Collaboration Corner: In Defense of the Whole Child

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I treat children with autism. I’ve been doing it for a while now. As the numbers of children with autism peak a staggering 1:88 (Center for Disease Control, 2014), the demand for trained staff has gone through the roof. Many districts have specialized paraprofessionals whose primary job is to teach and support children with autism. In the Boston area, graduate and certificate programs related to ABA are cropping up everywhere, churning out new and enthusiastic graduates by the boatload.

Before I go on, there are three things you should know about me: 1) I have never been a diehard, one-shoe-fits-all clinician, 2) I embrace whole-heartedly the principals of ABA. It’s as an evidenced-based approach, and it works wonders for all sorts of kids, not just ones with autism, and, 3) If I couldn’t be silly with my students, I would just close up shop.

As an SLP, I know there are mountains of other kinds of research, and that child language and cognitive development that are important too. In this age of ABA, I find myself wanting to shout from the rooftops, “Wait! Stop! There’s more to this kid than just autism!”

Our role as SLPs and educators

Working with so many professionals “trained in autism” made me realize that, as SLPs, we bring to the table our knowledge of childhood language development, learning, motivation and context. Never before has this been more evident to me. We also bring the friendly reminder the importance of a playful approach and rapport building.

I’ve found myself shifting discussions to the whole child, and what we know about children and learning.

Here are some pointers I frequently share with staff:

  1. Appeal to the inner child first (yours and theirs). The individual comes before the label.
  2. Not every behavior can be attributed to one definitive cause. Environments, emotional state/regulation, personality, medical/biological components, all should be up for consideration.
  3. Assessment and intervention is a daily process, which is sometimes messy and dynamic (see #2). We won’t always get it right the first time. Or even the second time.
  4. It’s possible (and OK!)  to be structured and silly at the same time. Sometimes silliness increases engagement.
  5. Watch and learn from your kindergarten teachers (see #4). I’ve learned a lot from them about having fun while being structured, thoughtful and flexible.
  6. Use visuals even if the child is verbal or becoming verbal. We can model language through PECS, topic boards and Aided Language Stimulation techniques, within natural play activities.
  7. Strive to meet every child “where they are” in all aspects of learning: attention, behavior, communication and language development.
  8. We can’t make someone ready to learn or communicate; we simply lay the foundation.
  9. Learning can’t happen in a bubble. Context is just about everything. I know what a zoo is, because I’ve been in one, not because I’ve seen a flashcard of one.
  10. And finally, my favorite: Provide random acts of praise and compliments. Make daily deposits into that relationship bank. It’s a worthwhile investment.

 

Kerry Davis Ed.D., CCC-SLP,is a speech-language pathologist in the Boston area, working with children who have significant communication challenges. She conducts trainings and workshops, and serves as a volunteer speech pathologist and consultant for Step by Step Guyana, a school for children with autism in South America. The opinions expressed in this blog are her own, and not those of her employer.

Collaboration Corner: Love Your Librarians!

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One of the best resources in my school is my librarian. I have an amazingly knowledgeable colleague who knows top to bottom, every resource on the shelf or online. Here are some things (online and off-line) that she taught me about my school library:

  • Libraries are an excellent resource for wordless picture books: I can never have enough wordless picture book resources to target narrative language, my kind librarian researched wordless picture books, and printed out a list of titles available throughout the district. The best part is I can check out books as I need to, which saves me from out-of-pocket costs for materials.
  • Libraries are a great place for pre-voc skills: One year I had a minimally verbal student with ASD who was so great when it came to sorting and shelving books in alphabetical order. I’ve had other students help with book check-in or check-out.
  • I have access to so many subscriptions purchased by my schools district, including curriculum-aligned resources, which includes my most recent favorite place, PebbleGo.
  • As we continue to help our students understand fact, fiction and other online places, there are a ton of resources for digital literacy and education, including cyber-bullying.

 

Finally, the library is a welcoming place for all kinds of learners. My generous colleague purchased multi-sensory books and curriculum which help my students connect with literacy in a way that is enjoyable. Whenever a student of mine is having a tough time, we can come to a place for quiet and a little bit of sunshine…there’s a spot right by the window whenever we need to beat a little bit of those winter blues!

