Top 12 Pearls of Wisdom For SLP Newbies

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You’ve done it! Congratulations! Six years of school, countless clinical hours, and the Praxis. Now that it’s time to start your first job as a speech-language pathologist. Your first job will teach you all those things you didn’t learn in graduate school. After my first few years, I’ve reflected on the most important lessons I learned and here are the top twelve:

1. Be kind. Be kind to everyone! Everyday. Learn everyone’s names. Thank your secretaries, clerks, and custodians as many times as you can. Don’t underestimate the amount of help they will give you!

2. Go out of your way to connect with families. There are many reasons this is important. You won’t get the full picture of your student’s life if you don’t know something about their family and their life outside the school day. Your parents will be much more likely to buy-in to your homework plans and carryover if you’ve made a personal connection with them.  Lastly, you are taking care of their baby (the most precious thing to them in the whole word). If you’re working with their 3-year-old they will feel so much better if they know who the heck you are!

3. Don’t procrastinate. You’ll need help and there is no getting around that.  If you are writing an IEP at home at 9 pm for an 8 am meeting and then the printer doesn’t work, you won’t have time to make other arrangements.

4. Be a team player. Bite the bullet and volunteer to do things that take extra time. If you have a talent use it to help others. For example, whipping up visuals is super easy for me. Even when a student isn’t on my caseload, I often make up data sheets or visual posters to support students going through our RTI team. Your team will appreciate your talents and you will be able to ask your team to help you with their specific talents.

5. Think generalization from day one. Ask your student’s teacher what is the ONE thing you can work on to make the biggest difference in the classroom.

6. If you make a mistake, admit it, and find a way to solve it. Then don’t make that mistake again. You’re going to make mistakes, just be gracious when you do.

7. Ask for help, but do your own research first. Your co-workers and administrators will be willing to help as you get to know the paperwork. If you can do the research yourself and spend the time to try to solve problems yourself before you check in for help.

8. You aren’t done learning. Get involved with ASHA, blogs, conferences, whatever it takes. When a kiddo comes along and you haven’t seen that disorder before, get busy researching.

9. There’s nothing worse than being out of compliance or completing paperwork incorrectly. Your supervisors might not see how great your therapy is everyday, but the minute you’re out of compliance they will notice. The ‘take home message’… get organized early. Double check your dates and get with your teachers, clerks and intervention specialists. Get yourself organized before you get busy decorating that cute therapy office!

10. Advocate for all things speech and language in your buildings. You might even need to advocate for new ideas within the SLPs in your district. Speak up when you have a good idea, but remember that you’re new. Sometimes it pays to be quiet and listen to what seasoned SLPs have to say. They seriously know so much.

11. Document, document, and document. Remember, if you don’t document it, it didn’t happen.

12. You’re just one fish in the sea. Remember that when it comes to scheduling, therapy time, etc. everyone needs ‘time’ with the students. Work with your team. Just get over the fact that you think you’re done with your schedule the first time. It will change monthly if not weekly.

The best part of being a speech language pathologist is that you’re never done learning. You’ll get new interesting children added to your caseload, be challenged to use new technology, and collaborate in ways you never thought you would. By this time next year you’ll be able to make your own ‘top 12’ list of valuable lessons.

Jenna Rayburn, MA, CCC-SLP. is a school based speech-language pathologist from Columbus, Ohio. She writes at her blog, Speech Room News. You can follow her on facebook, twitter, instragram and pinterest.

ASHA’s Online Community Goes Mobile

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I love my smartphone and iPad so much that my husband often makes jokes about my need to be with one of them at all times. No matter what I’m doing, one of these mobile devices is almost always in my hands. I think it all relates to my inability to do just one thing at a time.

So while we are watching MasterChef or The Next Food Network Star in the evenings, I am also keeping up on what is happening in the ASHA Community.

As with any relationship, there are habits or characteristics that are less than appealing about the other person. The pet peeve I have with my mobile devices is the constant need to use pinch-to-zoom maneuvers to read or navigate the browser. To avoid this, I usually download the app when there is one available for a particular website or service.

Until now, the only way I could surf the ASHA Community was with my mobile devices’ browsers. You can imagine my excitement when the ASHA Community Mobile App idea was formed—my hand was definitely raised to be part of the team working on that project! Well, the day has finally come. The new ASHA Community Mobile App is not only helping my relationship with mobile devices, it helps all ASHA members with these unique features:

  • Convenient. Read all the latest discussions from your subscriptions in a single feed.
  • Seamless. Reply to discussions and post new discussions without pinch-to-zoom maneuvers.
  • Searchable. Find your colleagues in the directory and easily add them to your personal contacts. With a couple of taps on your screen, you can send an e-mail or make a phone call to another ASHA member.
  • Latest news. Find ASHA’s Twitter feed and read this and other ASHAsphere blog posts directly in the app.

