7 Clues in the Medical Record to Discover Dysphagia

7 clues

Medical speech pathology has its uncertainties.This may cause the speech-language pathologist to be very conservative, possibly over-treating or overcompensating, per James Coyle, PhD, CCC-SLP, BCS-S at his talk on April 11, 2014, at the ASHA Healthcare & Business Institute.

“When the cause of dysphagia is not obvious: Sorting through treasure and surprises in the medical record.”

Coyle advised clinicians to value the medical record just as much as our direct examination of the patient. The “medical record is a messy place,” per Coyle. It is our job to dig for clues to distinguish which came first: the illness or the dysphagia. Some conditions can mimic dysphagia-related aspiration pneumonia. Some community acquired infections can create weakness and delirium, which then cause an acute dysphagia.

Let’s start with a story: An active-independent elderly female develops a urinary tract infection (UTI). She feels sleepy and stops eating/drinking regularly. This worsens the UTI and causes dehydration. She gets to the hospital four days after the onset of symptoms. Dehydration causes electrolyte imbalances, leading to delirium. Delirium + infection = more lethargy and a global cognitive decline. Being out of her usual environment causes more confusion and agitation. Antipsychotic medications are used to control the acute agitation. The patient becomes septic, as the infectious process spreads. Her urosepsis spreads to a pneumonia. The SLP notes a high aspiration risk, as the patient looks severely impaired. Unfortunately, without a thorough medical record review, the patient is labeled with dysphagia-related aspiration pneumonia. She stays on thickened liquids and pureed foods until hospital discharge. Will the patient fall through the cracks and never eat regular food again? Will the “Big-A-word” (ASPIRATION) follow her the rest of her life? Or will an SLP re-evaluate her in two weeks and discover that her dysphagia has disappeared?

I have summarized Coyle’s talk into these seven clues (more details and references in my full post).

1)    Is it pneumonia?

  • New infiltrate on CXR. Dependent lobes? Not necessarily only the lower lobes if the patient is bedridden or aspirating while laying down on the couch.
  • Leukocytosis (WBC count of >11.5-12.0). Warning: immune-compromised patients cannot make white blood cells.
  • Fever (>38 Celsius for >24 hours)

 

2)    What type of pneumonia is it?

  • Ventilator Acquired Pneumonia (VAP): May be widespread infiltrates. Strong correlation with oral pathogens.
  • Dysphagia-Related Aspiration Pneumonia (DAP): A recurrent pneumonia may be one big infection from ongoing aspiration. Perform a swallow study to determine if dysphagia is present and why. This is so important. If we label them with DAP, that patient’s past medical history will forever say “Aspiration Pneumonia.” Then medical personnel may be overly conservative in the future.
  • Non-Dysphagia-Related Aspiration Pneumonia (NDAP) and/or Aspiration Pneumonitis: if no dysphagia present before infection, check history for chemical irritants, allergens, reflux, a vomiting event, or use of acid-suppression therapy (i.e., Proton-Pump Inhibitors).
  • Hospital Acquired Pneumonia (HAP) or Health Care Acquired Pneumonia (HCAP): pathogens from the institution getting into the lung. Aspiration?
  • Community Acquired Pneumonia (CAP): may be diffuse infiltrates and not in dependent lobes.

 

3)    What was the patient’s baseline? “You got to have dysphagia to have dysphagia,” joked Coyle. “But seriously,” he added, “I can’t underscore this enough.” Dysphagia-Related Aspiration Pneumonia (DAP) requires the finding of difficulty swallowing prior to getting sick. Be a detective.

 

4)    Is there a systemic spread of infection (e.g., septicemia or sepsis)?

  • Sources: The lung is not the sole source for the primary infection. Wound, oral cavity, urinary tract?
  • Problem: The patient may not develop sudden signs, but it can unfold rapidly. Coyle urged SLPs to be careful when predicting goals for the future, as “sick people look pretty darn sick.” Good communication is needed at discharge to ensure re-evaluations.
  • Ask the medical team questions: Is this a short-term reversible problem? Could this be an acute dysphagia due to the illness?

 

5)    Was there a surgical procedure that could have caused the dysphagia? For examples: cardiothoracic surgery, lung transplant, lung resection, esophagectomy, head/neck cancer resection. Coyle recommended Atkins, et al (2007). See references on my full post.

 

6)    Was there a medical procedure that could have caused the dysphagia or an aspiration? For examples: feeding tubes, prolonged intubation, traumatic intubation, peri-operative aspiration event, chemotherapy/radiation.

 

7)    Are there medications that could be causing the aspiration, dysphagia, or pneumonia?

  • Polypharmacy increases a patient’s pneumonia risk.
  • Coyle recommended reading Knol, et al (2008). This was a case controlled study of elderly patients with age-matched controls. Patients who received antipsychotics where 60% more likely to have pneumonia.
  • Read more possibilities on my full post.

 

Our answers to these questions have a great impact on all we do: from our initial examination and instrumental evaluations through our discharge plan and beyond. SLPs do not diagnose pneumonia, but our communication with the medical team is an extremely valuable contribution to their differential diagnosis.

