Communication in the 21st Century: Effective or Flawed?

The other day, I sent a text message to a friend and it read, “Ok I’m done just sitting around if I can help out let me know.” After I sent the message, I re-read it and realized that I had sent the wrong message. What I meant to say was, “I’m done. Just sitting around. If I can help out, let me know.” There is a world of a difference between the first message and the second message. The first sounds like I’m frustrated with sitting around and I want to do something about it. The second one sounds like I just finished what I was doing and now I’m sitting around. If I can help out, I’m available. This text message is not the first and won’t be the last text that sends the wrong idea. Everyday, more and more people are using text messages, instant messages, social networking sites and e-mail to communicate with one another. Everyday, fewer and fewer people choose to meet in person or even pick up the phone.

When we have a face-to-face conversation with someone, we have a number of factors that help us get the message across. We have our eye contact, body language, vocal inflection and most importantly, the ability to correct a miscommunication immediately. Over the phone, conversations still have the vocal inflection and ability to correct a miscommunication. With a text message, you simply have typed words, often with poor grammar, and the way your message will be interpreted is at the mercy of the one receiving the message. At least we have emoticons that allow us to set the tone of the message.

So if face-to-face communication at its best is still challenging, what hope is left for us who choose to communicate via text messages, instant messages, email and social networking sites? How can we be sure that we are communicating effectively? It is important that we take effective communication into consideration when we send a text or instant message. We can start by simply proof reading our text messages to ensure that we are sending the clearest message possible. But more importantly, at some point, it would be wise to check in either over the phone or face-to-face with the person we are texting, to make sure that there wasn’t a communication breakdown. Use of emoticons helps as well. ;)

Hand holding smart phone

Tina Babajanians, M.S. CCC – SLP, is a speech language pathologist working in Los Angeles, California. She works in variety of settings including elementary schools, full-time and hospitals, per-diem. Her passion is voice therapy and she is working on launching a private practice that specializes in the treatment of voice and resonance disorders. You can visit her website and find her on Twitter @lavoicetherapy.

Embracing The Potential Benefits Of Using New Technologies In Children’s Speech And Language Therapy

(This post originally appeared on PediaStaff.com)

Communication is so much more than speech, now more than ever, and the gap between the technological literacy of parents and the Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) assisting children with communication disorders has never been greater – and it is accelerating at a dizzying pace. Speech language pathologists are communication disorder specialists, not computer experts. Many SLPs are from a different, older generation, or just coming out of a newly digitally-connected generation. The communication disorder and sciences profession is rapidly changing at such a fast pace that we must adapt to new tools that were never really intended for speech language pathologists. We must find modern means to keep children’s attention and motivate them to be good communicators.

Doll at computer keyboard

Photo by Kodomut

Since facial expressions and simple gestures, humans have attempted to figure out all kinds of messages one person is trying to get across to another person, or, in a sense, what a sender is trying to convey across to a receiver. The Sender (A) has a message of information (X) for the Receiver (B). The question now is, what is the most effective, efficient, understandable way to get that informational message across from person A to person B and then back to A (and so on)? That is every pediatric SLP’s dilemma to figure out in order to provide the best possible therapy. Part of that dilemma is finding and keeping up with the exponentially changing, newest additions to the communication disorder ‘tool bag’.

All new technology is a tool; one tool of many to aid in the communication between a parent and a child. They are not gadgets to replace interaction or placeholders in important social connections between two emotional human beings. New technology is just one tool to help bring people together and aid in understanding basic, functional needs and wants for quality daily living. A new technology can motivate and facilitate a connection and exchange of ideas or emotions with another person. More tools include animals, blankets, crayons, puppets, games, music, bubbles and puzzles. Therapy tools are meant to motivate and open up opportunities for speech and language development in children. If an iPad helps a child share a smile with their parent, a shared moment of attention, attachment and engagement – that is a good thing. The tech device is just a therapy tool of gaining a child’s attention. It is only with joint attention that more opportunities for interaction can occur.

