver. The Sender (A) has a message of information (X) for the Receiver (B). The question now is, what is the most effective, efficient, understandable way to get that informational message across from person A to person B and then back to A (and so on)? That is every pediatric SLP’s dilemma to figure out in order to provide the best possible therapy. Part of that dilemma is finding and keeping up with the exponentially changing, newest additions to the communication disorder ‘tool bag’.

All new technology is a tool; one tool of many to aid in the communication between a parent and a child. They are not gadgets to replace interaction or placeholders in important social connections between two emotional human beings. New technology is just one tool to help bring people together and aid in understanding basic, functional needs and wants for quality daily living. A new technology can motivate and facilitate a connection and exchange of ideas or emotions with another person. More tools include animals, blankets, crayons, puppets, games, music, bubbles and puzzles. Therapy tools are meant to motivate and open up opportunities for speech and language development in children. If an iPad helps a child share a smile with their parent, a shared moment of attention, attachment and engagement – that is a good thing. The tech device is just a therapy tool of gaining a child’s attention. It is only with joint attention that more opportunities for interaction can occur.

Finding that attention-grabber takes work, work on the parent’s end and work on the therapist’s end of intervention. We must engage with children and their ‘tech toys’ in order to stay connected to them to some degree. That does not mean that an app or a gadget is a replacement for interacting with a child. Interpersonal interaction will never be replaced – humans are social beings; we need each other to survive and blossom. The tool means nothing and is rather useless without the person using it to facilitate human bonding. We must find what keeps a child’s attention to maintain the level of attention required for communication opportunities. We have evolved from early interaction and attachment, to pragmatics, to gestures, to play, to language comprehension, to language expression – each one an important step in communication and engagement with one another. Each step is a huge communication milestone and it all starts with attachment, attention and interaction. We must get on the floor, be face-to-face and give our full attention to children on their level in order to begin to foster positive shared experiences.

SLPs need to learn how to use new tools and help teach parents, teachers and children how to share these modern communication opportunities. We must learn how to effectively and efficiently embrace children’s new digital language knowledge. We all use Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) devices every day. People with or without communication disorders, whether we call them AAC or not: cell phones, cameras, daily planners and computers – we are all users of AAC devices. We should not be overwhelmed by new technologies it is just that we have to take the time to learn more about them. It is like learning a new language – and if children are trying so hard to communicate – why can’t we the caregivers and therapists put in effort to understand what is available to children today? Technology is part of our new job requirement. We as SLPs have to stay one step ahead to give these children the best opportunities for communication possibilities. Our new challenge as speech language pathologists and parents is to keep up with the new ways children are learning to communicate.

It is our job as SLPs to understand and to integrate that digital language into therapy to aid children by taking technology from other fields never intended for SLPs. If children are going to engage in this type of online socialization, help them (and us) learn how to navigate this new digital world together. We cannot be perfect therapists, perfect parents, grandparents, or even perfect aunties or siblings, but we can get on the level of a child and really want to find ways to connect with them. Children want to share experiences with us strange and intriguing adults, but they need us to understand and follow their lead sometimes. Children need us to understand their world. Adults, yes, this means homework and taking the extra time to learn about areas in science and technology that may be unfamiliar to us. We must be active participants in order to connect and receive the full, active attention of the children of today.

Connection between people is the most important part of being human. Communication is always evolving. Just like our language dictionaries that require constant updates, speech language pathologists have to keep our tool bags updated and current. We have to keep up with the children of 2010, but keep therapy grounded in human connection to focus on the basics of daily living, wants and needs facilitated by real people. All technologies are just tools of getting a message, information or code (X) from person, Sender (A) to person, Receiver (B) and vice versa. New technology can seem complicated but all these methods have only one purpose- they are methods of connecting people to other people. Speech language pathologists must see all technological tools as just part of the SLP tool bag to effectively use these current and those ancient technologies in therapy. It is no longer necessarily augmentative, alternative communication, but rather, typical digital communication that we must adapt to in order to help children. That does not mean we cannot communicate with children if we do not understand this digital language. Basic, face-to-face communication will always be based on body language and gestures of nonverbal, behavioral communication which speech language pathologists are educated to understand, translate, decode and decipher as a model to the caregiver. SLPs are conduits to pass on skills to others – we are decoders and resources to children. We are resources to parents who desire to achieve attention then engagement with their child; but just need some guidance and support to get there.

