Have you ever pondered your social relevance, like an iPhone 5 right after the iPhone 6 comes out? Sure, you still look pretty good and have barely been used, so why is everyone already lining up to trade you in for a newer model? As a 28-year-old SLP working with junior high kids, I think about this a lot. I’m not that old and, therefore, relatively “cool” and in tune with what kids like … right?
The other day, during one of my many social skills groups, it hit me. I just might be an SLP with a social communication problem. My second realization was that I hadn’t been using the same advice I give my students. Like a broken record, I instruct my students on the rules of making and keeping friends. Week after week I serve up the same social strategies, such as find common topics of interest, initiate small talk and add relevant information.
However, the awkward social elephant in the room was me! I knew relatively little about the topics my students enjoyed.
Kids communicate in ways that we, as SLPs, and most adults don’t even understand. Surely it’s not for us to keep up with the five-second attention spans of adolescents and their never-ending pop culture nonsense. But, on the other hand, how can we teach social communication skills if we don’t know how kids are communicating or what’s important to them?
If a student asks me for help on inviting other kids over for a party, I advise to shoot a quick text. Email is considered far too formal and they’d laugh at the idea of a thoughtful handwritten note on engraved cardstock. So I do need to keep up with the times. I help kids talk and socialize for a living. But I need to do that using things from their world, not mine. Also, many of my students already struggle to know what’s socially important or appropriate, so it’s up to me to fill in the blanks.
I had some homework to do. That evening, I spent a hot second on Google and ended up learning way more about One Direction, Ariana Grande and CW series than I ever cared to. Talk about an unnecessary wake-up call!
As an SLP, however, I use the socially relevant information to relate to my students. The difference between good and great treatment comes down to preparation and knowledge. The more I learned, the better my sessions and conversations with my kids became. It will for you as well.
On a side note, did you know that there’s a Wikipedia knockoff site called Wookieepedia? As the name might imply, the information covers all things Star Wars. Trust me, your kids with autism spectrum disorder sure know about it.
Since making it a priority to spend a few minutes here and there searching celebrity gossip or other trends, my social groups changed for the better. My kids find it incredibly cool that I actively participate in conversations about the newest apps, superhero movies and hot video games.
I’m not suggesting anyone run out to buy the newest gaming system. I’m just saying that as we teach students to communicate in the world, let’s participate in the conversation ourselves.
#foodforthought #pragmatics #speechtherapy
Ken Anderson, MS, CCC-SLP, is a school-based SLP in Los Angeles. Follow him on Instagram @slpken or email firstname.lastname@example.org.