 

Karen Sheffler, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1995 with her master’s degree. There, she was under the influence of the great mentors in the field of dysphagia like Dr. John (Jay) Rosenbek, Dr. JoAnne Robbins, and Dr. James L. Coyle. Once the “dysphagia bug” bit, she has never looked back. Karen has always enjoyed medical speech pathology, working in skilled nursing facilities and rehabilitation centers in the 1990s, and now in acute care in the Boston area for more than 14 years. She has trained graduate student clinicians during their acute care internships for more than 10 years. Special interests include neurological conditions, esophageal dysphagia, geriatrics, end-of-life considerations, and patient safety/risk management. She has lectured on various topics in dysphagia in the hospital setting, to dental students at the Tufts University Dental School, and on Lateral Medullary Syndrome at the 2011 ASHA convention. She is a member of the Dysphagia Research Society and the Special Interest Group 13: Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders. Karen obtained her BCS-S (Board Certified Specialist in Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders) in August of 2012. You can follow her blog, www.swallowstudy.com.

 

June is Aphasia Awareness Month—Join the Celebration!

aphasia

June is National Aphasia Awareness Month and this year’s host group is the Big Sky Aphasia Program in Missoula, Mont.. This year’s theme is “ It’s Never Too Late To Communicate” and the National Aphasia Association (NAA) is encouraging professionals, consumers, community support groups and aphasia centers nationwide to raise public awareness about aphasia in June and has a poster and resource packet available.

Thanks to Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) for, once again, co-sponsoring the resolution to proclaim June as National Aphasia Awareness Month! You can find the resolution here.

This year we launched a month-long social media contest to help the public understand aphasia and how to communicate with people who have aphasia. We are proud to introduce our new social media intern, Laura Cobb, whose first assignment is serving as spokesperson for the Aphasia Awareness Month contest. Laura is 27 years old and lives in St, Louis, Mo.. In September 2008 she was a student at Washington University majoring in psychology and hoping to work in the field of autism when her car was struck by a drunk driver as she returned home from studying. Laura suffered a stroke resulting in aphasia along with other injuries including a partial hearing loss for which she wears bilateral hearing aids.With intensive speech services, Laura has been able to regain a good portion of her ability to communicate. She continues to receive speech and language treatment and continues to improve. We first met Laura when she created her own video for You Tube on “How to Talk to Someone with Aphasia.” Her video has received more than 200,000 views to date and she was interviewed for an article in the Huffington Post.

“I’m excited to work with the NAA now,” says Laura in the first of her weekly video clips discussing the NAA’s contest, which encourages people to post about aphasia on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube using the hashtag #AphasiaAwarenessMonth.  Each week, participants are tasked with a different challenge. For example, in week one, people were asked to answer the question “What is aphasia?” In week two, participants shared their tips for communicating with people with aphasia and in week three they posted pictures of themselves with the June poster. Click here to learn about this week’s challenge.

“It’s never too late to communicate. So, we want your tips. My favorite tip: speak s-l-o-w-l-y,” says Laura. At the end of each week, a winner will be selected randomly and awarded a series of aphasia-related prizes; then a new weekly challenge will be announced. At the end of the five-week contest, the top prize, an iPad Mini, will be awarded on June 27. There is no cost to participate. The more people post using #AphasiaAwarenessMonth, the more chances they have to win and the more we can raise awareness of aphasia!

But that’s not all you can do. Here are some other suggestions as to how you can celebrate National Aphasia Awareness Month in June:

  • Provide training at local hospitals, clinics, senior citizens centers, nursing homes, etc.
  • Send packets of information to doctors and other professionals and staff who work with aphasia (e.g. physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, nurses). Training for these groups would be very helpful in dealing with the communication difficulties.
  • Provide training workshops and support groups for family and caregivers.
  • Provide workshops for local religious groups – many of these have existing programs for helping people in the community.
  • Display posters and disseminate materials in local shopping centers, libraries and supermarkets about aphasia.
  • Set up an information table to educate employees, patients and families about aphasia.
  • Get your city/town to pass a resolution proclaiming June as National Aphasia Awareness Month- we can provide you with the template.

Remember, aphasia advocacy and increasing awareness is a year round activity so join the effort! For more information or to receive your Aphasia Awareness Month packet, contact the NAA’s Response Center at 800-922-4622 or visit the NAA website.

 

Ellayne S. Ganzfried, M.S., CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and the Executive Director of the National Aphasia Association. She is Past President of the NYS Speech Language Hearing Association (NYSSLHA), Long Island Speech Language Hearing Association (LISHA) and the Council of State Association Presidents for Speech Language Pathology and Audiology (CSAP) and remains active in these associations. Ellayne is a Fellow of the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA). She was a site visitor for ASHA’s Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA) and a practitioner member of the CAA for four years. She is currently on ASHA’s Committee on Honors. Ellayne has created and managed several speech, hearing and rehabilitation programs in New York and Massachusetts. She is an adjunct instructor at Adelphi University-Garden City –NY. Ellayne has written articles and presented regionally and nationally on a variety of topics including aphasia, rehabilitation and leadership skills.