SLPs will have to adapt at a faster rate to the exponential increase in therapy tools available for our tool bags and what speaks to children. What keeps their attention? There are many resources available to all of us to be better educated in an increasingly fast paced, digital world. Let us keep up with the children of today and share what we learn to stay as connected to the people we love as humanly possible. So, how do we all stay informed about the exponentially changing, newest additions in communication facilitating technology tools? As a start, we can begin by learning and sharing information from the resources right in front of us. The Internet is full of wonderful educational and therapeutic tools including information on apps and website links for children with communication disorders. Let us therapists and parents listen to children, and to what they can teach us. All anyone needs is a place to start. The following list of highly recommended links is one place to start in helping adults understand children’s digital language of 2010.

Highly recommended links to learn more about children’s digital communication:

Megan (Panatier) Bratti, MS, CCC-SLP, lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband.  She graduated from California State University Northridge with her Master’s degree in Communicative Disorders and Sciences, Speech Language Pathology in 2006.  Megan explores technology and its potential in the communication disorder and sciences field with, Avocado Technologies, co-founded with her husband, Bruno Bratti, an Integrated Circuit Engineer.  Avocado Technologies is a forum on a Facebook page and on Twitter @avocadotech to engage others with the latest stories and news about communicative disorders, language, speech therapy, education, science, linguistics, literacy and technology found on the web.

Philadelphia Here We Come

When November rolls around in the world of speech-language pathology and audiology, it only seems natural that one’s thoughts turn to the Annual Convention. This year’s gathering, in Philadelphia, is just a quick trip across Pennsylvania so Clarion University will be well represented. Many of our program’s students will be attending their first professional conference. The sense of excitement among those going is palpable, though their anticipation is tempered by questions about what to expect. Some have turned to me for insight, which has spurred reflection on my part.

Liberty bell

Photo by Tony the Misfit

The ASHA Annual Convention represents a multitude of things…it’s an educational forum…it’s a science fair…it’s a chance to see the newest products and the latest books…it’s a reunion…it’s an opportunity to network and meet new people. In sum, it’s an intensive three day immersion into the culture of speech-language pathology and audiology.

The highlight of every convention are the presentations…auditory processing disorders, fluency, motor speech, augmentative and alternative communication, swallowing, culturally and linguistically diverse, language disorders, speech science, voice and resonance, speech sound disorders…there is truly something for everyone. Posters, seminars, technical sessions, short courses…formal or informal, short form or long…choose the format that suits you best. With the array of choices, it behooves one to have a preliminary plan. Like a child poring through the Sear’s “Wish Book” in days gone by, I sit with the ASHA-provided My Planner and make a schedule of who, what, when, and where…prepared to expect the unexpected because you just never know what interest might be piqued.

Not only will I be attending a multitude of presentations, I’ll also have the pleasure of delivering a few as well. Four posters, all prepared in conjunction with students, will be posted at various times on a bulletin board in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Hall C, for all to see. The topics vary, reflecting the diversity of subject matter in the profession…the perception of instructor accent by SLP students, the potential cognitive-linguistic deficits associated with Lyme disease, the portrayal of SLPs in print advertising. Like the proud parent of a middle schooler who has earned a blue ribbon for a project, I’ll stand with the involved students and take pleasure in knowing that each presentation started with an idea and was developed into a full-blown research project deemed worthy of dissemination to others.

