Why the Gender Imbalance in the Schools?


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!


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. 

Get Some Book Drive Know-How

July 25 (2)


In low-income neighborhoods, one book for every 300 children? In middle-socioeconomic status neighborhoods, 13 or more books for every child? I read this jarring statistic and had an epiphany. As a university professor, mother of a school-aged child, and part-time itinerant public school speech-language pathologist, I wondered if there was a way I could help effect change for the low-SES children in my own area?

SLPs all over the United States battle with the problem of students who present with cognitive, linguistic, and executive functioning deficits related to being from low-SES backgrounds. Sometimes these students have genuine, underlying language impairments and qualify for language interventions, but many times they are typically-developing language learners whose language deficits stem from their low-SES status and its accompanying disadvantages. As experienced SLPs, we all know that low literacy skills can have lasting and serious consequences. A shocking statistic indicates that in states such as California and West Virginia, prison cells are built based in part upon the number of third grade students who are reading below grade level. What could I do to help?

I decided to attack the problem of a lack of books for children in low-income homes. I started collecting new and gently-used children’s books in fall of 2008 for a graduate student’s thesis. We collected several hundred books, which she used, and then she graduated from our program. In April of 2009, my beloved mother, Beverly Roseberry, died of a heart attack. Mom had been a general education and Sunday school teacher. In the Philippines, where I grew up (my parents were missionaries), my mom always had books for my sisters and me despite the fact that we were quite poor. On one island we lived on, my mom even started a library for the Filipino children. She loved books, and made sure that my sisters and I did, too! I decided to keep the children’s book collection going in my mom’s memory. Today we have collected and donated more than 43,000 books to local children in under-resourced areas. There are 21 area agencies and organizations receiving our books as well as three elementary schools.


July 25

Third grade students at Whitney Elementary School receive books to keep and read during the summer.

It can be discouraging for SLPs who work with at-risk, low-SES children to address the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that these children face. One of these obstacles is the lack of access to age-appropriate reading materials. How can the average SLP gather children’s books to distribute to low-SES children to keep as their own? Here are some tips for being successful:

  1. Have a large, attractive, marked box in a central location that is easy for people to get to
  2. Make the collection time-limited (e.g., 1-2 months)
  3. Have a short flier explaining why books are being collected and who they will be shared with. On the flier, have a contact person with contact information (like an email).
  4. If possible, donate the books locally to groups of children that your audience of donors cares about. For example, the books collected by the Orangevale Rotary go to the Orangevale Food Bank. Books collected by moms in Davis go to Head Starts in Davis. People are most enthusiastic if books stay local and connected to them somehow.
  5. Be sure to pick up the books on a regular basis. Don’t let that box overflow and make a mess!
  6. Challenge your group to collect a certain number (e.g., 100-500 books). People love a numerical goal.
  7. Keep reminding people—announcing the book drive one time will not be sufficient.
  8. At the end of the book drive, celebrate with a treat! Share information about where the books went. If possible, share pictures of children who have received the books.

I have had several undergraduate students in our program gather between 300-800 books just by asking their friends. Members of service organizations such as the Rotary often like to take on a project such as a book drive. Churches are another great source. My own church, Bayside, has donated more than 5,000 beautiful books!

Most of all, remember: people love to donate books for a good cause. I have found that many, many people have children’s books sitting around in their homes gathering dust; however, the people are so sentimentally attached to the books that they cannot just give them to a faceless organization. Having a person specifically attached to the book drive—a face to identify with—helps people become more willing to part with books that hold precious memories. If you are the “face” of your book drive, most people will be very generous in their donations.

A book drive has several major advantages: 1) low-income children benefit greatly from having their own books, and their literacy skills improve; 2) your friends get to clean out those closets, and 3) you get the joy of seeing children own their own books—for many, these are the very first books they have ever owned. Collecting and donating children’s books is something I will do for the rest of my life, and I have been privileged to have tremendous support from my students, church, family, and friends. Good luck!