Finding that attention-grabber takes work, work on the parent’s end and work on the therapist’s end of intervention. We must engage with children and their ‘tech toys’ in order to stay connected to them to some degree. That does not mean that an app or a gadget is a replacement for interacting with a child. Interpersonal interaction will never be replaced – humans are social beings; we need each other to survive and blossom. The tool means nothing and is rather useless without the person using it to facilitate human bonding. We must find what keeps a child’s attention to maintain the level of attention required for communication opportunities. We have evolved from early interaction and attachment, to pragmatics, to gestures, to play, to language comprehension, to language expression – each one an important step in communication and engagement with one another. Each step is a huge communication milestone and it all starts with attachment, attention and interaction. We must get on the floor, be face-to-face and give our full attention to children on their level in order to begin to foster positive shared experiences.

SLPs need to learn how to use new tools and help teach parents, teachers and children how to share these modern communication opportunities. We must learn how to effectively and efficiently embrace children’s new digital language knowledge. We all use Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) devices every day. People with or without communication disorders, whether we call them AAC or not: cell phones, cameras, daily planners and computers – we are all users of AAC devices. We should not be overwhelmed by new technologies it is just that we have to take the time to learn more about them. It is like learning a new language – and if children are trying so hard to communicate – why can’t we the caregivers and therapists put in effort to understand what is available to children today? Technology is part of our new job requirement. We as SLPs have to stay one step ahead to give these children the best opportunities for communication possibilities. Our new challenge as speech language pathologists and parents is to keep up with the new ways children are learning to communicate.

It is our job as SLPs to understand and to integrate that digital language into therapy to aid children by taking technology from other fields never intended for SLPs. If children are going to engage in this type of online socialization, help them (and us) learn how to navigate this new digital world together. We cannot be perfect therapists, perfect parents, grandparents, or even perfect aunties or siblings, but we can get on the level of a child and really want to find ways to connect with them. Children want to share experiences with us strange and intriguing adults, but they need us to understand and follow their lead sometimes. Children need us to understand their world. Adults, yes, this means homework and taking the extra time to learn about areas in science and technology that may be unfamiliar to us. We must be active participants in order to connect and receive the full, active attention of the children of today.

Connection between people is the most important part of being human. Communication is always evolving. Just like our language dictionaries that require constant updates, speech language pathologists have to keep our tool bags updated and current. We have to keep up with the children of 2010, but keep therapy grounded in human connection to focus on the basics of daily living, wants and needs facilitated by real people. All technologies are just tools of getting a message, information or code (X) from person, Sender (A) to person, Receiver (B) and vice versa. New technology can seem complicated but all these methods have only one purpose- they are methods of connecting people to other people. Speech language pathologists must see all technological tools as just part of the SLP tool bag to effectively use these current and those ancient technologies in therapy. It is no longer necessarily augmentative, alternative communication, but rather, typical digital communication that we must adapt to in order to help children. That does not mean we cannot communicate with children if we do not understand this digital language. Basic, face-to-face communication will always be based on body language and gestures of nonverbal, behavioral communication which speech language pathologists are educated to understand, translate, decode and decipher as a model to the caregiver. SLPs are conduits to pass on skills to others – we are decoders and resources to children. We are resources to parents who desire to achieve attention then engagement with their child; but just need some guidance and support to get there.

SLPs will have to adapt at a faster rate to the exponential increase in therapy tools available for our tool bags and what speaks to children. What keeps their attention? There are many resources available to all of us to be better educated in an increasingly fast paced, digital world. Let us keep up with the children of today and share what we learn to stay as connected to the people we love as humanly possible. So, how do we all stay informed about the exponentially changing, newest additions in communication facilitating technology tools? As a start, we can begin by learning and sharing information from the resources right in front of us. The Internet is full of wonderful educational and therapeutic tools including information on apps and website links for children with communication disorders. Let us therapists and parents listen to children, and to what they can teach us. All anyone needs is a place to start. The following list of highly recommended links is one place to start in helping adults understand children’s digital language of 2010.