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

 

Collaboration Corner: Developing an IEP with C.A.R.E.

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How can we make goal-writing and individualized education programs less daunting?  Recently I wrote an article for the upcoming March volume of SIG 16 Perspectives. I took the literature and combined it with what, in my experience working in public schools, makes the process collaborative.  Since I’m a visual person, I drew a model:

 

visual

 

So as you sit down as a team to write your next IEP, you may want to consider these four parts:

Context:

I apologize to those of you who have heard this from me before, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to remember that language is everywhere. Aside from basic artic goals, we really can embed our goals under most curriculum areas. Look to see how your speech and language targets may actually fit across other areas such as math (descriptive/comparative language), history (explain/describe/narrate), and science (using temporal language to order steps in a process, vocabulary).  If our ultimate goal is generalization, then it is logical to think broadly, holistically.

 

Assessment

Assessment doesn’t happen just at IEP time, it should be ongoing. If an IEP is collaborative, then data can be collected from a variety of general education activities and speech and language activities. Don’t reinvent the wheel; look at the assessments the general education teacher is giving your students and either analyze their findings or offer to provide the assessment. This is not extra work; it helps to inform your intervention. Recently I helped a Kindergarten teacher with a dictation assessment, and was it ever so enlightening!

Review & Reflect

Review your approach honestly; reflection is how we, as practitioners, learn and grow (Tagg, 2007). Since we have very little time in our crazy professional lives, this often falls by the wayside. As related service providers, we need to find time to discuss what we are seeing, and consult with teachers on how this can translate academically. In some cases, this may mean including in the IEP that the team will meet every certain number of weeks, to discuss and update one another on the student’s current performance.

Extend

Think about how to create goals that can extend beyond the immediate environment. For the majority of the students who I see, I am constantly looking for ways to connect academics with independence. A student learning math and money, for example, may need a trip to the store. A student working on following directions may bring a list to the store and come back to follow a recipe. These kinds of experiences make the abstract become concrete.

C.A.R.E is about creating a smooth, efficient and collaborative IEP process. This way we can move on from the paperwork part, and get back to the business of intervention and academic success. For more detailed information, please keep an eye out for my article entitled, “Autism in the schools: IEP best practices at work,” coming out in the next SIG 16 Perspectives issue.

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

Collaboration Corner: “Out of my Mind” Speaks Volumes

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This year, I worked with a fifth grade class who was reading “Out of my Mind” by Sharon Draper. The story is about a nonspeaking 11- year-old girl with cerebral palsy. Her classmates, teachers, and even  her doctors underestimate her abilities. Little do they know she has a photographic memory. One day after months of fighting with insurance, Melody (the protagonist) is given the gift of voice through an AAC device; the drama unfolds from there.

The teachers read a little of this book every day to the class, but wanted the students to get a better understanding of Melody’s struggles. They asked me to come in and show students various kinds of AAC devices.

This was the perfect launching point for a lesson on inclusion and AAC. This was one of the most effective ways I’ve worked with teachers and students regarding the challenges AAC users face everyday.

Here’s all I used:

  • A PECS book;
  • Two iPads with two different communication apps;
  • An alphabet board;
  • Low-tech battery operated voice output device;
  • A sheet with a picture of two “thought bubbles” and two hearts (see below);
  • Index cards with written scenarios; and
  • A sheet of emotion cartoons.

First, the class gathered together, and I gave them an overview of how people might communicate. Most understood body language, words, and some mentioned sign language. Then I brought out the different systems. Their eyes lit up. Then they started to make connections to other children in the building who used these systems. They were hooked.

Next, the children broke up into groups of four or five. Each table had two AAC systems. Within each group, students paired off. One student had a “speaker” card, and the other a “listener” card. Speaker cards had clues like, “you can’t speak, but you can point and read. You really want to tell your friend about the movie you saw last night.” The partner’s card (“listener”) read, “Your friend can’t speak, but she can point and read. She really wants to tell you something, find out what it is.”