Celeste Roseberry-McKibbin, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is a professor in Sacramento State University’s Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology and also works directly with students ages 3-18  as a speech-language pathologist in the San Juan Unified School District and has writes a blog about her book drive. She can be reached at sacbookdrive@gmail.com.

ASHA Schools 2013: Putting Your Best Foot Forward

school shoes
I needed to find some bandages. Even though it was Friday morning of my fourth ASHA Schools Conference I had somehow conveniently forgotten how even the most seemingly comfortable shoes can feel like torture devices after a day of running and I had forgotten to bring bandages. Luckily the very nice concierge listened to my tale of woe and, instead of making me walk five blocks to the nearest drug store, gave me four bandages from the hotel’s super secret hidden first aid kit. Bingo—I was set.

I don’t wear fancy shoes very often (and usually new shoes for me means new running shoes) but every now and then I’ll splurge on a pair that promises pizzazz and comfort. Hence my silver platform pumps that were actually cleverly disguised “wellness shoes.” Yowza. Off I went to the Long Beach Convention Center.

In the ballroom for the opening plenary: So far so good. Everyone is busy getting their materials and buzzing around saying hi to friends and colleagues. The opening speaker, Murray Banks, infused the audience with his energy and passion for teaching. Once named the Teacher of the Year in Vermont and a recipient of the Outstanding Educator Award from the American Alliance for Health, Physical Recreation and Dance, Murray told the audience that they, as SLPs, were charged with a special mission for each student—to connect with them, no matter how difficult. “Each day,” he said, “remember to look in the mirror and tell yourself ‘It’s show time!’”

The morning sessions were good—really good. I wanted to go to both Sylvia Diehl’s presentation on autism and executive function where the audience learned why “visual supports are the bomb!” and Patti Prelock’s session where she helped the audience identify steps to make an effective integrated team to support students with severe disabilities. I had to divide my time and (of course) they were located at opposite ends of the conference center. I could feel my feet becoming one with my shoes but in a good way. Each speaker emphasized the importance of looking at each child and really learning what was behind the behaviors and to the goals.  In other words, improve a life one story at a time.

Meanwhile I was beginning to take note of the shoes conference attendees were wearing as they, too, ran from session to session. I had already fielded several questions about how comfortable my shoes were, so I was curious about others’ choices. If I had to say there was an overall theme, it was comfort. But that didn’t keep some from wearing heels, straps, and sometimes even flowers on their feet.

It was in Wayne Secord’s Friday afternoon session I gained some insight into the conference’s attendees’ shoe choices. Secord presented the results of a questionnaire that he had presented to each state’s top two speech-language pathologists (each state determined the qualifications and chose one from the schools and one from health care). The idea was for the answers to this questionnaire to illuminate what sets these great speech-language pathologists apart. The presentation was fascinating and some of the characteristics Secord pointed out resonated with me:

  • They remember their priorities
  • Not afraid to take risks
  • They understand the big picture
  • They never got too comfortable in their jobs

And then I started thinking about some of the shoes I was seeing.  They weren’t just comfortable, they were athletic and purposeful. They weren’t just fun, they were creative. They weren’t just borderline uncomfortable, they were a way to not get too comfortable. So, in fact, the very members who were attending this conference and racing to go to all the sessions they possibly could, were, in a way, embracing and displaying the characteristics identified to place them in the top in their profession. I met so many wonderful people at this conference and was reminded once again what a special breed it takes to be a school-based speech-language pathologist.

Going forward into the conference on Saturday and Sunday, the race continued as there was so much to see. People were running to catch Vivian Siskin’s session on Avoidance Reduction Therapy for children who stutter; others clamored to see Bonnie Singer’s instructional strategies for academic writing; and there was practically a stampede of members vying to hear Judy Montgomery share vocabulary strategies to support the Common Core State Standards. I did notice, however, that the number of high heels had greatly diminished by Sunday.

After one of the afternoon sessions I decided to check out the exhibitors in the Exhibition Hall. Among the many vendors of books, speech software and literacy programs, I came upon Kathie Kenaston who was representing the Fairbanks, Alaska, school district and trying to recruit SLPs to come to Alaska. A former California girl, Kathie has lived in Alaska for more than 20 years and loves it. I asked her how recruitment was going and she said that it’s slow but steady.