Preventing Food Jags: What’s a Parent to Do?

picky eater

 

As a pediatric feeding therapist, many kids are on my caseload because they are stuck in the chicken nugget and french fry rut…or will only eat one brand of mac-n-cheese…or appear addicted to the not-so-happy hamburger meal at a popular fast food chain. While this may often include kids with special needs such as autism, more than half my caseload consists of the traditional “picky-eaters” who spiraled down to only eating a few types of foods and now have a feeding disorder.  I  even had one child who only ate eight different crunchy vegetables, like broccoli and carrots.  Given his love for vegetables, it took his parents a long time to decide this might be a problem. The point is: These kids are stuck in food jag, eating a very limited number of foods and strongly refusing all others.  It creates havoc not only from a nutritional standpoint, but from a social aspect too. Once their parents realize the kids are stuck, the parents feel trapped as well. It’s incredibly stressful for the entire family, especially when mealtimes occur three times per day and there are only a few options on what their child will eat.

It’s impossible in a short blog post to describe how to proceed in feeding therapy once a child is deep in a food jag.  Each child is unique, as is each family. But, in general,  I can offer some tips on how to prevent this from happening in many families, again, keeping in mind that each child and each family is truly unique.

Here are my Top Ten suggestions for preventing food jags:

#10: Start Early.  Expose baby to as many flavors and safe foods as possible.   The recent post for ASHA on Baby Led Weaning: A Developmental Perspective may offer insight into that process.

#9: Rotate, Rotate, Rotate: Foods, that is.  Jot down what baby was offered and rotate foods frequently, so that new flavors reappear, regardless if your child liked (or didn’t like) them on the first few encounters.  This is true for kids of all ages.  It’s about building familiarity.  Think about the infamous green bean casserole at Thanksgiving.  It’s rare that hesitant eaters will try it, because they often see it only once or twice per year.

#8: Food Left on the Plate is NOT Wasted: Even if it ends up in the compost, the purpose of the food’s presence on a child’s plate is for him to see it, smell it, touch it, hear it crunch under his fork and  perhaps, taste it.  So if the best he can do is pick it up and chat with you about the properties of green beans, then hurray!  That’s never a waste, because he’s learning about a new food.

#7: Offer Small Portions:  Present small samples.  Underwhelming – that’s  exactly the feeling we hope to invoke.   Besides, if a tiny sample sparks some interest and your child asks for more peas, well, that’s just music to your ears, right?  Present the foods in little ramekins, small ice cube trays or even on  tiny tasting spoons used for samples at the ice cream shop.

#6: Highlight Three or Four Ingredients Over Two Weeks:  You can expose kids to the same three or four ingredients over the course of two weeks, while making many different recipes.  For example, here are nine different ways to use basil, tomatoes and garlic.  Remember get the kids involved in the recipe, so they experience the food with all of their senses.  Even toddlers can tear basil and release the fragrance, sprinkling it on cheese pizza to add a little green.   If they just want to include it as a garnish on the plate beside the pizza, that’s a good start, too!

#5 Focus on Building Relationships with FoodThat often doesn’t begin with chewing and swallowing.  Garden, grocery stop, visit the farmer’s market, create food science experiments like this fancy way of separating egg whites from the yoke.  Sounds corny (pardon the pun!), but making friends with food means getting to know food.  I often tell the kids I work with “We are introducing your brain to broccoli.  Brain, say hello to broccoli!”

#4 Don’t Wait for a Picky Eating Phase to Pass: Use these strategies now.  Keep them up, even through a phase of resistant eating.  Learning to be an adventurous eater takes time.

#3 Don’t Food Jag on FAMILY favorites.  In our fast paced life, it’s easy to grab the same thing for dinner most evenings.  Because of certain preferences, are the same few foods served too often?  Ask yourself, are you funneling down to your list of “sure things?”  It’s easy to fall into the trap: “Let’s just have pizza again – at least I know everyone will eat that.”

#2 Make Family Dinnertime Less about Dinner and More about Family.  Why?  Because the more a family focuses on the time together, sharing tidbits of their day and enjoying each other’s company,  the sweeter the atmosphere at the table.  Seems ironic, given this article is focused is on food, but, the strategies noted above all include time together.  That’s what family mealtimes are meant to be: a time to share our day.  Becoming an adventurous eater is part of that process over time.

And the #1 strategy for preventing food jags?  Seek help early.  If mealtimes become stressful or the strategies above seem especially challenging, that’s the time to ask a feeding therapist for help.  Feeding therapy is more than just the immediate assessment and treatment of feeding disorders – the long term goal is creating joyful mealtimes for the whole family.  The sooner you seek advice, the closer you are to that goal.   I hope you’ll visit me at My Munch Bug.com for articles and advice on raising adventurous eaters and solving picky eating issues.  Plus, here are just a few of my favorite resources:

Websites & Blogs

Doctor Yum.com

Spectrum Speech and Feeding.com

Picky Tots BlogSpot

Books

Getting to Yum

Fearless Feeding

Nobody Ever Told Me (or My Mother) THAT!

Facebook

Food Smart Kids

Feeding Matters

Feeding Tube Awareness

 

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

What SLPs Need to Know About the Medical Side of Pediatric Feeding

no food

Pediatric feeding problems come in all shapes and sizes. They tend to be complicated and often result from a combination of factors. This can make effective treatment challenging for the feeding therapist. A feeding problem is defined as “The failure to progress with feeding skills. Developmentally, a feeding problem exists when a child is ‘stuck’ in their feeding pattern and cannot progress.”