How best to describe the Exhibit Hall…a carnival midway is the first analogy that leaps to mind…the sights, the sounds, the crush of people. Over 200 vendors, all with something new to see…books, therapy materials, tests, technology, novelties…the latest and the greatest, just step right up. Fortunately the maelstrom that is the Exhibit Hall can be explored in a more optimal manner than in years past using ASHA’s Virtual Expo, which allows one to plan the experience. Nevertheless, I’d still be prepared to expect the unexpected…you never know who will have that “hot”, “gotta have” item.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of any ASHA Convention is seeing friends and familiar faces. In some respects it’s like a high school reunion…who does what…who is where…have the years between our last meeting been good? Like many in the field, I’ve made several stops along the way. And at each stop I’ve met people and made friends, both personal and professional, who I’m anxious to reconnect with. Former professors (that includes you Drs. Peach, Molt, and DeChicchis)…former colleagues (paging you Dr. Linares and Ms. Saltsgiver)…former students…and people with whom I’ve developed friendships (looking forward to it Leisa, Charles, Scott, Amy, Mark, Clint). Yes, I’m still teaching…yes, I’m still at Clarion…yes, the family is good…yes, I’ve lost a little more hair…yes, I’ve gained weight and its probably not all muscle.

Almost as much fun as seeing the “old” is meeting the “new”. Chatting with somebody next to you at a presentation…talking to a presenter after a session…connecting with someone you’ve communicated with solely through email…joining a Dynamic Learning Group…meeting up with a STEP Mentee. Maybe this will be the year I actually remember to give out one of the business cards I come armed with. Though we might be different and strangers to each other, we all have one thing in common…speech-language pathology and audiology.

Do you have any reflections or or experiences related to the ASHA Convention that you’d like to share? How about tips for helping others successfully navigate the experience?

Kenneth Staub, M.S., CCC-SLP, is an Assistant Professor, Communication Sciences & Disorders at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. He will be a regular contributor to ASHAsphere and welcomes questions or suggestions for posts.

A Piece of the Puzzle

Puzzle board

Photo by Casey Oliver

I never imagined I would cry tears of joy during my first day of work, much less during an in-service about poverty, but there I was, with misty eyes and a smile on my face, so grateful and in awe of the incredible staff I will be working with this year. Thanks to them, I had a deeper understanding of the perspectives and talents of children and families who live in poverty. On my second day of work, the tears of joy came again during a drum circle I was participating in as we were discussing arts integration into all aspects of the curriculum. Ideas flooded into my mind about using music and rhythms to teach syllable stress and other phonological skills. More tears came later in the day during an in-service on the effects of bullying and practical strategies for helping children who are bullied, as well as the bullies themselves. I felt empowered to help my speech students with bullying issues in a real and effective way. These bursts of inspiration and hope were new to me, but the ideas and concepts were not. Other SLPs have written about these topics. But for the first time, I felt like I could actually make my ideas and plans become a reality, and I wouldn’t have to do it alone! I am part of a team at my new school, and we are all are working toward the same goals. Collaboration is expected, practiced, and planned for.

This school year, I am embarking on an adventure. It is an opportunity for which I am very grateful, yet I am sure it will also be a humbling learning experience in many ways. I have been hired by a Catholic school in Sacramento, California to serve on staff as a speech-language pathologist. I know there are many private practice clinicians that serve private school students, but I do not personally know of many other SLPs that serve as part of a parochial school staff. (If there are more of you out there, I would love to hear from you!) I don’t have the support of a “speech department” or the same kind of paycheck I would get in a public school setting. However, I have the freedom to develop my own service delivery model and treatment plans, which in many ways is priceless. I will be providing direct and consultative services on campus during the school day, and I will also be serving as a case manager, helping my students and their families access other speech pathology resources available in the community. I have developed universal speech and language goals for the entire student body, and I hope to truly be a resource for all of our students and staff.

I can’t take all of the credit for the design of the “first-draft” of my service delivery model. Actually, I got a lot of my ideas at the ASHA Schools Conference in Las Vegas this year. My favorite courses were about unique service delivery models and the educational relevance of communication disorders. There is also an excellent post on the ASHA blog called the Case for Consultation. I am very excited to implement some of these incredible ideas. Thank you to all of the ASHA members, professors, and school-based clinicians who have inspired me and taught me over the years!