“Going to Alaska isn’t for everyone, but it’s perfect for the right person. I’ve seen people embrace it but I’ve also seen people not be able to handle it,” she said. “When I’m talking to someone about it I can usually tell if they’d like it by their shoes.”

Look for more ASHA Schools Conference 2013 coverage online in the upcoming August issue of The ASHA Leader.

Kellie Rowden-Racette is the print and online editor for The ASHA Leader. She can be reached at krowden-racette@asha.org.




Collaboration Corner: Being Included

July 18


This is a story of why inclusion works. This story is about the sincerity of a fifth grade class, who like most 11-year olds moving to middle school, are full of excitement and angst. They had been together since kindergarten. When they were in fourth grade, a new student arrived. Abby (not her real name) entered their classroom as sweet student full of spunk and delight. A child with Downs Syndrome and autism, Abby is non-verbal. While in school, she learned how to use PECS, some signs, and her Dynavox. Most of all, she developed a fierce attachment to her peers, teachers and school community.  The feeling was mutual. When she was absent, her friends would ask how she was doing. Her peers pulled her into their games and conversations, whether by using sign, or learning to use her communication systems. An outside observer would never  have guessed that Abby was relatively new to the class or her school.

Which is why, two days before fifth grade graduation, when Abby didn’t come to school, her classmates became worried. They discovered that just a few days earlier, Abby had fallen and broken her leg, and would miss her graduation.

And that’s when the good stuff happened. The class decided to make Abby a get well video, and sang Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, a personal favorite that she often asked for when in class. Her elated parents called the school. According to her parents, Abby sat in her leg cast, watched the video, and beamed.  She smiled and waved at the video while her friends wished her get well and sang.

Then the school organized a graduation ceremony. Given her injury and sensitivity to sound and large crowds, the school arranged a smaller graduation, just with her fifth grade class. We all hoped that Abby would be well enough to make it that following Monday.

Monday arrived. With fans blowing, and classrooms sweltering 90 degrees, Abby came into school by wheelchair. Even though the class had graduated a week earlier, they wanted Abby to experience the same excitement they did at their own graduation. The staff cued up Pomp and Circumstance, and the class filled in the bleachers with Abby in line. My friend and colleague gave a graduation speech dedicated to not just Abby, but to the whole class. She spoke of how this class that grew up together readily embraced a new student to their class. How their acceptance reflected sincerity found in communities of people that care for one another. They learned how to reach out to her, and she taught them how to become a friend and advocate.

The ceremony concluded with the class singing and dancing to, Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Abby’s favorite song. Then, for the second time in a week, the students received their diplomas, congratulations and a handshake from the principal and staff. As she rolled up and took her diploma, the class gave an enthusiastic (but silent) cheer for Abby.

As the class emptied the bleachers row by row to the song, Time of your Life, Abby began to cry. Maybe it was the activity, or the noise, but it almost seemed that on some level, Abby knew that this was the end (or the beginning) of something special.

The values posted on the front of our school building our simple: Be kind and respectful to everyone and everything. Include everyone.

Role models are what we need most in inclusion. Congratulations to the class of 2013, you sure are the best. Thanks for reminding me why I got into this career in the first place.


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.

The Blame Game

July 4


Although researchers are gradually learning more about stuttering and its cause/s, there is still a lot that remains a mystery. With “the unknown” comes room for parents to try and fill in the gaps with their own guesses as to what caused their child to begin stuttering. One of the questions I most often hear from parents is “Is it something I did?” The answer is a resounding “No!”

What We Know

According to the Stuttering Foundation, there are four factors that most likely play a role in the development of stuttering. It is hypothesized that a combination of these factors may result in a child with a predisposition for stuttering.

1. Genetics: Approximately 60 percent of people who stutter have a close family member that stutters as well. In addition, recent research by Dr. Dennis Drayna has identified three genes as a source of stuttering in families studied.

