We have successfully completed another year owning a private practice in a location that is densely populated with speech-language pathologists. And by “we” I mean myself and my husband. We are implementing a business plan that he poured sweat and tears over (everything just short of the blood…) and the doors to our business still remain open.
Given the multitude of stresses that come from running and owning a business, I have learned to measure my success in ways that seems contrary to the ordinary. Here’s what I have learned and how I measured my success as a speech-language pathologist in the year 2013.
1. Being a parent is hard work and I cannot fully grasp and understand that just yet. No matter what a family’s situation is, the energy, effort, resources, skills, brainpower, love, patience, problem solving, planning, and determination it takes to be a parent and caretaker of a child with special needs is really immeasurable. As an SLP I can listen, sympathize, show compassion, and provide resources, but I am not in their place at the present time. Although I am trained to be a support for these families and I respond with new ideas, I am lacking a component of what it really means to live what they are living. Coming to this realization and maintaining awareness of it is huge for me.
2. Baby steps are crucial—for everyone. I have learned that so often I attempt to “conquer” a child’s speech or language delay in just one day. My expectations are high and I want the family to see the benefits of my services. But I am not a magician and they need to realize this. And we are working with a human being, not a PowerPoint presentation that we can edit with the click of a mouse. Coming in with realistic expectations and using daily, small stepping stones to increase a child’s skills is what is most beneficial. One of the mothers I work with often repeats this back to me as we summarize sessions with her child (who has many needs). “Baby steps, baby steps,” she says. Yes, so unbelievably true.
3. I need to squish, trample, and eliminate my need for a box. I naturally go through life with a black or white mentality. If something is not one way then of course that would make it be _____ (the opposite of the initial way). I come from a long line of black and white thinkers. Nope. Nada. Not the case. Just because one child was one way, does not mean that child X will be that way as well when they get to point B. Follow? Although I try, I realize that so often I don’t factor in the child’s overall personality into my daily interactions with him or her. I’m not talking about a child’s behaviors. I’m talking about their likes, loves, and dislikes. When I was a kid I loved watches, Hello Kitty, big red soft robes, Where’s Spot? books, music, and bear hugs. This was what allowed me to flourish as a child and I need to help other families do the same with their unique kiddos.
4. You never know when someone is listening…… On occasion I feel myself turning red with frustration at my inability to “get through” to a family (thus the need for lessons 2 and 3). However, on several different instances this year a parent or caregiver summarized the very basis of what we were working on in therapy. Whoops. I love when my husband teaches me that I am not always right he was listening but it may be even more humbling when a family that I work with shares in the same lesson.
5. There is never a limited supply of resources to work with and it’s OK not to reinvent the wheel sometimes. When I’m planning for my sessions I will at times squeeze in another sheet of laminated pictures, more books, or have ready more toys within arm’s reach. Four out of five times I don’t even need these items as I survey the house and begin using whatever toy the child had already been playing with. But I have found that the magic number of three materials in a session usually does it. Why? No scientific basis for it really. A book, one toy, and a small sensory item (bubbles, play dough, etc) usually do the “trick” (whatever that is). This makes me slow down. (Yes, let’s once again go back to number 2.) It gives us enough time to play together and enough time to engage in coaching the family. The reason why there are so many cute, easily adaptable pre-made lesson plans out there is because the crafty people that make them are good at it. Really good at it. And they take pleasure in knowing that people like me are occasionally using their lessons for materials in therapy. We’ve all got our skills and using time efficiently to make materials is not one of mine. That’s what my great, far-reaching community is for.
So given all of the above lessons, how have I measured my success as a therapist this past year? Simply by the fact that I have learned. I have grown. And it only looks like there will be more of that to come in the New Year. While my feet are beginning to be planted in my current practice, the certainty of this stability does not always ring true. But my ability to continuously learn in my profession? Always there without fail. I cannot wait to continue the relationships with the families I am already working with and establish trust in new relationships to come.
Meredith Mitchell, MSP, CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist who owns a private practice in North Carolina. She maintains a blog for families on her website and also maintains a separate blog for speech therapists focusing on early intervention. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.