So where should the speech-language pathologist start? We should always begin by trying to figure out why the child is stuck and not progressing with eating and oral motor skills. Whether the child is dependent on tube feedings, not moving to textured foods, grazing on snack foods throughout the day, failing to thrive, pocketing foods, or spitting foods out, using medical management strategies can greatly improve a child’s success in feeding therapy.

A significant number of children with feeding difficulty also have a history of gastrointestinal problems such as gastroesophageal reflux, constipation, poor appetite, poor weight gain, and sometimes food intolerance. These issues can cause eating to be painful for the child which can lead to food refusal and avoidance and subsequent oral motor delay due to decreased practice eating the needed volumes for growth and poor acceptance of age appropriate foods. Research has shown the relationship between feeding difficulty and gastroesophageal reflux.

Most of the children we work with can’t tell us what is wrong. Their eating behavior tells us a lot about their digestive tract. These children often graze, volume limit, or avoid food because filling up their stomachs hurts. Some children complain that they have stomach pain while others vomit, spit up or cry with eating. We know that if these problems persist for any length of time, they become learned patterns of behavior.

Medical strategies that promote “gut” comfort and encourage appetite will help the child be receptive to eating and can improve response to feeding therapy. These strategies typically involve the following:

 

  • Addressing weight gain and growth as the priority of a feeding program.
  • Treating constipation and establishing a routine of daily soft stooling.
  • Treating gastroesophageal reflux and hypersensitivity in the GI tract.
  • Using hydrolyzed formulas that are easier to digest and promote gastric emptying and stooling.
  • Adjusting tube feeding rates and schedules to promote comfort.
  • Using appetite stimulants to boost hunger.

Some children’s feeding skills improve dramatically with medical management alone. Other children will need feeding therapy using techniques to improve acceptance of volume and variety of foods as well as oral motor therapy to progress to age appropriate oral motor patterns. No matter what type of feeding therapy approach you are using, the child will respond better if they feel better.

Many therapists have been taught to start with the mouth. That means addressing the oral motor hypersensitivity or oral motor delay first. Many clinicians feel that the doctor or medical specialists are addressing the reflux and constipation issues. However, it really is a team effort. Most physicians do not watch the child eat or see a child as often as we do as therapists. Therefore, it is important to work closely with the referring physicians to assist with proper diagnosis and treatment in order to assure the best outcomes for our patients.

Depending on the child, using medical management strategies can take multiple visits over time with the physician. If the child’s symptoms persist despite using medicines for reflux and constipation, a pediatrician may decide to refer the child to a gastroenterologist or feeding team for specialized care. A child also may undergo further testing to rule out medical diagnoses that can negatively effect eating such as anemia, food allergy, eosinophillic esophagitis, malrotation, and motility disorders.

The most important reason to recognize and treat the underlying medical issues of children with pediatric feeding problems is to help them progress. As SLPs, we need to recognize and identify GI issues prior to starting therapy so that we are not reinforcing pain or discomfort for the child. Our goals for most clients involve weight gain and growth, age appropriate oral motor patterns, and acceptance of a variety of foods from all food groups for healthy eating. These are attainable goals for many of our clients. Using medical strategies to help the child feel better will improve response to feeding therapy and eventually outcomes.

Krisi Brackett MS, CCC-SLP, is a feeding specialist with over 20 years of experience working with children with feeding difficulties. Krisi is co-director of the pediatric feeding team at the NC Children’s Hospital, UNC Hospitals, Chapel Hill, N.CFollow her at www.pediatricfeedingnews.com. The blog is dedicated to up to date pediatric feeding information. Krisi teaches a two-day workshop on using a medical/motor/behavior approach, is an adjunct instructor teaching a pediatric dysphagia seminar at UNC-Chapel Hill, and has co-authored a chapter in Pediatric Feeding Disorders: Evaluation and Treatment, Therapro, 2013.

Why Growing a Healthy Green School is Golden

green school

Remember dioramas from first and second grade? Last fall I was invited to attend the opening of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Lessons for a Green and Healthy School” exhibit, a giant, life-sized, walk through diorama on how to create a green environment in schools. Located at the Public Information Center of US EPA’s Region 3 offices in Philadelphia, what I learned there about sustaining a healthy school for students, teachers, and community was exciting…and I heard it from the students themselves. [How to Build A Healthy School]

The Green Ribbon Schools Program is a joint endeavor between the U.S. EPA and U.S. Department of Education. The program honors schools and districts across the nation that are exemplary in reducing environmental impact and costs; improves the health and wellness of students and staff; and provides effective environmental and sustainability education, which incorporates STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), civic skills and green career pathways.

A healthy green school is toxic free, uses sustainable resources, creates green healthy spaces for students and faculty, and engages students through a “teach-learn-engage” model. Examples of greening techniques include the using building materials for improved acoustics; installing utility meters inside the classroom as a concrete aid for teaching abstract concepts in math; and incorporating storm water drainage systems within a school’s landscape design to teach and practice water conservation. What are some environmental concerns to address when you are growing a healthy school?

  • Asthma and asthma triggers (indoor air quality)
  • Asbestos and lead (especially in older buildings)
  • Carbon monoxide (from old furnaces, auto exhaust)
  • Water fountains
  • Chemicals in the science lab (think mercury)
  • Art and educational supplies
  • Managing extreme heat
  • Upkeep of athletic grounds
  • Mold, lighting fixtures
  • Waste and recycling

Now more than ever, we must educate new generations of citizens with the skills to solve the global environmental problems we face. How can we have a green future or a green economy without green schools?

