Seven Lessons for Newly-Minted SLPs

graduation

It’s graduation season and I can’t help but notice all of the brand new speech-language pathologists coming out of graduate programs across the country. What’s more is that I can’t help but be so happy for them! Here’s why: It seems as if it was just yesterday that I was a free spirited sophomore who decided to take a random class in phonetics. Little did I know this class would influence my life’s work. The class was taught by a young Ph.D., Gloria Weddington, who helped to focus me and, much to my mother’s delight, give me a purpose.

As a senior, Dr. Weddington took me to my first ASHA Convention where she introduced me to all the leaders in our profession.  What impressed me most was how well liked and respected she was by everyone. She would introduce me to her colleagues  as her “little student”  who was going to be a great addition to our profession.  She believed in me and I believed in myself. Once I received my master’s degree, I was ready to set the world on fire!

I vividly remember my first experience as an itinerant SLP in Los Angeles Unified School District. I was so eager and excited to have my first real job with my first real paycheck. I loved my schools and my kids and had a great master teacher who served as my CF supervisor.  I enjoyed my work and continued to grow seizing every new opportunity that came my way.  I absolutely loved my job! A few years later I left my very secure job to strike out on my own and opened a small private practice. I was the secretary, the receptionist, and the SLP,  but most importantly, I was happy again.  That was 35 years ago and I have never looked back.  In fact, I discovered another side of myself, that as an entrepreneur who was able to develop and sustain a thriving private practice in Los Angeles.

Today, many of my friends and colleagues are happily retiring. I have to admit, I feel a little conflicted when I think of what it must be like to wake up each morning and to not having any professional responsibilities.  However, I also can’t imagine life without my professional responsibilities, especially since there is so much more for me to do. The truth of the matter is that I feel as passionate today about our esteemed profession as I did when I was 24.

Young staff often ask me what’s my secret?  It’s no secret–it’s living and learning from life’s experiences. I am approaching 40 years “young” in our great profession and here are seven lessons learned along the way that continue to feed my spirit and nourish my soul:

  1.  Find a role model, a hero whom you admire, respect and trust. Listen, watch, and learn from him or her. If you are lucky they will be your mentor.
  2. Make your CF year count. Get the clinical supervision and support that you need to grow strong and healthy in our profession.
  3.  Be willing to rebuild your dreams.  Protect the joy and excitement that you experienced upon entering the profession. Remember there are no victims, just volunteers.
  4. Continue to grow, learn, and maintain high standards.  Make it a priority to attend ASHA conventions or at the very least your state conferences.  Learning is critical in our ever-changing profession
  5. Keep plenty of mirrors around.  Look closely at whether the person you see is the person you really want to see.  And, when in doubt refer to our ASHA Code of Ethics.
  6. Don’t burn bridges. You never know who you will need to give you that last cup of water.
  7. Have fun.  There is always work to be done!

Congratulations and welcome to our great profession!

Pamela Wiley-Wells, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is the president of the Los Angeles Speech and Language Therapy Center, Inc. and the founder of The Wiley Center, a 501 (c)(3) organization dedicated to providing direct services and support to children with autism spectrum disorders or other developmental disabilities. The practice includes early intervention programs located in South Gate, Lawndale, Los Angeles, and Culver City as well as two satellite speech therapy clinics in Studio City and Downey. Wiley is a frequent lecturer on how to effectively deliver services to the increasing number of children diagnosed with ASDs who have social cognitive deficits.  She has written several professional articles and has co-authored two therapy workbooks; Autism: Attacking Social Interaction Problems for children 4-9 and 10-12 years of age as well as a separate parent resource guide available in English and Spanish. You can follow her private practice on Facebook.

 

A New Twist on Vocational Training

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In April, 2013 I wrote an article challenging SLPs  who work with students with autism spectrum disorder to use our creativity to help our students identify their strengths, interests and even fixations and parlay them into career possibilities (“Gearing Up for Reality,” ASHA Leader Magazine April 2013).

As a result I decided to create a six-week pre-vocational summer camp counselor experience for eight  high school aged male students, many of whom I hadn’t seen for several years. I wanted to offer them the same summer intern experience that typical students are exposed to minus the stresses and fear of failure.  Staff and I wanted this to be a safe and nurturing environment with structures in place to help them navigate the world of work.