If you are as excited as I am, then you have already downloaded the app on all of your devices. Just in case, here are the steps:

  1. From your mobile device, click on the appropriate link below or visit your app store and search “ASHA Community.”
  2. Download the app.
  3. Log in with your ASHA username and password.

Get it on Google Play

You’ll see your name at the top of the navigation. Under your profile, you will see Discussions, People, Inbox, Announcements, and a list of communities to which you subscribe. The ASHA Community Mobile App will help you stay connected with other ASHA members and allow you to post questions to your colleagues on the go–or when you are sitting on the couch enjoying your favorite show.

Visit community.asha.org/mobile to learn more about ASHA’s new mobile app. If you have app-related questions, e-mail community@asha.org.

Jill Straniero is ASHA’s online collaboration manager. 

The School Cafeteria: Hurry Up and EAT!

Aug 22

 

Most parents tell me that their elementary school child has 20 to 25 minutes to enter the school cafeteria,  search for her lunchbox buried in a portable tub, find a place to sit, open all the containers, eat (oh, right, eat), then clean and pack up before the bell rings.  In an effort to ensure that their kids eat anything at all, well-meaning parents pack lunchboxes filled to the brim with typically, 7 to 8 different options!

Picture this: Your little first grader searches for spot in a sea of tables, newly found lunchbox in hand.  She squeezes in between her best friends, climbing up onto the metal bench, feet dangling, with her  little elbows resting on the much too high table top, just below her chin.  Most school cafeterias provide the same size seating for the entire school, whether the kids are 3 feet tall or towering 5th graders, about to move on to middle school.  Ever try to eat a meal on a narrow bench, your feet dangling and no back-rest?  It’s not easy.  By the time your child gets  the plastic bags opened, the juice box straw unwrapped and poked hard enough into the box that it squirts her in the face, all while holding up her other hand  to signal the teacher “Can you please open this lid?” well, another 5 minutes have passed by.  Meanwhile,  she’s excited to get out to recess, now just 15 minutes away.

As a feeding therapist, I visit lots of school cafeterias and have learned that parents and teachers have one priority: Getting kids to eat a nutritious lunch.  In contrast, kids have this priority: Talking to their friends.  How then, does a parent pack a lunch, especially for a picky eater or perhaps a child with special needs, that still allows their child some much needed “down time” to chat with friends yet fill their bellies quickly and nutritiously? Here are 3 strategies to do just that:

  1. Send one easy open container plus a drink.  I recommend EasyLunchboxes® BPA-free system, because the lid is easy for little fingers to pop off and instantly reveal 3 to 4 yummy choices.  Another favorite is the Yumbox®, where the single tray is divided into ½ cup portions designed for the key food groups: Fruit, Veggies, Grains, Protein and Dairy.  Both options are quick to open and not as overwhelming as a lunchbox filled to the brim with individual plastic bags, containers and/or drippy fruit cups with tricky foil lids
  2. Pack “GRAB and GAB” food.  Cut fresh fruit, veggies, sandwiches, cheese, etc. into small enough pieces that kids can grab a piece without gazing down and continue to gab with their friend across the table.  My favorite speedy gadget is FunBites® which instantly creates grab and gab bites, yet has no sharp edges.  It’s a fun way to get  kids in the kitchen making their own lunch the night before – once again,  get them involved and they are more likely to eat it later.  For some kids, cutting a sandwich into a larger, fun shape like a dinosaur, keeps the conversation and the eating on the same track.  But, for those kids who tend to just eat a sandwich and skip the other items, try cutting the sandwich into small pieces with a  FunBite® so the child alternates “grabbing”  a variety of foods, much like a mini-smorgasbord.  Remember, you don’t need to send a whole sandwich when sending half leaves room in little bellies for other key food groups.
  3. Include a power- packed smoothie  that you made the night before.  Freeze it directly in the cup (with a lid, of course) and be sure to include a wide straw.  By the time your child opens her lunch, the smoothie will be the perfect consistency, plus it helped to keep the lunch cold.  For elementary school age kids, refillable pouches are another option for healthy smoothie or puree blends.  One of my favorites is the adorable 4.5 oz. Squooshi™, which is freezer and dishwasher safe and free of all the “bad-for-yous” like BPA, lead and phthalate.  Recipes for kids of all ages can be found on the Squooshi website.  Another terrific option is to fill a Sili Squeeze with Eeeze™ food pouch and freeze it with the cap on. Please note that the manufacturer does not recommend storing the Sili Squeeze™ in the freezer for an extended periods of time, but states on their website that “Sili Squeeze™ is the perfect lunch box addition to keep your child’s lunch cool and will be perfectly defrosted for lunch time!”

