What Language Do You Speak to Patients and Families?

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What is health literacy? It is the ability to understand and communicate information about health. Your ability to clearly communicate that information using plain language helps clients and their families make appropriate decisions about health.

Imagine taking a trip to a foreign country where people speak an unknown language. Translation services aren’t available. No Rosetta Stone software. No interpreter. No translation app on your phone. How much can you understand? You’re frustrated, overwhelmed and frightened. Anyone would feel bewildered by this inability to understand critical information.

For families of patients with communication disorders, our professional language sounds foreign to them. Our world of common professional jargon includes: auditory, aural, cochlear, apraxia, pharyngeal, acoustic, receptive, expressive, hierarchy, audiogram, speech perception, otoclearance, OAE, ABR, air-bone gap, frequency, decibels, dysphagia, articulation, disfluency, air conduction, bone conduction, aphonia, assessment, congenital, nonverbal, multi-disciplinary, IEP and many more.

We discuss these topics throughout our day. Those words roll off our tongues fluently. To people without our background—most of our clients’ families—these are foreign terms. Most families—let alone anyone who speaks English as a second language—struggle to understand our explanations. A family might find it difficult to help their child or loved one if they’re focusing on understanding what these professional terms mean.

Our profession is about clear communication for everyone, so becoming health literate by knowing how to use plain language is crucial. Plain language includes clear, concise and easy-to-read terms and explanations. Avoid anti-intellectual, unsophisticated or dumbed-down vocabulary.

Plain language means clients and their families understand information the first time. When sharing information about communication disorders, assume that everyone’s unfamiliar with our jargon. When writing materials for patients and families, a target a comprehension level of fourth to sixth grade to make the information understandable to most people. When our patients and families have a clear understanding of diagnosis, treatment plan, equipment and home programming, they’re more likely follow through with your recommendations.

This example of plain language explains a complicated audiology test:

Cortical Auditory Evoked Potentials (CAEP): A nerve carries sound signals from the ear to the brain. Problems with this nerve can cause problems with hearing. A CAEP test shows what the hearing nerve does when it receives sound. It can tell us if your child needs hearing aids or a cochlear implant. It can tell us if your child’s hearing aids or cochlear implants are set correctly (fifth-grade reading level explanation of CAEP).

These quick tips help for incorporating plain language:

  • Assume information is challenging for everyone to comprehend.
  • Explain a maximum of three concepts or details at once. Three pieces of information is the most people retain in one setting.
  • Provide paper and pen for families or patients to take notes about the information.
  • When developing patient and family education materials, write the material at a fourth- to sixth-grade reading level. By doing so, the information will be accessible for all.
  • Take time to make sure that you have explained the information clearly. Verify with families or patients that they can share this information with other family members.
  • Have the family or patient demonstrate what you’ve taught.
  • Check for questions by stating or asking, “Tell me what questions you have” or “What can I better explain?”

The next time you meet with a family or patient, think about how you can clearly communicate—using plain language—about their assessment, equipment and/or treatment plan. Take complex information and make it accessible to people of all backgrounds, education levels and cultures. Clear communication equals elevated understanding. When we teach patients and families about speech and hearing disorders, we shouldn’t evaluate how much information they know. We should evaluate how well we teach it.

 

 

Becky Clem, MA, CCC-SLP, a listening-spoken language specialist (LSLS) with auditory-verbal certification, is the education coordinator for rehab services at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. Her experience includes patient and family education, health literacy, working with families of babies and children with hearing loss, and mentoring professionals for LSLS. Becky.clem@cookchildrens.org

5 Ways to Raise Awareness of Our Professions for Better Hearing and Speech

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I will always be thankful for a young communication sciences and disorders (CSD) student who propelled me into my chosen career. Like many undergraduates, I spent part of my early college experience in a major that didn’t end up a “good fit.” At the moment I (finally) realized it wasn’t for me, I didn’t have a major to replace it. Fortunately, an acquaintance nudged me in the direction of speech-language pathology. Years later, there still hasn’t been a day I regretted my career choice.

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month. I enjoy seeing the creative things that our colleagues do to promote better communication. This month is also a great opportunity to promote the professions themselves! As ASHA’s membership grows, our ability to respond to communication disorders becomes stronger. This is particularly true as our professions grow in diversity and include a greater variety of perspectives. For this reason, one of the objectives listed in ASHA’s Strategic Pathway to Excellence is to increase the diversity of the association’s membership.

So what can we do to help people become interested in CSD? Many of us work right where these future professionals spend most of their day. Audiologists and speech-language pathologists working in schools enjoy prime opportunities to raise awareness. Those working in clinical or university settings also frequently encounter students, colleagues and even clients seeking advice about their future.