I wish I had taken a video. The interactions were amazing, and the students really dove into the activity. Each group got a turn with a different kind of system. A nice, unexpected experience: Teachers went by and facilitated interactions with tips like being closer to the speaker, or waiting and not interrupting.

Finally, I collected the devices. Each group received a copy of a words related to emotions and a worksheet, which they worked on individually. This gave them a chance to reflect.

On the worksheet were only two fill-in the blanks on top:

When-I-was-the-speaker

On the bottom were two more:

When-I-was-the-listener

And then the teaching part happened! Here were some of the responses:

  • I was thinking, why can’t he understand me!!! I was outraged!
  • This is so hard! I felt like giving up.
  • I don’t have enough words. I felt like oh, well, never mind.
  • I wanted to help you, I’m sad and frustrated for you
  • I can’t understand you, I felt impatient.
  • Keep trying! I felt helpless.
  • I can’t spell, this takes too long! I felt annoyed.

I kept copies of every single sheet, I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do with them, though I’m fighting the urge to wallpaper my office with them.

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

 

 

 

 

Collaboration Corner: Supervision 101

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As a school-based clinician in the Boston area, I’m grateful to have access to some of the greatest learning institutions in the country. As an off-site clinical supervisor, I feel particularly obligated to make all that learning translate into something meaningful. In a public school placement, the school day can become insanely busy. This month I’ve decided to share a few tips that guide me both as a clinical supervisor and a professional.

Create a clear contract of expectations: Provide a copy of the school calendar with holidays, early release days. Provide a week-by-week schedule of expectations, including which specific clients your student will see, and how much supervision will be provided. Include any evaluations, reports and meetings your student will be expected to attend. Provide a mid-term check-in (even if the institution does not require it) and review academic expectations, this way you can give structured and specific feedback.

Know your learner, know thyself: Figure out early in the game, how she or he prefers to get information to you, including email or text messaging. Establish up-front what kind of feedback your student finds helpful, and how/when it is most helpful.  Generally, this seems to work if the student has pretty good insight as to how they function real-time. If they aren’t sure, provide examples. For example, do they mind if you jump in during a session, or do they prefer notes afterward?

Don’t assume anything: I usually get a list of the student’s academic resume and personal experiences. This doesn’t provide me with much information, so I go into the relationship assuming nothing. First, even if my graduate student has experience in a school, each school runs different, and has a unique culture. Second, I can’t assume they have any experience (or minimal experience) working with students like mine. Third and perhaps most importantly, don’t assume reading translates easily into application. A very clever mentor of mine once said, “Remember, you are only as smart as the last thing you read.” This is an important perspective, because not only are you teaching methodology, which brings text to life, but as a supervisor, you are setting the foundation for students’ clinical skills. Show them what they need to learn.

Encourage your student to journal: Reflective learning is the most important part of clinical growth. There is a ton of research supporting opportunities for reflection and professional development. I don’t ask students to show me their journal. I do ask them to take 10 minutes out of their week to sit down and write about two things: something that they learned that week, and something that they need to work to improve. I also encourage them to think larger, not just clinical skills, but interpersonal skills, and how they handled a difficult situation. Then, every other week or so, I have a heart-to-heart on how they think they are doing, and what they think their biggest accomplishes and challenges are thus far.

Leave at least 15 minutes twice daily for check-in: Once in the beginning before school starts to review lesson plans, and then once around lunch or at the end of the day. The first opportunity provides guidance on how to run the lesson; the second should be a chance to discuss how your student perceived the lesson-in-action.

Don’t take the little things for granted: Your students are always learning from you; this includes the good and unfortunately, the not-so-good-but-human moments. How you approach a conflict with a student or co-worker is a lesson. How you are able to comment on your mistakes (a good thing) is a lesson. So remember you are always a role model, not just as an SLP, but as a successful professional. Here’s the best part, I find students make us be the clinicians we want to be; even after a long week of parent conferences, a full moon of behavioral outbursts, or after one too many caffeine-fueled moments, they keep us accountable.

After all, after 16 years, I’m still learning, too.

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