One elementary school that I visited was graciously flexible to help one little girl eat better.  They provided a smaller table that fit her so that her feet could be on the floor (or try a box underneath little feet as a footrest). The table should be at sternum-height so your child can see her food and rest her arms for stability.  Smaller tables also reduce cafeteria noise and foster social skills thanks to smaller groups of kids sitting together.

Here’s a picture of that sweet little girl.  Note the easy “grab and gab” food in one (and only one) container.  See the rest of the food on the table?  That belongs to the two other kids seated across from her.

Aug22

Tell me about your kids’ cafeterias – the good, the bad and the delicious!  What can we do to help kids in school get more time and more options for a healthy lunch?


Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

Distinguishing Cluttering from Stuttering

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Developmental stuttering affects 1 percent of the population and over 3 million people in the United States. However, there are other, lesser known fluency disorders that include neurogenic stuttering and cluttering. Telling the difference between stuttering and cluttering is often a point of confusion, so we take a closer look here at what, exactly, cluttering is—and the process of identifying and treating it.

The International Cluttering Association defines cluttering as “…a fluency disorder characterized by a rate that is perceived to be abnormally rapid, irregular or both for the speaker. These rate abnormalities further are manifest in one or more of the following symptoms: an excessive number of disfluencies, the majority of which are not typical of people who stutter; the frequent placement of pauses and use of prosodic patterns that do not conform to syntactic and semantic constraints; and inappropriate (usually excessive) degrees of coarticulation among sounds, especially in multisyllabic words. ”

So what does cluttering look and sound like?

1. Often people who clutter have what I (and many other speech-language pathologists) refer to as “machine-gun” speech. Their speech comes out in rapid bursts, which is described above as “irregular rate,” and may include pauses where it doesn’t feel appropriate.

2. A person who clutters may also demonstrate disfluencies that are unlike what we see in people who stutter. Some examples of disfluencies that are more typical of a person who clutters is excessive whole word repetitions, unfinished words and interjections (such as um and well). I have also noticed more atypical disfluencies, such as final part word repetitions (chair-air, bike-ike).

3. Coarticulation refers to when a person collapses or omits a syllable of a word (for example, “wuffel” for “wonderful”).

There is quite a bit of symptom variability, as well as co-existing conditions, that make this an even more confusing diagnosis. Below is a list of characteristics and co-morbid conditions that have been seen in people who clutter. (Note: Some people who clutter may have several of the below symptoms/co-existing conditions; some may have only one; and some may have none at all.)

  • Limited or no awareness of their irregular speech pattern unless someone draws their attention to it (very different from what we see in stuttering).
  • Sloppy handwriting.
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts; listeners easily get “lost.”
  • Learning disability.
  • Attention difficulties (i.e., ADHD).
  • Auditory Processing Disorders.
  • Asperger’s Syndrome/Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • Stuttering (a person can clutter and stutter).

If you feel this diagnosis is hard to grasp, you’re not alone.  As a result, this condition goes largely misdiagnosed (as developmental stuttering) or undiagnosed (“I just speak too fast! I don’t have a “real” speech problem!”). For a helpful chart that breaks down the similarities and differences between stuttering and cluttering, see this brochure created by Kathleen Scaler Scott for the National Stuttering Association.

So what do you do if you think your child is cluttering?

Since this a relatively lesser known diagnosis, your best bet would be to find a speech- language pathologist who has experience working with fluency disorders. As you have learned, cluttering is a highly variable disorder. We cannot prescribe a “one size fits all” plan of treatment. There must be careful and continuous observation in order to create a treatment plan that is specific to the symptoms your child is displaying. Here are some common treatment objectives:

    • Self-Monitoring. One common characteristic among people who clutter is limited awareness of their own speech. It is important to heighten the client’s ability to monitor his or her disfluencies, rate, and/or mis-articulations. For a person who stutters, calling their attention to stuttering, although sometimes necessary, may initially cause an increase in disfluencies. However, for people who clutter, calling attention to their speech often helps them improve their rate and overall clarity (at least for a short bit).
    • Over-articulation. Another common characteristic among people who clutter is the collapsing or omitting of syllables. By practicing the over-articulation of sounds, it calls a person’s attention to all the syllables in a word, both stressed and unstressed. The speech of people who clutter may be monotone or “robotic.” Practicing over-articulation can be worked on in conjunction with exaggerating stressed syllables and inflection. Here is a useful video of an SLP discussing the speech of a child who clutters. This particular language sample highlights what it sounds like when a child collapses and omits syllables:http://youtu.be/2AFygz-bxwQ
    • Pausing and Phrasing. Using this technique,  a person practices inserting more pauses into their speech, with attention to the proper placement of these pauses. For younger children, I will have them place pauses every one to three words, but as they get older, more attention will be paid to inserting pauses based on proper phrasing. I often will transcribe a client’s language sample, to include both the words they say and the placement of their pauses. I will then have them mark up the paper with where the pauses should have gone. Having a visual representation of speech is a helpful way to identify when there are way too many words being said between pauses (machine gun speech). Pausing is another too used in teaching a people to slow their rate, which is much more effective and constructive when compared with saying “slow down.
    • Provide strategies for “typical” disfluencies. As noted above, some people will demonstrate stutter-like disfluencies in addition to their cluttering characteristics. In this case, standard stuttering techniques should be addressed. These include cancellations, pull-outs and the like. SLP discussing the speech of a child who clutters. This particular language sample highlights what it sounds like when a child collapses and omits syllables.