Benefits of green schools

1. Cost/Energy Savings:Daylighting” or daylit schools achieve energy cost reductions from 22 percent to 64 percent over typical schools. For example in North Carolina, a 125,000 square foot middle school that incorporates a well-integrated daylighting scheme is likely to save $40,000 per year compared to other schools not using daylighting. Studies on daylighting conclude that even excluding all of the productivity and health benefits, this makes sense from a financial investment standpoint. Daylighting also has a positive impact on student performance. One study of 2000 school buildings demonstrated a 20 percent faster learning rate in math and 25 percent faster learning rate in reading for students who attended school with increased daylight in the classroom.

2. Effects on Students: Students who attended the diorama presentation in Philadelphia expressed a number of ways how their green school changed personal behavior and attitudes. One young lady spoke of how a green classroom helped her focus and stay awake. Another student said being in a green school made them happier. There was more interest in keeping their school environment cleaner by monitoring trash disposal, saving water by not allowing faucets to run unnecessarily, picking up street trash outside the school, sorting paper for recycling, and turning off lights when room were no longer in use. Some students went so far as to carry out their green behaviors at home. Small changes in behavior and attitude such as these are the foundation for a future citizenry who will be better stewards of the environment.

3. Faculty Retention: Who wouldn’t want to be a speech-language pathologist in a green school? Besides, there would be so many opportunities for a therapist to embed environmental concepts in to their session activities. Think how a quieter environment would foster increased student attention. How about having the choice of conducting a small group session in the pest-free landscape of the school yard? Research supports improved quality of a school environment as an important predictor of the decision of staff to leave their current position, even after controlling for other contributing factors.

How to make your school green

  • Have a vision for your school environment. You can start small at the classroom level or go district wide. Focus on one area or many (healthier cafeteria choices, integrated pest management, purchase ordering options, safer chemistry lab) Maybe you already know what environmental hazards affect your school – if you do then start there.
  • Get a committee going. It helps to have friends. Is there someone you can partner with? School nurse, building facilities manager, classroom teacher, PTA, students?
  • Conduct a school environmental survey. This doesn’t have to be complicated, you can poll your colleagues, or discuss at the next department meeting, or over lunch. If you like, check out EPA’s “Healthy SEAT – Healthy School Environments Assessment Tool” for ideas.
  • Have a plan. Select a time frame, short term first and use it as a pilot to evaluate whether a green school is possible. Pick something small to work on.
  • Monitor and evaluation your progress. It’s always a good idea to collect data but it doesn’t have to be too sophisticated. Use “before and after “ photos or video student testimonials.
  • Embed the green environment into the student curriculum and activities. Create speech lesson plans with green materials or photos of your green school project. Growing Up Wild is an excellent curriculum for early childhood educators.

Anastasia Antoniadis is with the Tuscarora (PA) Intermediate Unit and works as a state consultant for Early Intervention Technical Assistance through the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network. She earned a Master of Arts degree in speech pathology from City College of the City University of New York and a Master’s degree in public health from Temple University. She was a practicing pediatric SLP for 14 years before becoming an early childhood consultant for Pennsylvania’s early intervention system. Her public health studies have been in the area of environmental health and data mapping using geographic information system technology.  You can follow her on Twitter @SLPS4HlthySchools. 

 

 

 

The Effectiveness of Language Facilitation

 

 

natural talk

A while back, I posted on the ABCs of ABA. Within that post, I described the basics of ABA, a method of therapy that I believe is often a bit misunderstood. I also promised to follow that post with a more thorough description of the shades of grey that exist within the broader field of ABA.

Before I do that, though, I want to touch on the effectiveness of an approach that often seems to be the very opposite of ABA: indirect language stimulation. And before I do that (hang with me here), I’m going to briefly explain the idea of a continuum of naturalness that exists within the field of speech-language pathology. This term was first coined by Marc Fey in 1986 in “Language intervention with young children,” and I think it is a wonderful way to help us wrap our minds around the variables that exist when we think about the various methods of therapy.

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The ends of this continuum represent the relative naturalness of a treatment context. On one end of the continuum, we have indirect language stimulation approaches. These are highly natural, often embedded within the child’s daily routine, tend to be unstructured, and are built on the idea of being responsive to the child. On the other end of the continuum, we have highly structured ABA approaches, which tend to be highly decontextualized (*not* in the context of daily activities and play), very structured, and highly adult-directed.

In this post, I’m going to cover the left hand side of this continuum: indirect language stimulation. In a nutshell, this approach to language intervention involves describing what a little one is seeing, doing, and feeling. I’ve described different techniques within this broader method before, in various posts such as All Kinds of Talk, Self Talk & Parallel Talk, and Expansion and Extension. As you use these techniques, you are providing models of language that are a match for the child’s language level. So, if a baby mainly points and vocalizes, you use one and two word phrases; if toddler uses one and two word phrases, you use three and four; if a preschooler uses short sentences without grammar, you respond with longer sentences with appropriate grammar (you get the idea, right?).

These techniques are generally used in the context of on-going activities that happen every day, and are used in a way that is responsive to the child. In other words, you watch what the child is doing, listen to what she is saying, observe what she is watching, and then you respond to that. Watch. Listen. Observe. Describe. Put it all together, and general language stimulation looks a little something like this.