Highly recommended links to learn more about children’s digital communication:

Megan (Panatier) Bratti, MS, CCC-SLP, lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband.  She graduated from California State University Northridge with her Master’s degree in Communicative Disorders and Sciences, Speech Language Pathology in 2006.  Megan explores technology and its potential in the communication disorder and sciences field with, Avocado Technologies, co-founded with her husband, Bruno Bratti, an Integrated Circuit Engineer.  Avocado Technologies is a forum on a Facebook page and on Twitter @avocadotech to engage others with the latest stories and news about communicative disorders, language, speech therapy, education, science, linguistics, literacy and technology found on the web.

SLP Zen

Zen rocks


Photo by quinet

Few of us would claim that the job of an SLP is flowers and sunshine all the time. It can be super-stressful managing a caseload, planning interventions, completing evaluations, dealing with administrative hoo-hah, and keeping clients, families, and a whole other cast of characters happy. However, if our position were not challenging, many of us would surely get bored and move on to rockier pastures. The key is to be able to step back from our whirlwind work lives and avoid burnout. In this, as in many other areas of my life, I often turn to technology. Here are 5 ways technology can help SLPs with chilling out instead of stressing out.

Slow Down and Breathe- We are pretty good at teaching people how to breathe with their diaphragms but often forget to do so ourselves. Try checking out a meditation podcast to relax after a stressful day, or prepare yourself for the day to come. One great meditation series is the My Thought Coach podcasts by Stin Hansen. I have them all on my iPhone for those days that have me feeling a little too stretched! Another resource is the White Noise app, which you can use to surround yourself with relaxing sounds. My favorite is crashing ocean waves, but you many prefer a camp fire, wind, a purring cat, or even a clothes dryer.

Other Therapeutic Listening- Often we don’t need to be lulled into a meditative state to take ourselves away from the stress of work. Try finding your favorite music and building your own stations with free streaming radio services (and apps) such as Pandora or Slacker. As SLPs, we often work to help people tell their stories, and treasure stories ourselves. I love listening to the This American Life app (all the episodes are also available to stream on the site) on route to work, allowing the funny and often moving stories of ordinary people to distract me for a while before settling in to focus!

Remember the Body-Mind Connection- Our busy days can cause us to neglect our bodies, eat stuff we shouldn’t eat, and be sometimes unable to muster the energy to exercise after a long day of sessions. However, watching what we eat and getting enough exercise can become a healthy positive cycle that reduces stress and boosts productivity. Technology can help. Websites such as FitDay or The Daily Plate and apps like Tap’N’Track keep us mindful of our nutrition (and it’s harder to eat that sugar-crash-causing donut if you know you will have to enter it electronically later). Likewise, you can begin or add to an exercise regimen using resources such as The Daily Burn or iFitness.

Keep your Ducks in A Row- We all get more stressed if we realize (or think) we have forgotten something important. Technology can help keep you organized. Check out my posts on simple (and free!) Google tools like Calendar and Tasks. There are also a lot of great blogs that offer organizational tips. To read posts on efficiency with a techie spin, check out Lifehacker, and you might also like Zen Habits or I’m an Organizing Junkie.

Knowing When to Disconnect- As much as technology can be our friend in all of the above stress-reducers, and in connecting us to others for professional development, we need to be able to step back from work and enjoy other pursuits, friends and family. Although my school system’s email program has an iPhone app, I recently deleted it from my phone. It is very unlikely that there will be some language emergency or technology crisis that I need to know about at any given moment, and the habit of checking work email while at leisure just invites agita (Adam Dachis of Lifehacker wrote an excellent post on this). That email that may annoy you? Why read it during a family dinner, or even know that it is there? No one should expect an immediate reply from an email sent during off-hours. It’s just that simple!