2. Neurophysiology: Brain imaging studies have indicated that people who stutter may process language in different areas of the brain than people who do not stutter.

3. Child development: Children with developmental delays or other speech/language disorders are more likely to stutter. (Note: By no means, is this implying that all people who stutter have delays in other areas. There is simply an increased likelihood of stuttering in children with developmental delays and language disorders.)

4. Family dynamics: High expectations and fast-paced lifestyles may play a role in stuttering.

Family Dynamics?? I Thought I Wasn’t the Cause??

You’re not! There are plenty of “fast-paced” families out there that do not have children who stutter. However, there are certain environments that may exacerbate disfluencies in a child who already has the increased propensity to stutter. This does not mean that you have to lower your expectations for your child or take them out of their extra-curricular activities. However, there are some changes that may help. Although I advise parents not to tell a child to “slow down” or “relax,” I do suggest slowing your own rate of speech and inserting more pauses. This decreases time pressure and models a more relaxed way of speaking. Indicate you are listening to your child with eye contact and by trying to set aside some time during the day that they have your undivided attention. Try your best to reduce interruptions. This can be easier said than done so don’t beat yourself up over this one, especially when there are siblings involved! On days that your child is having particular difficulty, reducing questions and language demands (i.e. “Tell grandma what we did yesterday.”) is a good idea. Let them initiate when they want to talk. Keep your expectations high, but give them a break on rough days!

If I’m Not To Blame, Then Why Does My Child Stutter More at Home And Around Me?

Although this is certainly not true of all children, many of my clients have stated that their child stutters more at home. Contrary to what most parents would believe, this is usually a positive thing and not a sign that they are doing something wrong. What these parents are witnessing is “open stuttering.” Open stuttering occurs when a child (or adult) speaks freely and without hiding, avoiding or “going around” words that they worry they may stutter on. Instead of feeling accountable for this increase in disfluencies, parents should be praised for creating a supportive environment that has allowed their child to be themselves and has encouraged their child to express themselves whether or not they stutter. At school or around peers your child may not stutter as frequently, however this may be a result of avoidance behaviors such as switching words or opting to speak less. These avoidance behaviors can be exhausting and frustrating. Home should be a place for your child to take a break from “avoiding” and say exactly what they want to say, when they want to say it (even if it means taking a little longer to come out!).

But What About The Techniques My Child Is Learning In Speech?

The strategies your child is learning with their speech-language pathologist are extremely valuable in giving them a way to regain some control over their speech, especially when entering a difficult speaking situation (i.e. reading aloud, oral presentation, introducing themselves, etc.) However, when it comes down to it, it is up to them when they choose to use their speech tools. They should be praised when they practice or use their techniques but also praised for open stuttering. It may not be easy, but resist the urge to feel (or express) disappointment when your child stutters. Instead, be proud that when they begin to stutter they are choosing to continue to speak and be heard.
Brooke Leiman, MA, CCC-SLP, is the Fluency Clinic Supervisor at National Speech Language Therapy Center in Bethesda, MD. Brooke hosts a blog dedicated to informing people on stuttering and stuttering therapy at www.stutteringsource.com. She can be contacted at Brooke@nationalspeech.com.

Summertime Prep for the School Cafeteria



Summer!  Ten luxurious weeks of spitting watermelon seeds, munching on veggies straight from the garden and crafting the perfect s’more over the campfire.  As an SLP who focuses on feeding challenges in children, summer food skills are foremost in my mind this time of year.  However, once a week in the summer, my little clients and their families will focus on preparing to eat in the school cafeteria.  Before you know it, it will be mid-August and those little munch bugs will joining their friends at elementary school, or perhaps all-day kindergarten. For kids who are about to go to their very first day of school, it also means their very first day in a school cafeteria, and that can be quite overwhelming, especially for a child in feeding therapy.