It pretty much looks like nothing is happening, right? Just a mom and her child having a snack. This is what it should look like! It’s natural- that’s why it’s on the far left hand side of the continuum of naturalness. But there is more going on than meets the eye. Notice how the language is simple, and related to the activity at hand. Also notice mom’s responsiveness–language models are provided in response to the child’s utterances (Child: “Please?” Mom: “You want apple.” “Apple please!”). And when the little one tries to get mom’s attention by saying “mmm,” again, mom responds with another “mmmm.” They go back and forth a few times–this is turn-taking, and within it lies the beginnings of conversation. Eventually, mom uses a language model directly related to the “mmmm”: “Yummy apple.”

One more example. This activity is a little more structured, but the approach used is the same. Notice how mom’s language is in response to the child’s language (Child: “Ride…” Adult: “You’re riding the bike!”) and take note of the fact what mom says is just slightly longer than the toddler’s language. And, as an additional bonus, observe how the child’s language changes– from one word sentences at the beginning, to a two-word phrase at the end of the clip. Indirect language stimulation doesn’t always work immediately in the moment like this…but it’s pretty cool when it does!

Despite the fact that indirect language stimulation looks quite simple, research shows that it can be very effective. As I described in All Kinds of Talk, research indicates that the more parents use conversational talk with their typically developing child, the larger that child’s vocabulary will be. When parents are responsive in their conversational interactions with their child, their child’s language grows.

Indirect language stimulation approaches have been shown to be effective for late talkers, too. In their article, Evidence-Based Language Intervention Approaches for Young Talkers, Finestack and Fey summarize the evidence in support of both general language stimulation and focused language stimulation. General language stimulation involves the techniques I just described in, well, a very general way. This means that there are no specific language targets (say, increasing verbs, or increasing nouns, or getting a child to use a specific type of two-word phrase). Instead, the goal is broad in nature: increase overall language skills. Finestack and Fey describe a randomized controlled trial (in other words, a well designed, scientific study) of a 12 week program that used general language stimulation (Robertson & Ellis Weismer, in Finestack and Fey, 2013). The researchers compared late-talking children who received general language stimulation to late-talkers who received no intervention and found that, compared to the children who received no intervention, children who received the intervention made more gains in vocabulary, intelligibility, and socialization. Importantly, the parents of the children who received intervention felt less stress. And who doesn’t want less stress in their life?!

Focused language stimulation is very similar to the general language stimulation except that it’s (you guessed it…) focused. The language models that are provided by adults are chosen specifically for that particular child. So, an adult might model mainly verbs if these are lacking in a child’s language. Or, the adult might model specific nouns. Or, the adult might model a specific type of early grammar marker, such as -ing (one of the earliest ways that children start marking verbs). This type of language stimulation, too, has been shown to be effective. Girolametto, et al, 1996 (in Finestack and Fey, 2013), taught parents to use focused language stimulation with their children. They compared the gains made the children of these parents to the gains made by children whose parents were not trained in use of these methods (don’t worry – the non-trained parents got trained at the end of the study, too!). By the end of the study, the children whose parents were trained in focused language stimulation had significantly larger and more diverse vocabularies, used more multi-word phrases, and had better phonology.

It’s important to note that general and focused language stimulation enjoy the most research support when used with late-talkers who don’t have any other delays. The research is mixed when it comes to the efficacy of these methods with children with more significant delays and disorders, such as those with autism or cognitive disorders. Because of this, having other tools in our toolbox is very important. This is where the rest of the continuum of naturalness becomes important – and where my passion for contextualized ABA approaches begins. But, that’s a post for another day. For today, we’ll stop here, secure in the knowledge that when we surround our typically developing children and late-talkers in language models, their language grows.

Finestack, L. and Fey, M. (2013). Evidence-Based Language Intervention Approaches for Young Talkers. In Rescorla & Dale, Eds. (2013). Late Talkers: Language Development, Interventions, and Outcomes

Becca Jarzynski, M.S., CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist in Wisconsin. You can follow her blog, Child Talk, and on Facebook.

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.

 

Language Time with Curious George

 

banana

I can’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t love the character Curious George. He is a cute, sweet and lovable character with a curiosity that most children and adults can appreciate. Curious George books were originally written by Margret Elizabeth and her husband Hans Augusto “H.A.” Rey. They were first published in 1941 by Houghton Mifflin.

Curious George books are generally predictable, which can be an advantage for those children struggling with speech and language disorders including issues with narratives and sequencing. Already knowing and understanding the characters and the mischievous ways of George can help a child engage in each individual story and increase motivation.  In the more recently published books, there also includes a carryover lesson and activity. With so many Curious George books published (hundreds but I haven’t counted), it is easy to find a book for younger and older children depending on particular interests. There also are some e-books available, as well. I recently wrote an article on comparing e-books and print books.