What are your tried-and-true ways for keeping sanity and serenity in your busy life?

Sean J. Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and instructional technology specialist working in the public school and in private practice at The Ely Center in Newton, Massachusetts. He has presented on the topic of technology integration in speech and language at the ASHA convention and is the author of the blog SpeechTechie: Looking at Technology Through a Language Lens.

Affordability and AAC

Money sign and hand with cross-through


Photo by Neubie

Affordability and augmentative communication are two terms that typically do not ever appear in the same sentence, unless in the negative context (i.e. ‘augmentative communication is not affordable’). This belief is one that is generally accepted as the reality of augmentative communication, and assistive technology in general.

The major alternative/augmentative communication (AAC) device makers have long claimed innocence under the argument that it has been their own research and development dollars that have gone into producing these devices. To that end, they need to keep their prices high in order to maintain a high quality product. Although that argument does have its merits, one has to wonder whether a $3,000 or $4,000 communication device is really a justifiable price. In fact, such costs impede any single user from purchasing such a device out-of-pocket. Instead we, as clinicians, and our clients rely on insurers and grants to subsidize the costs that we incur.

Considering all of the years that AAC technology has been out of reach of the mainstream computer market, it is incredible to see that only in the past year or so, some brave companies have stood up to say ‘We have a communication solution that’s also cheap.’ With the advent of such personal computing devices as the iPad, the iPod and tablet PC’s, someone made the realization that AAC doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive anymore.

One can trace the emergence of today’s low cost computing to the surge in popularity of the netbook (those adorable 9 or 10 inch computers that seemed to go mainstream almost instantly). With some very capable low cost touch-screen computers out there, it makes a lot of sense for individual users to put together their own AAC systems for around $500 or $600. The process to create your own device involves buying a touch-screen tablet PC, iPad, or other device and then the associated communication software. The best part of such systems is that they are not dedicated communication devices, meaning the user can access programs aside from the communication software on the system. Whether it is the adult stroke victim or the autistic child, having a variety of applications available (e.g. email, games, word processing, etc.) in addition to communication software is great thing to provide a client with true accessibility.

Of course, there are drawbacks to creating your own AAC device. Such systems would not be paid for by any insurance company, as they are not dedicated devices. In addition, for less tech- savvy users, it may be a bit of challenge to tackle technical issues with your hardware and software coming from different places. Lastly, even $500 may be too much for many individuals paying out-of-pocket. That being said, most of us are already accustomed to paying premium prices for modern computing technology, so the price of a netbook or an iPad seems like a drop in the bucket.

As a software developer and clinician, I know both the technical issues involved with AAC as well as client needs. I feel strongly about providing my clients with communication solutions that work for them, and a lot of the time that means something easy, portable and practical. As speech-language pathologists working in the domain augmentative communication it is our obligation to provide education to our clients regarding all of the options that exist. Do-it-yourself AAC devices may not be for everyone, but they certainly fill a major gap in the market of devices currently available.

José A. Ortiz, M.A.CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and software developer in Brooklyn, NY. He currently works as a clinician providing Spanish-English services in a variety of settings, including rehabilitation facilities and autism education programs. José is also the owner of PAL Software Designs LLC, a software company that creates products for language professionals. Jose is a dedicated advocate for bilingual education and accessibility to augmentative communication. You can read more from José on his blog.

Blogging and podcasting for Speech Therapy

Geek SLP TV logo

Photo by Barbara Fernandes

Many of us were born before or when the Internet was just a luxury. I did not even put my hand on a computer until I was 11 years old. From that day forward, I often stayed awake at night just to learn how to create websites, play games or to surf the Internet. Today I still spend many hours daily in front of the computer– I love to blog and network with my fellow speech therapists online.