The criterion was quite simple; the students needed to commit to work in our summer camp at least three days per week and attend weekly job club meetings where I would address daily living, social, and pre-vocational skills.  Additionally, each student would receive a stipend of $200.00 in exchange for their participation but more importantly to make our discussions on money management real and tangible.  Our program would culminate in a trip to Clear Lake, Calif., for a weekend work experience.

Sadly, our  six weeks have come and gone. I vividly remember how I felt on that first day seeing the boys. I stayed on the verge of tears as they each filed into my office with their parents in tow. Despite their height, good looks, and deep voices I could still see in each of them the little boys who I once knew. As I extended my hand to greet them, each gave me a warm hug. My heart melted!

It was interesting to watch the boys interact with each other on that first day. Some were more socially adept than others but they had all come a long way. In many ways, they were like typical teens sizing each other up and looking for a common ground while seeking acceptance.

During the first week I began to see their personalities unfold.  We had an antagonist, a peacemaker, a social “dude,” a wanna-be grouch with a beautiful smile, a cool diplomat, an “honest Abe,” an easy rider, and the sleeper with a big heart who never ceased to amaze us.  As different as they all were, the thread that bound them all was ASD. I was curious to see how they would adjust to working with the staff who were their bosses, the children who were the clients or consumers and the other assistants who were their colleagues.

During our first club meeting, as I laid out the employee rules, the antagonist challenged me on the “no cell phone” rule.  He wanted to remind me that the phone could be used for more than talking or texting.  After all, what if he wanted to check the time?  I calmly repeated the rule and reminded him that this was a company policy and referred him to the clocks on the walls.  This was nonnegotiable.

Meanwhile, “honest Abe” complained of total exhaustion and became stuck on how challenging the little children were. Interestingly, my sleeper who appeared to not be paying attention, when asked for an opinion said.  “I was like that when I was four and couldn’t talk, but once I learned how,  I didn’t cry as much.” Our diplomat closed it out and reminded everyone that they should “want” to help the kids in the same way “we” had  helped all of them. My heart skipped a beat as I thought how amazing are my boys!

Staff and I marveled as we watched them grow and mature in just six short weeks.  Several of them had worked with the boys in their early years.  We remembered the “social dude” when he had a fixation with fans. He told us that he has turned his fixations into hobbies and then began to tell of his hobby.  We also reminisced about the peacemaker who as a child was extremely shy.  We watched in disbelief as he  reprimanded the group and pleaded for them to allow the antagonist to finish his statement.

On July 19th we boarded our flight to Sacramento, drove two hours to Clear Lake and settled into an unbelievable weekend at the Full Circle Sheep Farm with sisters Eva and Marty who embraced us as if we were family.

Our workday started at 7 am on Saturday and we painted barns, tended the sheep and their lambs, and played with pets Blaze and Malcolm X . We then returned to our Travel Lodge to swim and relax before returning to the farm to paint drawings of sheep on the barns.  The remainder of the evening was spent discussing TrayVon Martin and lessons we could learn from this and similar situations.  Their concerns were valid and we collectively developed strategies to deal with the unexpected.

On Sunday morning we returned to say our goodbyes. The boys surprised all of us as they spontaneously spoke from their hearts about what the experience meant to them and even what they meant to each other. The social dude suggested they should all return not for a weekend but an entire week.  The grouch flashed his beautiful smile and agreed unconditionally.  Honest Abe said, “Lets do it again but somewhere that’s not so hot!”   Our smooth  diplomat said “We are like brothers and I love all of you.”  The sleeper had the last word and said “  I feel so blessed. I want to bring my family here.”  All of the adults fought to fight back our tears of joy.

On the flight home all I could think was “mission accomplished.” My pilot pre-vocational program was a success. The boys have committed to staying in touch and having quarterly activities. They have gotten a taste of the world of work and more importantly, they have learned the importance of giving back. We all agreed autism is a label and it doesn’t define how far we can go in life.  The sky’s the limit.  In the words of my sleeper, I feel so blessed!

Pre-vocational training video

From the blog of Los Angeles Speech and Language Therapy Center, Inc.

 

Pamela Wiley, PhD, CCC-SLP, is the president and founder of Los Angeles Speech and Language Therapy Center, Inc. She can be reached at pswiley@speakla.com.