Brooke Leiman, MA, CCC-SLP, is the fluency clinic supervisor at the National Speech Language Therapy Center in Bethesda, Md. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders. This blog post is adapted from a post on her blog, www.stutteringsource.com, which focuses on fluency disorders and their treatment.

 

Collaboration Corner: Teaching in South America

aug 15

 

This summer, Scotia Bank sponsored me to support the Step-by-Step School for Autism in Guyana, South America. All of the children have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, and a majority are functionally non-speaking. The school officially opened in 2011. Ten children attend the program, most stay from 8:30-12, and a few stay in the afternoon. My talented colleague, Dr. Jim Ellis, PhD, BCBA-D,  assesses the children as they come in, and writes up all of the ABA programs. As far as I know, he’s the only person in the city (more likely the country) that diagnoses children with ASD. He visits several times a year, brings supplies, and supports the staff through Skype sessions and video.

The school sits on the top floor of a car dealership. If you look closely, you can see a trampoline in the top right…which is their outdoor space.

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I think I underestimated the cultural adjustment. While the primary language is English, the dialect is Guyanese Creole, a form of Creole influenced by African and East Indian languages. A couple of days new families came in to meet with me at the school; luckily one of the head tutors was there to gracefully interpret and mitigate any language difficulties. Everything was different from what I was used to–the roads, the livestock wandering the street, the weather, the sound of generators. Not an ATM in site. I did love the mangoes I got to eat every day, and the neighbor next to the school had three beautiful (and loud) McCaw Parrots for pets, which were amazing.

Most of the families do not have enough money to pay tuition. The cost per child is $4,800 per year, which pays for the tutors’ salaries. Assistance is also given for snacks and  transportation costs if the families need help.  That’s right, tutors make about $480 per month, which is considered relatively high for teachers. And don’t think the cost of things is much lower… I spent 300 Guyanese dollars on a bottle of soda, which was about  $2.

In Guyana there are no speech-language pathologists per say, rather there are trained “rehab techs” that, after 18 months of training provide OT, PT and speech services to children and adults. The pay is so low, that qualified people simply leave, so there are simply no speech-language pathologists in the country.

Kudos to the tutoring staff there, aside from a few who have children with ASD, very few of the tutors have any teaching experience, let alone experience with autism, but they do remarkable work. They work around the power outages, flash floods getting to work, and that one morning where we didn’t have running water. The entire program is supported by donations from private citizens and businesses, so finding consistent financial support is a struggle. Despite these obstacles, the students are clearly benefiting.

I appreciated that the tutors welcomed me, a total stranger, into their school. In the mornings, I observed or worked with the students and tutors.  In the afternoons, I conducted training and workshops. A few of the rehab techs from the hospital came to the school, observed the tutors working with the students, and then stayed for training. The majority of my time was spent modeling how to use each student’s communication system, evaluating language, and coming up with communication and language goals.

First, however, the tutors needed a foundation. While I evaluated the students, I assessed the most practical things that the tutors needed to learn. It’s important to know why you are doing what you are doing, so lecturing at them wouldn’t be helpful (let’s face it, none of us really learn that way). Every day, I divided the seven tutors into groups, one group per table. Each table had slightly different materials, whether it be games or books. Every day, the tutors made therapy materials, and then role-played with their partners using the materials to support the games or books on their tables. Then they swapped tables and partners. This was important so they could naturally provide feedback to one another. So, in 10 days, the tutors focused on:

  • How to create communication books and use pictures to communicate (we made 10 in 10 days!)
  • Preliteracy activities: How to modify and present books to enhance language
  • How to use play to support language development
  • How to use Boardmaker® software
  • How to use an iPad to support language and social skills (iPads donated by the British High Commission)
  • How to use pictures and language to support transitions
  • How to use functional sign language to support language development
  • Typical language development for grades K-1

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Learning language through play

One statement that stuck with me, was one tutor who said she loved the sense of teamwork that she felt that week, every tutor pulling together to make materials for all students. Another commented how nice it was to play, and to see how the students responded. The students were amazing and so responsive to intervention.

So, I’m hooked. We will keep collaborating via Skype, and I’m sponsored for two more trips this year. And in August, I will go back to my public school with my newfound perspective of gratitude, and what can be possible.