Growing up with such a fondness for Curious George naturally led me to reading this series of books to my own kids and clients. I wanted to share some language tips in this article to use for the Curious George series. Language tips include:

  1. Expanding vocabulary: Within each book you will find new vocabulary to work on and define. For example in “Curious George Goes to the Chocolate Factory” discuss and define vocabulary such as “chocolate”, “treat”, “sale”, “factory”, “store”, etc. Words that many children do not know may include “truffle,” “caramel,” and “tour guide”.
  2.  Sequencing: Within each story, there are basic events that occur in a specific order. For example in Curious George Makes Maple Syrup, there are clear and concrete steps to make the maple syrup.  In order to work on sequencing, take some photos and upload them to sequencing app, such as Making Sequences.  With this app, a child can put the story in order and then retell you the story in their own words. Another way I work on sequencing is to use blank comic strips.
  3. Recalling information: Throughout the story, ask simple questions and help your child recall specific information about the story. For example, during Curious George Makes Pancakes, encourage conversation about George and his involvement in making pancakes. Why does everyone love George’s pancakes? Why is he running away from the chef?
  4. Describing: Encourage your client to explain what is occurring in the story. For example, in Curious George Makes Maple Syrup, encourage your client to explain to you how the maple syrup might taste and what a maple tree looks and feels like. If possible, bring in some maple syrup and a piece of a tree bark and ask your client to describe the feel and smell of the syrup and bark.  If you don’t have the manipulatives, search for videos or pictures describing what is in the book. For example, with the book, Curious George and the Plumber, I found a photo online to show my client what an “auger” was and other equipment that the plumber used in the book. It helped connect specific ideas with the book and make it more concrete and engaging for the child.
  5. Answering “wh” questions: Throughout the book, ask “wh” questions and encourage your own client to ask specific questions about the story. Work on pragmatics by staying on topic and taking turns within a discussion.
  6. Problem solving: There are many opportunities to problem solve during any story with Curious George because he is always getting into trouble due to his curiosity. Discuss the problem and ask your client to figure out what he might have done differently to deal with a problem. For example, in Curious George and the Puppies, George decides to let all of the puppies out because he wanted to hold them. All of the puppies ran out and now George had a big problem. Before you move onto the next page, discuss what George should do, etc.
  7. Pragmatics: George and his friend, the Man with the Yellow Hat, have a wonderful relationship. Although George is always finding himself in trouble, it is obvious that both characters love and care about each other. They have a mutual respect for each other which can be a great model for children. Also, the Man with the Yellow Hat always forgives George for his mischievous ways which can be great discussion for many children.
  8. Literacy and Reading Comprehension: Work on improving your client’s ability to read the words in the story and comprehend what they are reading. Another way to work on literacy is having your client draw a scene from the story and then have them write a sentence about it.
  9. Emotions: George and the Man with the Yellow Hat have many emotions throughout each story. Both characters are often happy and then sometimes sad, scared, confused and regretful. Describe these emotions and begin a discussion about them.
  10. Narratives: use a story map such as this one with the story. This story map was created by Layers of Learning. There are many other story maps available, but I liked this one….

Rebecca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist, author, instructor, and parent of two young children, who began her website www.gravitybread.com to create a resource for parents to help make mealtime an enriched learning experience . She discusses the benefits of reading to young children during mealtime, shares recipes with language tips and carryover activities, reviews children’s books for typical children and those with special needs as well as educational apps. She has worked for many years with both children and adults with developmental disabilities in a variety of settings including schools, day habilitation programs, home care and clinics. She can be reached at becca@gravitybread.com, or you can follow her on Facebook; on Twitter; or on Pinterest.

Learning About New Foods Without Eating: 5 Surprising Tips for Parents

new food

Wait … isn’t the idea to get the kid to eat Brussels sprouts?  Yes, ultimately.  But exploring food with all of our senses is often the first step to eventually, tasting new foods.  Whether your child is in feeding therapy or you’re just trying to raise a more adventurous eater, here are 5 strategies for encouraging kids to discover various sensory aspects of new foods before they muster the courage to take that very  first taste:

  1. Still Got Easter Eggs?  The plastic ones, that is.    Take the 2 halves and line an egg carton with red, yellow, green and/or orange eggs.  Cut up fruits and vegetables into dime-sized pieces and practice matching colors.  Each time your child picks up the new food, tell him “Red tomato with Red Egg!” and help him find the red egg so he can drop in the tomato.  Now you have a kiddo who is picking up all kinds of fruits and veggies, even the slightly wet, cut-up pieces, which many kids hesitate to touch.
  2. Pop in a DVDCopy-Kids created a DVD of adorable kids eating fruits and vegetables, “because children learn best from other children.”  Sit down and watch it with your child, along with a colorful snack tray of bell peppers, broccoli, avocado, blueberries…you get the idea.  Keep it positive and don’t emphasize the eating part.  Just pick up the same food you see on the TV and say something silly about it.  Roll it down your cheeks and talk about how it feels.  Give it a big kiss and proclaim your love for orange, red, yellow and green peppers!  It’s not always about biting into a new food – that comes later.  But, if taking a bite happens in the course of playing and watching a silly DVD, then that’s terrific!
  3. Create Your Own Food Network Show with your kid as the host!  If the best he can do is direct the show behind the camera while you cook, that’s still a great start.  At least he’s in the kitchen, interacting with the food (albeit from a distance)  in a positive, fun way.  Later that evening, invite the whole family to watch his creation together and serve the food you made on film.  Soon, he’ll be hosting the show and cooking new dishes while you operate the camera.
  4. Watch More TV.  Before you think I’m obsessed with television, let me share 2 terrific resources that will help your kids explore new cuisine.  The Good Food Factory is the Emmy award-winning kids’ cooking show televised in California.  But, you can still watch vintage episodes as well as 2 newer episodes on line.   Or, check out the tiny tasters on the Doctor Yum videos.  Created by a pediatrician, the website includes lots of how-to videos featuring kids doing the cooking.  Using videos to introduce the joy of food to your kids is just that – an introduction.  Afterward,  head to the grocery store.  Pick out that new produce you saw on a Doctor Yum video – like a prickly pear or a lychee or a dragon fruit.  Cut it open…take a lick…one thing might just lead to another!
  5. Make Handprint Pictures Using Purees.  First, include your child in the process of making the edible “paint” puree.  Anything will do: yogurt, pudding or even cauliflower blended to a smooth paste.  Add a touch of color to the cauliflower by using natural food dyes or blending in real food, such as carrot juice or spinach leaves, letting your child pick up the spinach and add it through the safety top of the blender.  Spread the puree onto a cookie sheet or flat plate.  For the child who is tactilely defensive, you may notice that he will touch the puree with either just the side of his thumb or the tip of one finger.  That’s a fine place to start!  Over time, he’ll progress to tolerating his entire hand flattened into the plate of puree and then, pressing  his messy little hand onto paper to make a handprint.  For ideas on various animals you can create with hand or even footprints, click here.

