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.