Mini-Resolutions for 2019

to-do-list-apps-1400x1050Last evening I drove to our local pizza shop to pick up our order:  large white pizza with spinach, tomato, and garlic.  This is a once-a-month treat, and picking up the pizza usually takes 10 minutes, round trip.  My trip took a bit longer than usual, not because the pizza wasn’t ready, but because I couldn’t find a parking spot.  You see, Peppi’s Pizza is right next door to a gym and it was mobbed!  Good grief, dozens of men and women in spanking new workout gear were swarming the parking lot and gym, the likes of which I’ve never seen.  Then it dawned on me — they all made New Year’s resolutions to exercise!  When I told my husband why I was late with the pizza, he laughed and said he has observed this uptick in attendance at the YMCA, as well.  “Don’t worry,” he said, “by next month, you’ll have your choice of parking spots!”  And that is the way it goes with resolutions:  a strong, determined start often gives way to dwindling effort.  An article in Psychology Today a few years back explains why.  In a nutshell, our resolutions are typically “large actions,” such as “I’ll go to the gym three times a week” when at present you don’t go at all.  A more realistic goal — a “small action” that is much more doable — is “I’ll increase my walking steps by 1/3” or “I’ll add 10 minutes a day to my usual walk with the dog.”  We tend to be more successful at modifying existing behaviors than we do in creating entirely new habits.  Indeed, research shows that only 10% of “large action” resolutions ever successfully become habit.

While this article doesn’t say so, I also surmise that resolutions tend to fail because they are based on negative feelings and deprivation.  Issues with body image, strict dieting that denies you food you enjoy, and a loathing of going to the gym (that’s me!) all contribute to resolution failure.  If you crave foods you can’t have, have to give up valuable time from other activities to work out at the gym which you don’t enjoy, or don’t see immediate results from your efforts, you’ll become resentful and discouraged and ultimately quit (certainly true for me).

In mulling this over, it seems that working toward small actions and building on current habits can be helpful to us professionally.  Here are some suggestions that have worked for me:

  1.  Bring new life to therapy.  The more you enjoy the interaction, the better the students will respond, so think about therapy activities that you enjoy and do more of them.  Pull some therapy materials off the shelf that you haven’t looked at in a while to get some new ideas.  Visit the Materials Exchange of Speaking of Speech.com for some freebies you haven’t already downloaded. Get fired up about games, activities, and therapy techniques you’ve read about on this or other blogs or found on Pinterest or TeachersPayTeachers.  Share materials and ideas with colleagues.
  2. Improve your caseload management.  Hopefully, you already have organizational systems in place for all you need to accomplish daily, but if you find yourself stressed, worried that things are falling through the cracks, or realizing that you are always frantically pushing up against deadlines, you may need to tweak your caseload management strategies so that you are more productive and less stressed.  SLP blogs are full of ideas related to color-coding, stickie notes, bins, and binders, so check them out, but remember:  organizational strategies, to my mind, are very personal. We all have our own styles and ways of thinking, so look for ideas that feel doable to YOU!  Don’t get hung up on creating time-intensive, designer-like materials, unless that appeals to you.  Instead, I prefer to focus on function:  what can I do to simplify my workload, handle my “to do” list, and keep my workspace organized and efficient?  Little actions can make a big difference!
  3. Limit time vampires.  If you fall into a rabbit hole whenever you look at TPT or Pinterest, set a timer and stick to it.  If you have colleagues who love to gab about everything under the sun every morning before school, extract yourself politely but firmly so you can get organized for the day.  A “do not disturb” sign on the door may be needed, but will be worth the extra time you’ll find each day for doing what needs to be done without unnecessary stress.
  4. Schedule “clean up” time.  Maybe it’s just me, but I really need to start and end the day with a sense of tidiness.  I don’t want to wake up to a sink full of dirty dishes and I don’t want to come home from school to an unmade bed and other signs of disarray, so I give myself 5 minutes each morning and each evening to do a quick straightening up.  Likewise, I don’t want to walk into my speech room to find a mess I’d left behind the night before.  I find that spending 5-10 minutes at the end of each workday clearing off my desk, straightening piles of work to be done, and putting away therapy materials makes coming in each morning much more pleasant and helps me end the day with a sense of completion.

Well, that’s what works for me, so my resolution this year is to stick to it.  What works for you??  What little actions can you take to make your professional life run more smoothly?