Many kids are truly scared of the school cafeteria. In fact, one little boy I worked  with called it “the Café-FEARia.” Imagine a 5-yea- old, on his first day of school, as he tries to negotiate a sea of kids filing into the school lunchroom, attempting to locate his lunch box among 20 others piled into a giant bin and ultimately squeeze into a tiny place to sit at the assigned table. Now, unlatch that brand spankin’ new lunchbox (how does that latch work, anyway?) and peer inside … the clock is ticking … your little munch bug now typically has 20 minutes left to eat, clean up and get back in line with his class; not the most relaxing lunch for any kid.


Introduce Weekly Lunchbox Dinners

Feeding therapy is more than just learning the mechanics of biting, chewing and swallowing.  Generalizing skills to multiple environments is essential.  For kids transitioning to school lunch, introduce once a week “lunch box dinners” where the entire family pretends to eat in the school cafeteria.  At the entrance to the kitchen or dining area, one parent stashes a large bin, just like the kids will find at school.  Each member of the family has their own distinct lunchbox thrown into the bin, along with a few “old” random empty lunchboxes so kids can practice digging down to the bottom to find their own.


Once everyone is seated at the table, the child can practice the fine motor skills of unzipping zippers, unfastening Velcro® flaps and opening up containers.  Choose a lunchbox that is easy to open and holds all the food in one container.  It saves precious time!  My favorites are Easy Lunchboxes® and Yumbox® , both simple to open and perfect for cutting the food into bite sized pieces.  I call it “grab and gab” food.  Speaking of “gab,” many of my feeding clients also are working on pragmatic skills with their peers, especially when they are in unfamiliar situations.  As an SLP, I teach the parents to practice this little script: “I’ve got ____ in my lunch!”  In all my years of sitting in school lunchrooms and listening to young kids, it’s ALWAYS the first thing they say to each other.  It’s their traditional conversation starter, usually accompanied by them proudly holding up the celebrity food – the star of the lunchbox. I can attest that I hear just as many kids enthusiastically say “I have fruit today!” as “I have (fill in any junk food here) today!”  Try for  the veggies … it’s really okay … it’s just as cool to have vegetables cut up into stars or other fun shapes so they can announce, “I have CUCUMBER STARS today!”  Better yet, get the kids involved packing the lunches and creating fun shapes so they can exclaim “I made carrot triangles for lunch!”  FunBites® are child safe tools for doing just that.  They may not eat them that day, but they will be comfortable with carrots in their lunchbox, and that’s the first step to trying a new food in a new environment.


Once the meal is over, everyone latches their lunchbox and puts it back in the bin, just like at school.  The final piece of advice I offer to families is this: The most important word in the phrase family dinner is “family.”  Enjoy this time!  Happy Summer everyone!

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 kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is approved by ASHA and includes both her book and CD.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

Common Core Suggestions from One Speechie to Another

As classroom teachers change their teaching to base objectives around Common Core State Standards, we, as speech-language pathologists, must consider the standards as well. It affects us in our identification of language disorders, goal writing, and session objectives.
It is important to consider the CCSS when identifying students through the Response to Intervention (RTI) process. It is important to collaborate with classroom teachers to understand where the students are struggling and which standards they are unable to achieve. Regardless of the RTI tier or level of support the student in question is receiving, we must  determine strategies to help these students acquire these standards necessary for age and grade.
There are a variety of speech and language difficulties that can affect a student’s ability to acquire the CCSS. Some examples of these include:

  • If they cannot use or respond to questions, it will impact their ability to “Understand and use question words (interrogatives) (e.g., who, what, where, when, why, how).”
  • If they have weaknesses in vocabulary, it will impact their ability to “Describe people, places, things, and events with relevant details, expressing ideas and feelings clearly.”
  • If they display difficulties comprehending grammatical concepts, it will impact their ability to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.”

You should consider what standards are expected for the grade of the student in question and where the student is functioning when developing goals.