Imagine that each one of us now has the potential to share our knowledge with millions of people around the world, including with other speech therapists, parents and even individuals whom have a communication disorder. We all have something we can share; we can each be both creators and disseminators of information on a daily basis. I wish I could get paid just to blog, but so far it has been only a hobby.

On my blog called, “GeekSLP Blog”, I write mostly about the use of technology for speech therapy. I am an Apple fan and fan of all the gadgets that make my work easier and more entertaining for the children whom I give therapy. Blogging made it possible for common people like you and me to be the creators of information. We are no longer dependent on big corporations to “teach” us; we learn from one another and grow together. One of the greatest things about blogging is connecting with people that share the same passion (e.g I have several virtual SLP friends that share my passion for technology).

Podcasting has the same function as blogging just in a different format: video or audio only podcasts. I have named my video podcast “GeekSLP TV” (how creative!); people can watch it on YouTube or they can also download episodes on their iPhone, iPod or iPad. At first, it was kind of weird because you are putting your face out there; however, after my seventh episode things started getting a lot easier. I just hope people enjoy watching the podcasts as much as I enjoy recording it for my audience. The best aspect about podcasting is that you do not even have to be a geek to create a podcast; a voice recorder or a video camera is all you need to get started.

I hope you get inspired and start blogging or podcasting today. I would love to hear from you and your new way to share your knowledge with the world.

Barbara Fernandes is a trilingual speech and language pathologist. She is the director of Smarty Ears and the face behind GeekSLP TV, a blog and video podcast focusing on the use of technology in speech therapy. Barbara has also been a practicing speech therapist both in Brazil and in the United States. She is a an active participant of the Texas Speech and Hearing Association as a member of the TSHA Culturally and linguistically diverse issues task force. Barbara has created over 15 applications for speech therapists.

How I became the speech guy with an iPad

iPad Screenshot with Monkey Business App

Photo by Eric Sailers

(This post originally ran on http://slpsharing.com/)

As a kindergartner in the mid 1980’s, I saw a speech-language pathologist (SLP) for speech delays. I don’t recall the experience with much detail, but I have been reminded by those closest to me. Once I became an SLP, my mom informed me that I said “Dada Da” for “Santa Claus,” and my SLP (who continues to work in the same district that I attended as a student and now work in) told me that I called myself “airwit.” Evidently I had errors of stopping, cluster reduction, vocalic r, and t/k substitution. I was also told that I did drill work with traditional flashcards to practice sounds. Although I graduated from speech-language therapy, I wonder how my experience would have been different with the wonderful technologies available today.

Back in the winter of 2008, I purchased my first iPhone and started beta testing for Proloquo2Go, an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) app. I was so impressed with how a cool, mobile technology could be very sophisticated at a reasonable cost. I started looking at other applications that could be used in speech-language therapy. One of the first apps I discovered was Wheels on the Bus, an interactive music book that plays the song. My students loved the interactions like moving the bus and popping bubbles with the touch of their finger. I loved how my students were so engaged by the interactions that didn’t require a computer mouse (which is challenging for many of my students); plus, they sang to repetitive lyrics and heard their voice recording in the app.

In 2009, I thought about developing an app. I didn’t have a background in software engineering, so I began a conversation with my friend Jason Rinn who did. After several discussions and time spent learning the iPhone programming language, Jason was on board. Jason and I decided to create solutions that involved a strong component of tracking progress. We created a data collection app (Percentally) and an articulation app (ArtikPix) with integrated data collection. ArtikPix is an app that allowed me to include modern technology in a tool for speech articulation difficulties that I personally experienced some 25 years ago. It means a lot to me that I can share such a personalized solution with children who I now serve.