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Half Way There….

downloadThe excitement of the upcoming holiday break is palpable! But then comes January and that long stretch of soul-sucking winter (at least, for those of us who have to deal with ice and snow and bitter cold).  It can be a challenge to keep one’s spirits up when the winter blahs take over.  Since New Year’s is all about resolutions, here are some suggestions that might help you over the hump, and it all falls under the heading of “Take care of yourself.”  You know the saying about caring for yourself before caring for others in a crisis situation?  Well, that holds true all of the time, although our own needs often take a backseat as we routinely care for family, friends, colleagues, students, and community. Resolve to change that!  Here’s what has worked for me in my 28-year career:

  1. Exercise.  Ugh, I even hate the sound of that word.  Going to the gym is torture for me, especially when the only time I can go is when it is dark and cold.  When I expressed this to my doctor, she said, “so don’t go! Just find a way to exercise at home.”  And that’s what I’ve done.  Each night as we settle down to watch TV, I do a half-hour of pilates exercises and stretches with bursts of cardio worked in-between.  I still can’t say I enjoy it, but the TV provides some distraction, and it’s become an easy routine to maintain.  I also try to pick up my pace when walking throughout the day, park on the far end of a row to add more steps, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, and try to carry all my groceries from the store to the car instead of using the cart.  I’ll never win a bodybuilding contest, but as long as I still fit in the jeans I bought 5 years ago, I’m happy.
  2. Yoga.  I have attended yoga sessions but, like the gym, it’s hard for me to commit, especially in the winter.  Instead, I try to work in some yoga with YouTube. In fact, my goal for January is to take the 30-day Yoga Challenge. I also work some kids’ yoga into my therapy sessions;  the breathing and stretches are great for warming up and settling down the students, and I find it relaxing for me, too, a great way to loosen the tension that I tend to hold in my neck and shoulders.
  3. Drink!  I know many SLPs who sip water all day long, an excellent habit.  I’ve never been one for drinking throughout the day (I think mainly because I rarely have time to visit the ladies room in school!), but I realized a few years ago that I really should make the effort.  I bought myself an attractive, transparent water bottle with an infuser core that I fill each morning with fresh lemon wedges (microwave the lemon for 45 seconds before cutting to get lots more juice from it), then I fill the bottle once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Being able to see my progress through the bottle has been reinforcing for me, and also reminds me that I had better start drinking to meet my noon and dismissal deadlines.
  4. Read, sew, cook, watch movies or do whatever gives you personal pleasure and satisfaction.  I absolutely must read at least a few pages every night when I go to bed, just my way of blocking out the noise of the day.  I try each weekend to do some quilting — much easier to do in the winter!  I find those dreary, cold, wintery days just fly by when I am immersed in a project, and I end up with something nice to show for it.
  5. Aim for balance.  All work and no play is no way to live!  It’s so easy to get swept up in the demands of work, family, and home.  My husband and I vowed years ago that we would schedule time for friends and each other every week.  Sometimes that means the house doesn’t get cleaned or the clothes stay in the dryer for a week.  I can honestly say that we have survived this occasional neglect, and have certainly benefitted from the social activities that we did instead.
  6. Stay organized.  Organization at home and at school is the only way I can live. I make sure that every day before I leave, my therapy table is cleared, my desk is neat, and my “to do” list is prioritized.  There’s nothing more demoralizing than walking into the therapy room in the morning and seeing a mess to deal with. (I do the same at home — bed made in the morning, dishes washed at night really helps the day start and end well for me).  How to organize is up to you, as everyone has their own style (highlighters? stickie notes? color-coded folders? charts and graphs?  all of the above?).  Just make sure it is working for you.
  7. Avoid negativity.  I learned very early in my career that, for my own mental health and well-being, I needed to avoid complainers.  I don’t for a minute mean to minimize the legitimate gripes we have with paperwork, difficult students/parents/teachers/administrators, and crazy schedules.  Those are certainly some of the issues we need to deal with on a daily basis.  But complaining about it doesn’t help, and listening to others complain only makes things worse. Pretty soon you find yourself in a downward spiral of negativity, and who needs that?
  8. Focus on the positive.  We applaud our students for their progress and give them a certificate or reward when they are dismissed from therapy, but do we stop to give ourselves a well-deserved pat on the back as well?  After all, their achievement is our achievement, too!  Celebrate accomplishments, large and small, with colleagues;  create a dismissal sticker chart and give yourself a gold star every time you dismiss a student;  toast yourself at dinner with a glass of your favorite adult beverage.  Just a few moments of basking in a job well done will have a positive effect on your outlook.
  9. Laugh more.  Watch funny movies, use jokes in therapy, have a “family fun night” of playing games with your kids, laugh at yourself instead of putting yourself down.
  10. Unplug.  We know that too much screen time is bad for kids.  Well, it isn’t great for us, either!  Make a determined effort to put down the phone or tablet, turn off the TV, set digital limits for yourself, and get involved in a hobby or community activity instead.

You are a creative, compassionate, and dedicated SLP.  You couldn’t have survived in this field if you weren’t.  So give yourself the credit you deserve and the time you need to protect your mental and physical health to get through the second half of the school year and beyond.  Nobody else will do this for you.  It’s all up to you.  Happy New Year!