Back to my first week of work…I was really surprised about how that first week impacted me. I loved being a part of the teacher’s in-services. I was not expecting that! Every in-service was applicable to me in some way, and because I gave my own in-service on speech and language, the other in-service instructors were able to connect what they were talking about to what I had presented. As a staff we were even provided CPR and first aid training. I loved that! Participating in the teachers’ in-services made me feel like an official part of the team, and from a professional development perspective, I learned a great deal that will definitely impact how I deliver services this year.

At the end of the in-service week, we were asked to each make a puzzle piece about ourselves. We were allowed to decorate it however we liked, and we each had an opportunity to talk about ourselves and what we put on the puzzle piece. I am not an artist, so I mostly put a lot of different words on my puzzle piece and had my oldest daughter draw a picture of our family. I love to communicate, and I love helping others communicate to the best of their abilities. I am also a singer and liturgical musician, so I got to talk about that, as well as my family, faith, and other interests I have. After each staff member presented, our principal added his or her puzzle piece to the growing puzzle. For the first time in my career as a school-based SLP, I felt like I really belonged, like I “fit in,” and that I was, indeed, an essential piece of the puzzle at my school. I am looking forward to an amazing year. I realize it will not be without some challenges, but I am energized in a way I have never been before. I hope to keep you posted throughout the year, and I will be seeking input and advice as I continue to develop and improve upon the service delivery model at my school.

Casey Oliver, M.S., CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and liturgical musician living in the Sacramento, California area. Casey has worked as a SLP in the public schools, in private practice, and now at a Catholic school, the St. Patrick SUCCEED Academy. Casey is very excited to be contributing to the ASHAsphere, and she is also blogging about her experience working for a Catholic school at Catholic School SLP.

Patient-Provider Communication

How well do you communicate with your clients? We are, after all, experts in human communication. Shouldn’t that mean that we are good at communicating with the people we serve?

Words and letters

Photo by Chrissy Johnson1

Unfortunately, this may not always be the case. Like many other health care providers, SLPs and audiologists often have trouble communicating clearly so that clients fully understand and can use the information we share. We tend to use jargon and talk in medical or technical terms that are not easily understood by the average person. We use words like “dysarthria” or “sensorineural.” We talk about a person’s “standard scores,” “functional abilities,” and degree of hearing loss in terms of “decibels.” We also tend to share written information that is very dense and complex and do so without spending time explaining the information we’ve given out. This has been demonstrated in studies of the readability of communication disorder-related brochures as well as reflected in responses to ASHA surveys about how consumer materials are used.

Patient-provider communication is a hot topic these days. Do an Internet search of the term “patient provider communication” and you’ll find resources from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, the American Medical Association, scholarly journals, and more. Go to the Joint Commission website and you’ll find new standards regarding effective, culturally competent patient communication. Closer to home, a group interested parties, including a number of ASHA members, have joined together and formed the Patient-Provider Communication Forum in an attempt to further patient-provider communication across the continuum of care. Patient-provider communication, including issues related to health literacy, is fast becoming as serious an issue in health care as universal precautions. In fact, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has branded its information about health literacy as a universal precaution. Makes sense if you consider that poor communication can result in very harmful consequences and poor outcomes if medical advice is not understood and followed.

So, how do you think you do in regards to communicating with your clients? Do you think they understand what you are telling them? Do they appear to read brochures and other information you give them? And, more importantly, do you think they understand that information well enough to follow through on any recommendations in it? What do you do to try to improve your communication with clients and families? As experts in human communication, we can lead the charge on effective patient-provider communication. But first we need to be good at it ourselves.

Amy Hasselkus, M.A., CCC-SLP, is associate director of health care services in speech-language pathology at ASHA. She is also currently enrolled in a Masters degree program in communication at George Mason University, with an emphasis on health communication.