For more information about the school, please visit the Step by Step Foundation, or feel free to contact me directly by posting to this blog.

Kerry Davis, Ed.D, CCC-SLP, is a city-wide speech-language pathologist west of Boston. Her areas of interest include working with children with multiple disabilities, inclusion in education and professional development. The views on this blog are my own and do not represent those of my employer. Dr. Davis can be followed on Twitter at @DrKDavisslp.

Why the Scarcity of Male SLPs—and What Can Be Done

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One could easily see the lack of males in our profession by walking into any elementary school, or even attending an ASHA conference. It’s no secret that males are a rarity in speech-language pathology, but the topic of conversation has now shifted to what we can do about this trend. The fact that I was a minority in our field was apparent to me immediately after attending my first articulation disorders course.

Unfortunately, efforts to attract more males to our profession have been generally unsuccessful. Not only that, but according to data presented in the article on this topic by Kellie Rowden-Racette in the August ASHA Leader, the number of males in our field, and related fields (for example, psychology), have actually declined.

At this time, we have to use the information gathered by ASHA about why males are not choosing speech-language pathology, and develop concrete solutions on how to address the dearth of males in this profession.

The Frederick Schnieiders Research study conducted in 1997 revealed three common reasons males were less likely to pursue speech-language pathology compared with women: concerns about adequate income, concerns about advancement, and fears of limited opportunities for growth. Perry Flynn, an ASHA board member who blogged on this topic for ASHAsphere last week, shared an additional reason in the ASHA Leader article—lack of awareness:

“Men seem to have awareness and knowledge of many other related services—physical therapy, psychology, even occupational therapy, and certainly nursing—but no inkling of what a speech-language pathologist might do,” says Flynn, also associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Flynn’s insight holds true for me, as I knew very little about the scope of our profession before entering my junior year of undergraduate courses. However, as illustrated in the Leader article, there are issues beyond “awareness.”

Another explanation given of why men aren’t in the profession was that men are still unfairly viewed as less nurturing than women. I agree with Michael Maykish, an SLP in an elementary school in North Carolina, when he says, “You can’t generalize the notion that men aren’t nurturing.” Maykish goes on to say, “Successful SLPs are inherently nurturing, male or female. If you aren’t, you’re not going to enjoy being an SLP and probably shouldn’t be in this career.” We, as males, have an opportunity to promote our gender by directly showing we, too, can be nurturing.

Bringing awareness of CSD opportunities to the male population before they enter college will hopefully have a multi-pronged effect. This should give some insight and knowledge about the profession to some males who previously wouldn’t have considered going into our field, and possibly spark some interest. The male students who are now interested in CSD will act as a conduit, since, as history has shown, males influence other males regarding college major.

It is important that men in our field act as ambassadors, and take time to share the benefits of being in this profession with high school juniors and seniors. Word of mouth, coming directly from the source is a powerful tool.

Earning an adequate salary is obviously a concern for everyone, but, traditionally, it’s an even bigger one for males. Given the large numbers of SLPs employed in schools, developing ways to address this financial concern from a school-based perspective may be the best way to see the biggest return of male therapists. If we want to see the median income rise, I believe it is imperative we continue our efforts to separate ourselves, males and females, from teacher-related fields through continuing education and specialization. It is dispiriting to hear that SLPs are being offered entry level pay. We are highly qualified professionals who are in high demand. Consequently, negotiating a salary above entry level should always be an option, including when working with a school district.

Adding courses to your resume or becoming specialized in a particular area will only help school-based SLPs become more marketable and should result in higher incomes, which hopefully will attract more males to the profession. Providing treatment after school hours or during the summer are other ways to supplement a school salary, making the profession more appealing to salary-driven males.

I hope some of my suggestions are valid enough to spur even a small increase in the amount of males choosing CSD, as it is a remarkable field. A large section of my response focused on the financial aspect of our profession. I must admit the financial issue was not really relevant to me when I was considering the field. I guess I always felt if you work in a “helping” profession, you make some financial sacrifices. That said, I always felt my salary was fair, and if it wasn’t, it was my responsibility to change something.

Also, I realize much of this blog has been a testosterone-fueled rant, but I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t thank all the wonderful female SLPs. When the demand of speech-language pathologists is still so high that I’m trying to convince more people to commit, regardless of gender, well, then the gender that has composed approximately 96 percent of our field for so long must be doing something right.

Kevin Maier II, MS, CCC-SLP, is an SLP in the Wyomissing Area School District in Pennsylvania.

Kid Confidential: My Top 10 Reasons for Attending the ASHA Schools Conference

aug 8

 

I know I typically write about some topic related to child development but I thought I would take a detour this month and write about my first experience participating in the ASHA schools conference.  The reason I think this is important is because so many SLPs out there are school-based or work primarily with pediatrics and my experience at the schools conference this year was a very good one full of great insight into various topics, issues and research on child development.