Oldies but Goodies

I once saw a t-shirt that said “I get paid to play board games.”  Well, we all know that we do WAY more than that, but there is no question that games keep the kids engaged in therapy.  The challenge is always making sure that the game doesn’t take up valuable therapy time.  Because I need to get as many repetitions as possible in a session, I am always looking for games that are super quick but also engaging.  In previous posts, I have described the stick game (an all-time favorite that’s dirt cheap and easy to make), commercially-available Feed the Kitty and Cookie Crumble, and the sound-specific games I’ve made based on old childhood favorites, Jump! and Square Off!  Pop-Up Pirate is another game that appeals even to my 4th graders. Lots of SLPs have blogged about the creative ways to use Ned’s Head, Guess Who, and Jenga — google or check Pinterest for those ideas.  And, of course, we all know about Go Fish and Memory games with therapy cards. A fun twist on using those cards is described in my post about “Hide the Sticker.”

A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics states that there is not much proof that tablet-based toys and games benefit brain development in toddlers, and concludes that hands-on toys like blocks and puzzles are far more beneficial for hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, creativity, and interactive play with adults and peers.  While there is certainly a place in therapy for some of the great speech/language apps, such as those by SmartyEars, I’ve come to realize that some of our students today, who are of the “digital generation,” don’t even know how to play with games and toys that we all grew up with.  And that got me to thinking about how to use other free or cheap toys and games to build brain power, concentration, social skills, and language.  Here are some suggestions, based on games and activities I’ve used in therapy.  Of course, you will want to modify the games to build language and social skills and meet IEP goals and work in AAC for those with low verbal skills.

  • Checkers, Chinese Checkers, Connect 4, Battleship — all require some strategy
  • Pick up Sticks (a lot quieter than Jenga!) — good for patience and hand-eye coordination
  • Games like Cootie, Don’t Break the Ice, and Operation — also good for hand-eye coordination
  • LEGOs, Duplos, magnetic shapes, plastic gears — all good for cooperative creating, requesting, describing
  • Yahtzee! — scorekeeping and math
  • Card games like Hearts, Crazy Eights, and Uno –lots of interaction with peers
  • Jigsaw puzzles — have a 100 piece puzzle out on a table for kids to work on — lots of language as they look for and describe pieces.
  • For kiddos who need to build auditory skills and following directions, favorite old games like Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says, and Mother May I? will get them listening and moving, making these good warm-up or end-of-session reward activities.
  • Toss Across or a DYI beanbag toss game will also incorporate movement in therapy.

What oldies but goodies do you use in therapy??

 

 

 

Selective Mutism

Screen Shot 2018-11-27 at 3.09.18 PMYears ago I was assigned as a short-term sub for a colleague who had been injured in a fall.  When I entered a 4th grade learning support classroom, the teacher introduced me to each student.  When she came to a girl I’ll call Tara, she said, “This one doesn’t talk at school.  Come on, Tara! Say something for the new speech teacher!”  Then the teacher shook her head with a scowl and said, “She’ll never talk.”   Tara looked at the floor in silence as the other students giggled.  As for me, my jaw hit the floor.  Horrified, I returned to the speech room to look up Tara’s records.  The narrative on her IEP stated that Tara talked a lot at home with family and friends, and her articulation was good, according to her mother.  However, since entering kindergarten, Tara increasingly refused to speak on the bus or in school.  Clearly, she fit the definition of a selective mute.

Through conversation with her teacher and observation of Tara in various locations in the school, it became apparent that nearly everyone in the school badgered Tara to talk:  the teaching assistants, the art/music/gym teachers, the librarian, the cafeteria lady, even the bus driver and principal.  Perhaps they thought they were giving her encouragement.  What they were really doing is bullying her, making her stand out in front of her peers, and setting up a situation in which, if she WOULD ever say a word, one might expect fireworks, a brass band, and a ticker-tape parade to break out.  Talk about pressure!

I had a phone conference with Tara’s mother to verify that mom didn’t detect any problems with Tara’s speech or language.  Indeed, her mom reported that Tara talked up a storm at home. She wasn’t able to shed any light on why Tara refused to speak in school, but did say it had been a growing problem since kindergarten.  I shared some information about selective mutism during our conversation and followed up by sending an article home for her mother to read.