Here are a few ideas for making the most of opportunities for promoting our professions in our work settings:

  • Incorporate a discussion into an intervention activity. “What I want to be when I grow up,” for example, contains a lot of language skills for school-age kids.
  • Volunteer to give a guest presentation on acoustics in your school’s physics class, or on anatomy or physiology in your school’s biology class.
  • Organize or participate in a school career day or university career fair.
  • Relate your field to other activities! I’ve discussed language concepts needed for arithmetic at a school Math Night. AAC and audiometry are great topics for technology fairs.
  • Share information with your school’s guidance counselor or university career center.

ASHA also provides resources for helping us develop a discussion or presentation. These include:

May is a great time to focus on the future of communication sciences and disorders. As we raise awareness of the professions themselves—particularly among individuals from underrepresented communities—we invest in a stronger, more diverse ASHA and many Better Hearing and Speech Months to come.

 

Nate Cornish, MS, CCC-SLP, is a bilingual (English/Spanish) clinician and clinical director for VocoVision and Bilingual Therapies.  He is the professional development manager for ASHA Special Interest Group 18, Telepractice; a member of ASHA’s Multicultural Issues Board; and a past president of ASHA’s Hispanic Caucus. Cornish provides clinical support to monolingual and bilingual telepractitioners around the country. He also organizes and presents at various continuing education events, including an annual symposium on bilingualism.  Nathan.Cornish@Bilingualtherapies.com 

Tots as Young as 2 Use Tablets, and Parents Are Worried, ASHA Survey Finds

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A new ASHA survey of U.S. parents finds significant percentages reporting technology use by very young children. Additionally, more than half of the parents surveyed report feeling concern that technology use could negatively affect their young children’s ability to communicate.

Conducted this past March, the survey polled 1,000 parents of children ages 0 to 8. Its release occurs during May Is Better Hearing and Speech Month, a time for ASHA and its members to raise awareness of speech, language and hearing disorders—and spotlight the importance of communication health.

Although the fact that most children use “smart” technology today may not be surprising, just how early it begins may be. The survey results show that more than two-thirds of the respondents say their 2-year-olds are using tablets, more than half say they use smart phones, and one in four indicate their 2-year-olds are using some form of technology at the dinner table. All of this raises questions about how this tech use will affect children’s communication development.

Some findings from the survey:

  • 55 percent of parents have some degree of concern that misuse of technology may be harming their children’s hearing, and 52 percent have concerns about speech and language skills.
  • 52 percent  say they are concerned that technology negatively affects the quality of their conversations with their children; 54 percent say they are concerned that they have fewer conversations with their children than they would like to because of technology.
  • Parents recognize the potential hearing hazards of personal audio devices: 72 percent agree that loud noise from technology may lead to hearing loss in their children.
  • 24 percent of 2-year-olds use technology at the dinner table. By age 8, that percentage nearly doubles to 45 percent.
  • By age 6, 44 percent of kids would rather play a game on a technology device than read a book or be read to. By age 8, a majority would prefer that technology be present when spending time with a family member or friend.
  • More than half of parents say they use technology to keep kids ages 0 to 3 entertained; nearly 50 percent of parents of children age 8 report they often rely on technology to prevent behavior problems and tantrums.

These results present an opportunity to deliver communication health messages nationally and in our circles of influences and local communities. Earlier this month, ASHA shared the survey results with media around the country via a satellite media tour, and will continue to spread the word this month through social media. ASHA also has created new resources with a technology theme for its Identify the Signs public education campaign.

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Visit www.asha.org/bhsm to find resources you can use to reach out to the media and public in your community. There you will also find the full survey results.

Looking beyond Better Hearing and Speech Month, the summer presents an ideal time to continue to push out these messages. For instance, 55 percent of parents polled in the survey said their children age 8 or younger use technology during car trips. Members could present this statistic and note that this is an ideal time for a family to put the tech devices away and focus on communicating.

We hope members will find such information compelling and useful for building awareness of communication health; speech, language and hearing disorders; and the professionals—certified audiologists and speech-language pathologists—who are best educated and trained to address them.

 

Judith L. Page, PhD, CCC-SLP, is ASHA 2015 president. She served as program director for Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Kentucky for 17 years and as chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences for 10 years. judith.page@uky.edu

Join Us in ‘Speaking Up for Communication’ this May

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Each May, ASHA looks for new, exciting and effective ways to educate the public about communication disorders as part of Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM). We’re excited to announce that this year, we’re debuting a new social media platform for members to allow them to easily share BHSM information and build awareness at the grassroots level. Members who sign up for the service will receive two to three emails a week during May with suggested social media posts.