So how can you incorporate CCSS philosophies during speech and language sessions? First get a handle on what students are expected to know and understand. This will assist with carryover of skills from the speech room into the classroom and beyond. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • You can have students go on scavenger hunts to help them learn to identify text features of nonfiction texts.
  • Have students practice using higher level thinking: predict, question, visualize, analyze, and make connections.
  • Model for students what to do/think before, during, and after reading by using thought bubbles on a Popsicle stick to help illustrate what one should think and say at each of those phases.
  • Use a KWL chart (know, want to know, learned) when teaching new vocabulary/concepts. Use carrier phrases to teach students how to express key story elements:
  1. “The main characters are…”
  2. “The important events are…”
  3. “The author is…”
  4. “One fact I learned is…”
  • Use thinking notes on Post-Its while reading a story to teach students to generate their own questions while reading.
  • Use a variety of genres when incorporating literacy activities (fables, short stories, poems, plays, biographies, articles, etc.).

For the most part, the CCSS correlate with our typical speech and language goals and objectives. One difference is the expectations for students per grade. Another difference is the language students are expected to recognize, comprehend, and use in the classroom. If classroom teachers are expected to use the vocabulary in the classroom, it is important for our students to hear that same vocabulary in the speech room as well. For students with vocabulary weaknesses, they may need extra assistance in learning this vocabulary and terminology. Some important vocabulary words and concepts that we, as Speech-Language Pathologists should incorporate into our sessions and make sure our students understand include:

  • Evidence
  • Central idea
  • Point of view
  • Plot
  • Audience
  • Analyze
  • Dialogue
  • Theme

Whether you are identifying students that could benefit from speech and language services, developing goals, or creating treatment plans,you as an SLP working with school-aged students need to consider the CCSS. It will help advocate how a student will benefit from speech and language services as well as justify for those that are ready to graduate. It also will help make speech and language sessions more academically relevant and easier to promote generalization into the classroom.

“Miss Speechie” is a licensed speech-language pathologist working in a public elementary school in New York State. She is the author of the blog, Speech Time Fun. She enjoys creating and sharing materials, resources, ideas for speech-language pathologists. 

Best New Games for Speech Intervention


I’m lucky to have enjoyed the unique opportunity to attend the International Toy Fair in New York City as a member of the press, viewing the exciting new products being introduced. After seeing hundreds of new games, toys and books, I shared my first impressions of what stood out, delivering language learning potential. Now that I have had a chance to catch my breath, the boxes are arriving with Ninja Turtle games and fuzzy chick puppets to review for my PAL Award (Play Advances Language). As speech language pathologists, we are a busy crew, spinning many plates at once–serving our clients, keeping data, attending meetings, planning therapy and keeping up with what’s new. Many of you have told me how much you appreciate my selection process and the products I recommend, saving you time, so here are my newest recommendations with descriptions on how I have found them to be helpful. As always, I love your comments on how YOU use them in new and creative ways too!

Animal Soup The Mixed-Up Animal Board Game! by The Haywire Group

Just setting up this game gets lots of giggles going as kids look at the pictured math showing the sum of a tiger plus a rhinoceros equals, of course, a “tigeroceros!” Preschoolers request that I read through each zany combination of animals before starting the game. Players make their way around the forest game board, which cleverly uses the box, as they land on different animals, collecting the corresponding picture card. Kids continually check the large reference chart of combined animals to see what they need to complete their “croctopus,” “birdle” or “squale”–(crocodile+octopus, bird+turtle, or squirrel+whale). Thankfully they have a “trade” option to land on so they can negotiate with a peer for the animal to complete their creature. Flip the two matching cards over, and you are rewarded with a hilarious animal soup combination. Two completed mixed-up animals wins the game. This game, based on the best selling book by Todd S. Doodler, can be used to further speech and language skills:

  • Articulation: repeat the goofy combined animal names, which I’ve found helpful in making preschoolers aware of moving their mouths and listening to include all the sounds in a word.
  • Practice negotiating skills as they realize cards needed for a trade and anticipate where their needed card is coming up on the board.
  • Follow directions.
  • Comparisons between the game and the book it is based on.