The next step was to take the pressure off the student by educating the staff.  I gave a brief inservice at the next staff meeting, and provided everyone with the same article I had shared with Tara’s mom. I provided Tara with communication boards with core language and fringe words/phrases she would likely use in the classroom.  In her individual speech therapy sessions, we played board and card games, again using communication boards with game-related vocabulary so Tara could name, request, refuse, comment, and direct actions. I provided verbal models as I used the boards during the games, and considered it a very positive step when Tara started using the boards appropriately during her turn.  However, I reacted calmly as though this was commonplace, expected behavior, and didn’t put any pressure on her to also use her voice.  I also spent several sessions in her classroom, helping to facilitate communication there and modeling for the teacher the kinds of interactions that would be engaging but non-threatening.  Because SM is more of a psychological issue, I tried to engage the school psychologist in her case.  Unfortunately, the district only used the psychologists for testing and attending meetings, not for counseling the students, so this went nowhere.  Ugh.

I’d like to report that Tara eventually began speaking, but after a month of subbing, the regular SLP returned and I went back to my assignment on the assistive technology team.  Before I left, I shared all of this information with the SLP and hoped that it would be followed through.  Unfortunately, the student later moved out of the area so I have no idea whatever happened to her.

As I said, this all happened years ago before the Internet (yes, I’ve been an SLP for that long!), so information was much more limited.  Today, there are many resources on the topic of selective mutism that SLPs can share with parents and school staff.  Here are some you should know about:

The SMart Center:  loads of information in their newsletters (definitely sign up!), professional development trainings and webinars, CommuniCamp for group treatment, and lots of downloads of research and intervention strategies.

What Teachers Need to Know About Selective Mutism:  informative article by We Are Teachers that would be great to share with school staff.

Selective Mutism Association:  books, articles, newsletter, and other supports for parents and professionals

Gobble, Gobble, Talk!

Thanksgiving!  A time when families come together to share a delicious meal, renew connections, and watch some football.  We’d like to think that our holiday will be Norman Rockwell perfect, but that requires navigating a bunch of hurdles, especially with kids at the table.  Following are some tips for getting kids engaged and communicating that will, hopefully, make your holiday gathering more peaceful and pleasant. (How to overcome adult differences in politics and current events is beyond me — good luck with that!)

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 10.23.13 AMWhile you are busy getting the dinner together, engage the kids in making treats.  Already on my list are ice cream cone teepees.  I’m skipping the cupcake baked inside the cone because (1) we’ll have enough dessert with pies and (2) I don’t have the time or oven space for baking cone-filled cupcakes.  Just the creating and decorating will be enough fun and should keep little ones busy for a while.  Here are a couple of examples that I will be combining:  Teepees 1Teepees 2

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 10.27.48 AMAnother treat we will make:  pilgrim hat cookies.  Simple, fun, and yummy!  (Caution:  Contains peanut butter).   Click HERE for directions.  Both the teepees and pilgrim hats would make fun and easy therapy activities, too, that hit on a number of speech and language goals:  following directions, problem-solving, making choices, describing, to name a few.

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 11.04.39 AMAs long as you are in a creative mood, engage the kids in making decorations for the holiday.  Give them a supply of construction paper, glue sticks, scissors, markers & crayons, and let their imaginations run wild.  For those who need some guidance, you can print out samples of finished projects and coloring pages, especially good for very little kids. Simply google “kids Thanksgiving crafts” and you’ll have more than enough activities for all ages and ability levels.  The photo to the left is from https://iheartcraftythings.com/15-terrific-turkey-crafts-for-kids.html.

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 10.53.05 AMInvolve the kids in setting the table.  When I worked with students in Life Skills classes, we made placemats from large construction paper, on which the students glued paper images of a plate, napkin, utensils, and a cup.  This served as a guide for them when they set their place with the real objects.  Stamps, stickers, and markers were used to decorate.  Again, think of the IEP goals (speech/language and OT) that go into a project like this!  Pictured is a premade placemat available from Amazon. It’s more elaborate than the ones we made, but it illustrates the idea.

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 10.58.35 AMHave a picky eater?  These plates, which my grandson calls his “course,” are fabulous for getting kids to try a little of this, a little of that, as they work toward a reward.  Amazon has them in a number of variations.  I’ve also seen them in kitchen specialty shops.

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 11.16.38 AMHave some shy guys who need some help in conversing with rarely-seen relatives?  There are a number of commercially-made conversation cards that introduce topics and questions, but you can make your own.  Be creative!  Print out the conversation starters from THIS SITE and glue them onto paper feathers or leaves.  An excellent post about this very topic for AAC users and children who need help with social skills can be found on PrAACticalAAC.org.

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 11.22.36 AMI hope this provides some ideas for therapy lessons and holiday prep activities that will keep the kiddos actively engaged.  Here’s one more, a freebie from my TPT store:  Fall Vocabulary Cards!  Print 2 copies on cardstock, cut apart, and use for Memory and Go Fish games.  All of the words contain the /r/ sound and the symbols are great for thematic vocabulary activities, as well!  Happy Thanksgiving!!