First, let me say that I get no financial or non-financial benefits for writing this article.  So that being said, rest assured this blog post is coming solely from my personal experience and opinions.

This year was the first year in my long career as a speech-language pathologist (yes, you heard that correctly) that I was able to attend the ASHA Schools Conference.  Although I had wanted to go for some time now, between marriage, my husband’s multiple deployments and motherhood, I just couldn’t find the time or financial means to attend before this year.  However, with that said, I had such a wonderful educational experience that I do regret missing out on conferences of previous years and I knew I needed to share with you that it truly is worth saving your quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies over the next year to ensure you can attend.

In an effort not to take myself too seriously and to make this fun for you, I will, like some famous evening talk show host I will not name, give you….(drum roll please)….

 

My TOP 10 Reasons for attending the ASHA Schools Conference:

10.  Location, Location, Location:  Every year it is at a new location in the United States and it’s a nice reason to go check out some parts of the country you might not otherwise ever see.

9.  It’s Some Work and Some Play:  Presentations are over by 3:30 on Friday and Saturday so you have the choice to stay for round table discussions or poster presentations but if you choose not to participate, the rest of the evening is yours to spend sight-seeing.  Sunday, the conference is over by lunch time so you have the rest of the day to grab your camera and officially play tourist.  I was able to head on over to enjoy the beach while the sun was going down one evening, walked about the harbor tourist shops on a Sunday afternoon and strolled along the palm tree lined streets and bike paths with my family.  It was some fun, work, and some super fun play!!!

8.  A Family Affair: I decided to bring along my husband and 3-year-old son on this trip.  They were able to spend some quality Daddy time while I was enjoying the conference and we had some nice family time in the evenings.  It was a win-win situation for me, still having some time to enjoy my summer with my family.

7.  It’s Like Looking in a Mirror:  Have you ever seen a convergence of 1000+ pediatric SLPs on one convention center?  We are all dressed in our khakis and flip flops with our bag of notepads, binders, tablets, pens and pencils slung over our shoulders.  It really is like looking in a mirror and seeing thousands of ourselves out there.  After registration, I was walking back to my hotel room and waiting at the crosswalk were two women who looked like … well me.  So I asked them “Are you SLPs?” and one woman turned around and said “Yes, but that’s a heck of a pick-up line don’t you think?” Ha!  So true!

6.  Feed Them and They will Come:  Yes you guessed it, your registration fee includes (or at least this year included) breakfast each morning, lunch for Friday and Saturday, and snacks.  The food was very healthy and delicious too.  No too shabby!

5.  It’s About What You WANT to Know:  The feel of the schools conference is not about who you know, what researcher you like or who’s work you just finished peer reviewing.  It’s about what you WANT to know.  “What session are you going to next?” was a question I heard often that weekend from strangers who became new found friends because they happened to sit next to each other in a session.  It’s all about what we have come there to learn and what we can share with each other when our sessions are done.  The exchange of educational information for the pure purpose of learning!  Ah, does it get better than that?

4.  The Social Network:  What I love about school SLPs is that although we love our technology, we also love our old school email (strange that email is actually old school now, don’t you think?).  Of the speech pathologists I talked to and exchanged information with, there weren’t any future “tweets” planned or Facebook private messages offered.  It was more of “Shoot me an email when you get back to ____ and we’ll talk.”  So yes, we are able to build our network of SLPs in a way that works for us.  And let’s face it, what SLP can really stick to 140 characters?  Limiting our ability to “talk” is really the worst nightmare for an SLP, don’t you think?!

3.   It’s Not What You Say, It’s HOW You Say It:  The presenters chosen for this conference (I can only speak to the 5 presentations I partook) were down to earth, engaging, interactive and some of them were very, very humorous!  David Hammer, an SLP who presented on CAS, introduced himself by saying he’s NOT an expert but a specialist because he believes he is always learning.  This is one example of how things said really change the dynamic of the session.  Luckily, he was not the exception.  All of the presenters I encountered and talked to were there because they wanted to share their passion for their field with us.

2.  Use Our Time Wisely:  Each presentation was FILLED with useful information, techniques, strategies and therapy activities we can use on a daily basis for a variety of different deficits and disorders.  I was very happy to see that my money and my time was NOT wasted on theory or upcoming research while only spending the last 15 minutes on therapy as many times happens at conferences.  Rather, after every presentation I left with the feeling that I had new tools in my toolbox ready to try in therapy with my clients.

And my number 1 reason for attending the ASHA schools conference is…

1.  It Only Takes a SPARK:  The number one reason I recommend going to the ASHA Schools Conference is because it helps flame the fire and passion we have inside of us for our field.  It only takes a spark, but once our fire gets going, we are hard to stop!