Suggested age: 3 and up. This is so popular with my preschoolers, they consistently request to play.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Clash Alley Strategy Board Game by Wonder Forge

Start your social language lesson as kids set up the 3-D game board, stacking boxes at different levels for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to traverse through the maze-like warehouse. A collaborative effort, players help each other to customize the board. An excellent introduction to strategy games, Clash Alley has many options to enhance the turtle’s success as they run, climb and leap to race to complete their mission, uncovering the card to rescue April, retrieve the AI chip, grab the Mutagen or even pick up a pizza! Earning and playing action cards are the key to successful travel across the board as your turtle can team up to battle villains–Kraag, powerful mutants and even Shredder–to collect spy cards to peak under a mission disk, swipe card to steal from another player, or Team Up, which allows two turtles to combine attack points to overcome a villain. The directions take a little time to understand but once kids got them, they couldn’t get enough of this game. Speech and language goals to address:

  • Description: I use this multi-leveled game of strategy in my group with higher-level kids on the autism spectrum and their typical peer play partner. I have my client explain the directions (which have many options for beating the villains) which can be challenging. The visual prompts of action cards and triple option dice help.
  • Social language: Learning to take turns and a group attack option to join forces with another player.
  • Academic language: Language of math as kids help each other add up attack points and have to determine what number is greater or less than another to win the battle.
  • Pretend play: Kids surprised me as they got into the game because even though they were competing against each other, there was a feeling of camaraderie against the villains.

Suggested age: The manufacturer says 6 years and up but I found the directions are more suited to 7 or 8 and up although you certainly can adapt this game to younger kids, since Teenage Ninja Turtles are so hot right now.

On the Farm Who’s In the Barnyard by Ravensburger

This farm set with characters, vehicles and animals is a puzzle, pretend play set and first game all in one. Open the barn like a book, identifying all the animals and objects from pigs, chicks and bunnies to tools and bales of hay. Talk through the illustrations on the outside of the barn with the fruit stand, conveyor with bales of hay and parked tractor. Kids love to snap out the windows and door as a puzzle experience so they can peer inside, or even play a game of peek-a-boo. Add the base and roof and you have a perfect house for your barnyard friends to practice your animal sounds as kids match and place your cut-out figures next to corresponding pictures on the barn. Take the play up a notch with a matching game as you switch game figures and others have to guess who moved! This set is so open-ended, I used it for several activities with 2 year-olds. Here are some speech and language skills to build:

  • Teach animal sounds, as you play with the corresponding figures.
  • Articulation. I had plenty of /p/ and /h/ words to model with this set.
  • Pretend play as the barn is built and animals can move in and out of the play scheme.
  • Verbs, and prepositions can be modeled as you play with this set.

Suggested age: 2 years and up. I’d say this is best for the toddler set. Excellent educational suggestions are included in the box so this is also a good product to suggest to parents who would like some assistance in how to encourage language learning with this toy.

WordARound by Thinkfun

I never knew reading in circles could be so much fun! Each round card has blue, red and black concentric circles, with a single word written in each ring. Players race to unravel the word and shout it out to win a card. Flip the card over and you will see what color ring to examine on the next round, searching for a word. With no beginning or end to the word, players look for patterns, prefixes and suffixes like “ant,” in “hesitant” and ” er,” in “finger.” I found myself looking for consonants to start a word, until other players beat me at “uneven” and “almost,” leading me to factor in initial vowels too. Some cards flipped over to present the word so I could read it easily like “porcupine,” which made for an easy turn. Starting anywhere on the ring and sounding out the string of sounds also brought results as players recognized parts of words like “typical.” WordARound is addictive, and watch out because little clients can beat you at this! I use it for:

  • Vocabulary: Discuss meanings and practice using new words.
  • Reading: Develop strategies to find words in the circle.
  • Articulation carryover for older kids.

Suggested age: 10 years and up

What’s It? by Peaceable Kingdom

What’s It? is a cooperative game where players interpret doodle cards and score points for thinking alike. Roll the dice with category options such as you love it, use it, wear it, don’t want it, or make up your own category. Flip over a doodle card, start the 30-second timer and play begins. Players record at least three guesses based on the drawing and category but try to think like their fellow players. This is where I was at a bit of a disadvantage, playing with 8 year-olds. They saw buttons when I saw a pearl necklace and they saw shark teeth when I saw a zipper! Players earn points when their answers match. I’ve used this game with higher functioning kids on the autism spectrum, encouraging more abstract thinking.