Those who participate by recruiting others and sharing links will be entered to win a range of prizes, including gift cards as well as BHSM and ASHA merchandise. It’s an easy and fun way for you to build awareness and support for your profession. Sign up today to join us in “Speaking Up for Communication.”

There will be plenty of interesting material to post, like the results of a new ASHA national survey. We asked parents of infants through 8-year-olds about their kids’ use of technology. According to those parents, a majority of young children use devices such as smartphones and tablets during critical years for communication development. Stay tuned for the results, which will be announced with a nationwide media tour starting May 8.

Those results will also serve as the basis for a host of different BHSM digital assets—helping ASHA bring the topic of communication to the forefront. Key messages include the importance of talking and interacting with kids in the tech age and establishing safe listening habits early. We expect significant buzz about the survey that should help you capitalize on sharing BHSM and related resources in your work and community.

Of course, if you prefer to spread these key messages in more traditional ways, ASHA will provide press release and media advisory templates. Be sure to visit the BHSM member resource page for these and more.

You’ll also find our free 2015 poster, bookmark, coloring page, and Facebook photo, for example. And you can read about how other members celebrate BHSM by clicking through our “Share Your Stories” map. We’ve already heard from a number of members with great stories for this year!

Make sure to keep checking back, as we’ll be adding details on other BHSM activities, including a 2015 Twitter party and a Listen to Your Buds concert we’re hosting in the nation’s capital.

Finally, remember to showcase your BHSM pride with our 2015 products, which feature the tagline “Early Intervention Counts”—a message worth sharing! Order today!

Francine Pierson is an ASHA public relations manager.

fpierson@asha.org.

 

Musings on the Funding of Stuttering Treatment

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Editor’s Note: This post is another viewpoint on Speech Pathology Australia’s recent proposal and does not necessarily reflect the views or position of ASHA. 

Volunteer firefighters are not presently supported by government funding; instead they rely on local fundraising and private donations. Everyone values their work, and all agree that firefighters should be compensated.

The professional association for volunteer firefighters proposes to the government that payment be provided for their services. Due to demands on legislators’ time and attention, the association selects one method for putting out fires – water – and suggests that firefighters should be compensated when they use water to put out fires.

Many firefighters ask, “What do we do when water is not the best way to fight a particular fire?” They point out that other methods for fighting fires have been shown to work just as well as water. They are told that water has more data, and they don’t want to confuse the legislators with multiple options.

Some firefighters express concern that their input was not solicited before the proposal was submitted. They further worry that their options will be limited by such legislation. The association says, “You will not be limited in what you do—only in what you get paid for.” The firefighters ask, “Will we get paid if we use another method?” The answer: “You don’t get paid for anything now, so this will definitely be better.”

The firefighters persist, “Why not seek payment for the service of putting out fires, rather than a particular method?” The association says, “When other methods have as much data as water, we can consider approaching the legislators again, telling them that the issue was not as straightforward as we first suggested. We can ask then them to consider other methods…That would be simpler.”

The firefighters collect numerous comments from specialty firefighters and support organizations in opposition to the proposal. Despite the grass-roots opposition, the proposal proceeds as originally written and is accepted. Volunteer firefighters start to receive government payment for one approach to fighting fires. Those who favor that approach are delighted. Others weren’t being paid before anyway, so nothing changes for them, at least not at first.

Soon, homeowners start to call the fire department to ask, “Does your department use water? I heard that you get paid for water. I want you to get paid, but I don’t want to pay myself. Plus, I read on a professional association’s website that water is ‘best!’” Thus, market forces drive firefighters to use water exclusively, although many know that there are other helpful approaches.

One day, a water-using firefighter finds himself working a fire against which water does not appear to help. He wonders if he should use some other approach in conjunction with—or instead of—water. Other firefighters have long used the method of changing the draft pattern in the house, but that method is not approved for payment. If he does it, his services will no longer be covered. He hesitates.

What is better for the homeowner? For the firefighter? Should he do what he knows is right for the house or what he gets paid for?

Ultimately, he decides that he should only respond to fires that can be put out with water. Other firefighters can deal with more complicated fires. It’s up to them if they don’t want to get paid?

Why has the firefighter been put in this ethical dilemma?

It all could have been avoided if only the professional association had pursued coverage for the service of fighting fires, not the specific treatment that they favored.

But that would evidently have been too complicated…

 

J. Scott Yaruss, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders. He is also associate professor and director of graduate programs in speech-language pathology at the University of Pittsburgh, coordinator of clinical research in audiology and speech-language pathology at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and director of the Stuttering Center of Western Pennsylvania. He can be reached at jsyaruss@pitt.edu.