So those are my top 10 reasons for attending the ASHA Schools Conference.  Did you go this year?  What are your impressions?

I have already started saving for next July’s schools conference which incidentally is being held in my old stomping grounds of Pennsylvania.  I hope to see some of you in Pittsburgh next summer!

Maria Del Duca, MS, CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist in southern, Arizona.  She owns a private practice, Communication Station: Speech Therapy, PLLC, and has a speech and language blog under the same name.  Maria received her master’s degree from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.  She has been practicing as an ASHA certified member since 2003 and is an affiliate of Special Interest Group 16, School-Based Issues.  She has experience in various settings such as private practice, hospital and school environments and has practiced speech pathology in NJ, MD, KS and now AZ.  Maria has a passion for early childhood, autism spectrum disorders, rare syndromes, and childhood Apraxia of speech.  For more information, visit her blog or find her on Facebook.

Why the Gender Imbalance in the Schools?

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There is no one answer to the shortage of men in the communications sciences and disorders professions in general, and in school settings in particular. The article on this topic by Kellie Rowden-Racette in the August ASHA Leader presents several hypotheses—and elicits input from a variety of men who practice in school settings—to get at the root of the shortages.

Let me share my own story of why I became a school-based SLP. At Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh in 1980 I took an aptitude test as part of the PSAT during my junior year. The test suggested that I had interests and strengths to become a priest, veterinarian or speech-language pathologist. I knew the pros and cons of the priesthood and veterinary medicine, so investigated speech-language pathology which I had never heard of before.

As I investigated that profession it seemed a perfect fit. Science and language were strengths for me. I loved helping people especially children and thought either a school or hospital environment working with kids would be ideal for me. I have to say I never once considered how much money I would make. My parents had always instilled in me the ideal of finding a career that I loved not just finding a job—and it seems this was also the experience of my friend Rob Dellinger and James Brinton, both mentioned in the Leader article. So with the help of Brother Clement Smith I further investigated the profession and where I might pursue a degree in communication sciences and disorders.

For a variety of reasons the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (where I now work) fit all my requirements and I thankfully was accepted there. In the 1980s I could begin taking classes in my major freshman year. As I searched for jobs at the time of my graduation, two pediatric hospitals and two school districts were my targets. I learned that the two hospitals did not accept clinical fellows and was offered both the school positions. I began work for the Rockingham County Schools in North Carolina. Initially I thought, “I will do my clinical fellowship year in the schools and then move to a pediatric hospital setting.” I loved my school job so much I remained there for 15 years rising to become the lead SLP as four districts, including mine, merged.

Enough of my personal story. Onto the more specific comment in the Leader article. I, like Tracy Ball, have many friends who have shared with me that while they may make a very good living, they just drone through their day at a job they in some cases dread. Some of my friends are in prominent positions on the national stage but still express envy at my job—one in which I feel I make a difference for kids and the greater good of our world on a daily bases. Every day I am thankful that I feel like this way about my career/ daily work.

In conversations with young men (and women) of college age, I am impressed by their interest in serving the greater good of humanity and the world at large. At least in our conversations they recognize the value of enjoying their work on a daily basis over the almighty dollar. I do realize that sometimes the reality of college loans and the pull of the American dream have some sway over their ideals.

As I mentioned in the article, my experience is that while this generation is interested in the related services, they typically have never heard of or had any experience with speech-language pathology. I believe all of us SLPs, both men and women, would do well to get the word out about our rewarding profession. We all need to cast a wide net to recruit men to the profession. Part of casting this wide net might mean to mention the other related service professions to help our occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychology and nursing brothers and sisters recruit men to all of those professions (but hopefully catch the cream of the crop for our own).

We all need to do a marketing blitz to recruit the next generation for our profession. We need to take time out from our jam-packed workload to get in high school classes, youth groups, Boy Scout troops and undergraduate classes to introduce our profession. Every young guy I talk to at the gym, in line for food at volunteer events, I seize the opportunity to mention what I do, talk it up and plant that seed. In a couple of cases, I know the seed has grown and my chat has paid off. We could all participate in a marketing campaign on a grass-roots basis.

Margaret Rogers, chief staff officer for science and research at ASHA, noted that cultural currents of gender roles are slowly changing, and I agree. We all need to be that change we hope for by both recruiting men and by contemplating “masculine friendly” conditions in schools. I also agree with Margaret in that we are “midstream” in this current change away from societal expectations toward assertion of individual preferences in choosing professions.

I can provide an example of my personal (inaccurate) gender expectations. When someone says to me the word nurse I still picture a woman in a white dress with a cap. I think that is a functional of my age/generation. When I take one more second to consider the word my vision opens to men in scrubs, as I have encountered many male nurses (who wear scrubs). In some ways the profession of speech-language pathology does not have to overcome that generational picture of an SLP because we do not have a historical “look.” Our marketing campaign can paint the “look” of an SLP however we want in promoting the profession to potential students. We have the opportunity to “sell” the profession at least initially as lacking a gender bias.