Egg Carton Color Matching

What do all of these strategies have in common?  They’re fun and they involve YOU – the most important person in your child’s life!  Be silly, be positive and join in!  Get your hands messy,  model healthy eating and praise what your kiddo can do on that day.  Learning to try new foods involves all of our senses and remember,  tasting  often takes time.

 

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

Mission Impossible: Collaboration (Are We Succeeding?)

collaboration

 

Ellie’s parents were optimistic about her transition from her private preschool for children with hearing loss to her neighborhood public school kindergarten.  After all, Ellie’s speech and language skills had improved greatly since enrolling her in the preschool. Ellie’s previous school had an audiologist who came to the school daily to check all the children’s equipment and interacted easily with Ellie’s speech-language pathologist and teachers of the deaf.  However, only a few weeks into kindergarten, Ellie’s mother was already concerned that the new speech-language pathologist was not checking Ellie’s cochlear implant on a regular basis.  The audiologist for the school district was responsible for 250 children at multiple schools throughout the county so how attentive could she be to Ellie’s needs?  Would Ellie tell her teacher if her implant wasn’t working, or if her battery was dead?  Would Ellie’s implant audiologist at the hospital share her test results with the speech-language pathologist, as Ellie’s mother had requested?

Scenarios such as this one are familiar to those of us who work with children with hearing loss.  Children are being identified and treated for hearing loss earlier than ever thanks to universal newborn hearing screenings and enhanced technologies.  The same children who 30 years ago would have been in specialized educational settings are now entering mainstream classrooms across the nation.  Clearly this was our goal, and we are excited to see the progress that has been made on this front.  However, when a child is in a general education classroom, sees her audiologist twice a year for programming at a hospital 50 miles from home, gets private speech therapy one hour a week at ABC Therapy, and sees the school SLP for 30 minutes twice a week, coordination of care can fall through the cracks.  It was this disconnect between the professions of speech-language pathology and audiology that first drove me to pursue both my Au.D. and SLP degrees and become dually certified.  I wanted to be able to treat the whole patient, from diagnosing the hearing loss to helping them achieve listening and spoken language outcomes.

In 2011-2012, I conducted a survey under the direction of Anne Marie Tharpe, Ph.D. examining this issue.  We wanted to know whether or not audiologists and speech-language pathologists believed they were collaborating effectively, and we wanted to see if the parents of children with significant (moderate-profound) hearing loss agreed.  We surveyed 189 individuals, essentially evenly divided between parents, audiologists, and speech-language pathologists.  Almost all respondents to the survey felt that collaboration between the two professions was important.  “Collaboration” meant everything from sharing test results to attending IEP meetings.  The take-home message from the survey results was that about 1/3 of the parents and audiologists, and 1/4 of SLPs surveyed did not agree that professionals were working collaboratively.  So one out of every three parents with whom you interact may feel there is something more we could be doing to work better as a team.

The most often-cited barriers by clinicians to collaboration included time constraints and large caseloads.  One of the most rewarding findings in the survey was that 100 percent of parents of children ages birth-3 years felt that professionals were working collaboratively.  This tells us that we have indeed done a good job in improving our service delivery to this population with a focus on family-centered care.  However, we are still challenged by how to provide collaborative hearing care to children and their families when they reach school.

So what are your thoughts? Do you feel you work well as part of the parent-audiologist-speech-language pathologist team?  What are your biggest frustrations? How might we improve our collaborations with other professionals – perhaps by embracing new technology that allows us to communicate and collaborate in a more timely manner? As we think about Better Speech and Hearing Month this May, let’s focus on working toward better collaboration with one another so that children such as Ellie have the best chance to succeed.

 

Adrian Taylor, Au.D., M.S., CCC-A/SLP is an audiologist and speech-language pathologist at the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center in Nashville, Tenn.  She works primarily in the area of cochlear implants and aural (re)habilitation in both the pediatric and adult populations. Adrian may be contacted at Adrian.l.taylor@Vanderbilt.edu.