  • Calling up words in categories
  • Word-finding
  • Description

Suggested age: 8 and up

Qualities by SimplyFun

SimplyFun’s game, Qualities, is a natural language catalyst and a creative way to get to know and be known by friends. Up to seven players take turns identifying and rating certain qualities in themselves, while game-mates offer up their own perceptions. “Qualities” runs off of a Preference Board as players accumulate points as they match their assessment of player’s personalities to their own judgement. What gives you the most energy… going to the park, going to a museum or organizing? Lots of conversation follows as players defend their answers with examples of that behavior. Players rate the extent to which a player is “tolerant,” “cautious,””empathic” or “sympathetic,” to name a few. The trait and value cards were a vocabulary lesson in themselves.

  • Vocabulary
  • Language of persuasion
  • Explanation of how traits are manifested in a person’s actions or activities
  • Abstract thinking

Suggested age: 12 years and up. This game is great with adults too.

Disclosure: The above games were provided for review by their companies.

Sherry Y. Artemenko MA, CCC-SLP, has worked with children for more than 35 years to improve their speech and language, serving as a speech language pathologist in both the public and private school systems and private practice.

Collaboration Corner: Time to Reflect and Give Thanks



blog may 16“Though our experience of knowing is individual, knowledge is not.”

(Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. [2002]. Cultivating communities of practice. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. p. 10)

This time of year is frenzied; closing up the school year, planning for next year. I have students moving up to middle school, and little ones coming up from preschool. When my brain and emotions start to wonder, I make a conscience effort to slow down. Stop. Reflect.

I thought this would be the perfect venue to pay thanks to the professionals whose collaborative efforts made my days a little lighter this year.

So here it goes (in no particular order):

Thanks to my colleagues, the inclusion facilitators,and  special educators who made sure communication goals were an integral part of each student’s IEP, and owned by all staff. Thanks for making me feel a part of your teams, even if I was traveling between buildings.

Thanks to my colleagues, the general education teachers who shared materials gave me curriculum to reinforce key concepts, and implemented language-based strategies that helped not just one child, but an entire classroom with narrative language development. There are many more examples that I could give, but suffice it to say, the art of teaching is alive and well.

Thanks to my BCBA colleagues, who understood how our disciplines can (and should) overlap in all areas of behavior, communication, academics, and even eating.

Thanks to my colleague, an English Language Learner teacher. She helped me support a language-impaired child who moved in late in the year and didn’t speak a word of English. We tag-teamed and figured out the difference between fundamental language skill deficits (word retrieval, vocabulary), and the typical obstacles expected for acquiring English. She outlined a plan and approach sensitive to the family unit and culture, which was invaluable in my decisions around goal-writing and intervention.

Thanks to my colleagues, the paraprofessionals, who sat in on all of their students’ speech and language sessions, translated my words into Spanish,  asked questions, made visuals and PECS books, programmed devices, and worked hard to make sure generalization could happen.

Thanks to my colleagues, the social workers and psychologists, who helped me understand keenly the role of emotional stability, learning readiness, and effects upon communication.

Thanks to my colleagues, the teachers for the visually impaired, who helped me set up a communication book made completely of tactile symbols, and engaged in healthy dialogue on cognition, cortical vision impairment and communication.

Thanks to my OT and PT friends, kindred spirits of the related services world who understand the value of co-treatments and interdisciplinary input for kids with complex medical and physical needs.

Thanks to my SLP colleagues who helped me keep a sense of humor in a way that only another SLP working in a public school can understand.

Finally, thanks to the administrators who continue to believe in inclusion, and supported my time this year in each of their buildings. Leadership doesn’t happen in a bubble, and has transformative affects upon the school culture and inclusion.

So thanks. Happy spring…..fewer than 40 days to go!



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.