Tracy Ball noted that men have an intangible special something in working with boys. In many instances, behavior is easier for us to manage, boys are more attentive. Men in schools have a tremendous opportunity to influence the next generation, and that is a great privilege.

I will end with this thought. Membership in ASHA is like a cruise. I think many people see it as a luxury pleasure cruise involving deck chairs and endless buffets. I, however, see ASHA membership as more of a Windjammer cruise. While we are getting to enjoy the beautiful experiences of our profession, we all have to pitch in to contribute to and enhance the experience. Just as the crew of the Windjammer helps cook, clean and steer, all of us SLPs have to promote the profession, recruit for it and help change cultural currents. I hope all of you will join in helping to bring more men into our rewarding profession through recruiting efforts and affirmative marketing on a grass-roots level.

Perry Flynn, CCC-SLP, is an ASHA board member, associate professor at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and the consultant to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in the area of speech-language pathology. He is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education, and 16, School-Based Issues.

Kevin Maier, CCC-SLP, an SLP in the Wyomissing Area School District in Pennsylvania, will share his thoughts on this topic in next Tuesday’s post on ASHAsphere.

Social Skills and Theater—It’s Showtime!

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True story: One night in the summer of 2009, I had a dream that I took a group of actors with special needs to a high school arts competition. The next day I was offered the opportunity to start a collaborative speech-language/drama program that targeted social communication skills while the group worked to put on a play. That really happened.

Obviously, my answer was “yes.”

The Expanding Horizons: Broadway Kids program, a collaboration between the Loyola Clinical Centers of Loyola University Maryland and the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts (CCTA), started in the fall of 2009 with five actors. First-year graduate students under the supervision of a licensed SLP planned weekly 1.25 hour group speech-language sessions that targeted the individual pragmatic needs of the “actors.” Traditional theater games (e.g. improvisational activities) were modified to teach skills needed to be both successful actors and successful communicators. Clinicians targeted using the voice and body to convey emotion, reading the non-verbal cues sent by a communication partner, as well as giving and receiving constructive feedback during small group sessions. Next, the whole gang joined together to practice selected songs and scenes from a musical, with a director and music director from CCTA running the show (pun intended). The graduate clinicians facilitated generalization of the goals targeted in the highly structured small groups into the larger, more informal, group setting (play rehearsal).

Since then, there have been nine performances. Cast sizes have tripled, peer buddies have been added, and the Howard County Public School System joined as a partner (a tear jerking story about that later). The original format described above has remained consistent, but we have learned many things. Here are just a few items from our long list of lessons learned.

1. Not every kid wants to be on stage.

Shocking, right? As someone who has been performing since age 10, the fact that other people would not find the stage as amazing as I do was eye opening. Though, as a grown-up and a professional, I should have known better. Through the years, we have made good progress to ensure that all actors are going benefit from the program. Client selection factors include making sure the actors have shown interest in the arts in advance of being volunteered for our program. Trying to target social skills while an actor is hiding under a table suffering from a severe case of stage fight doesn’t work too well.

2. Don’t assume.

We all know what happens when we assume, but I still do it. This year I assumed that the middle school girl with selective mutism would benefit little (warning: here comes the tear jerking part). What I did not know was that this student had requested to be in the program. In September, there was limited to no verbal communication during rehearsals. Somewhere along the way, she was assigned a musical solo (our director was obviously a more optimistic person than myself, thank goodness). When this student performed the solo for her sixth-grade peers, the audience went wild. Again, I had assumed that the school audience would be polite, but would be more excited to be out of class than to support a peer. The reaction from the audience was genuine and supportive. They understood how much courage it took to be up on the stage, and recognized the huge accomplishment of their classmate who they had never heard speak. Of the adults present, there was not a dry eye in the house. Personally, I was sobbing.

3. Stakeholder buy in is a must.

School staff and leadership need to see the value in such a program for it to be a success. Our most successful school partnerships have been those where we were invited to a) perform for the general education students and b) easily partnered with the school SLP. Because of the level of collaboration between us, teachers, and the SLP at the second high school we were invited into, the program continued without Loyola involvement in the subsequent year. An integrated theater arts program at a public high school was born!

It’s been a tremendous four years and we are looking forward to many more. To learn more, visit Loyola’s Clinical Center’s website and  the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts website for more information.

 

Erin Stauder, MS, CCC-SLP, is clinical faculty at Loyola University Maryland. She has worked in special education schools, early intervention, and in acute care pediatric settings. Currently, she supervises a diverse caseload that includes a social skills group that uses theater to teach pragmatic language skills. She can be reached at estauder@loyola.edu.