I currently use iOS devices (iPod touch and iPad) in speech-language therapy sessions. I have five iPods that are primarily for individual use, and one iPad I incorporate in group activities. There are apps my students use individually such as iColoringBook and Sentence Builder. For both apps, my students show their screen to the group as they produce sentences. Optimized iPad apps for my groups include a book app called Zoo You Later – Monkey Business and BrainPop Featured Movie. During Monkey Business and BrainPop, the students take turns listening, touching, and talking about the content. A book app like Monkey Business is very enjoyable and beneficial for children because of the features including interactive text and illustrations, painting, recorded audio, voice recording, and highlighted text. I imagine I would have enjoyed using apps like interactive books and games to practice my sounds.

My students are drawn to the iOS devices, and general education peers are interested in how they use the technologies for communication. My students favorite part about iOS devices is the touching aspect. Even if they are not skilled with a computer mouse, most of my students can tap, flick, and drag elements on the screen. I see this as a great source of initiating and maintaining their engagement during activities.
I think that apps offer great features for visual cues and auditory feedback that aid children with special needs in the learning process. I also am very pleased to have my students using mobile technologies that they might not otherwise use because of various factors. Finally, it brings me great joy to hear students asking, “Hey speech guy, can we use the iPad today?”

Eric Sailers, MA, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist who serves children Pre-K to 5th grade. He has co-created two iOS applications: Percentally and ArtikPix. He is also a blogger at slpsharing.com.

Connecting With My #SLPeeps on Twitter

Screenshot from Twitter of a post using the hashtag SLPeeps

Speech Language Pathologists speak their own language that only other SLPs truly understand. This is the case for many different professionals, but it is complicated by the fact that most of the time SLPs are isolated from others. We’re usually the only SLP at our school or in our town. Often we’re in a closet away from everybody else. And, no one at our schools knows exactly what we do.

As a result, when we go to conferences with other SLPs it’s a relief to be able to speak in our native tongue and to talk about our experiences, our problems, our great ideas, and our frustrations with another SLP. After all, this is someone who completely understands what we’re talking about. I’ve found that it usually takes the speaker a little bit of time to get a group of SLPs to stop talking in order to start their presentation. Then, after the program, they sometimes have to kick us out as well. We’re not trying to be rude, we just love hanging out with other SLPs. We are trying to fill our canteen while we can before we go back to the desert where people don’t understand the frustrations of vocalic /r/ and our exciting new therapy toys (as you can tell, I work with children). We just don’t get to see each other often enough.

So, when I stumbled upon Twitter I quickly realized the potential for networking with other Speech Language Pathologists. Slowly I’ve found a good group of SLPeeps (the name that we’ve given ourselves on the web), to which I’ve been able to direct my assessment and therapy questions, give my frustrations, and talk about SLP issues in general. Sometimes we just get a little silly and have a good time with our conversations. It’s been wonderful to be able to have a group that understands SLP talk and what I’m doing at my finger tips.

I’ve made friends with other SLPs all over the world. It’s interesting to find out how they do things in other places. Different educational backgrounds, experiences and interests have resulted in a rich resource on Twitter. I’m beginning to feel like I’m part of a greater international community of Speech Language Pathologists.

There are many people and resources for SLPs online that you can easily find via Twitter among other sources. There are many vendors, specialists, professors, and plenty of clinical SLPs. I’ve found that they are always willing to answer questions. We’ve been able to get special discounts from some of the vendors. One time Super Duper gave us a special discount on Chipper Chat products just because one of the SLPeeps asked about it. Super Duper frequently has Twitter promotions. I have also had Dynavox answer simple support questions over Twitter. SLPs also share online resources, including websites that provide free materials for education or therapy.

Lists of SLPs and other related stuff on Twitter.

You can find followers by searching SLP-related words; well, you can find a few at least. The better way to start finding other SLPs on Twitter is to start looking through the follower lists of other SLPs (my Twitter name is @speechbob), or better yet, look at the followers of @ASHAweb.

So, come join us. We don’t bite, promise.

Robert Bateman, MS CCC-SLP is an educational SLP working at Davis School District in Utah He’s also the co-writer of the new SLP blog Pathologically Speaking.