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!

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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!!

Sticks and Stones

Screen Shot 2018-11-10 at 9.45.31 AM“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Baloney!  As experts in the field of communication, we all know the powerful effect — positive and negative — that words can have.  In fact, bullying (verbal and written) is a leading cause of depression and suicide.  Clearly, words hurt, but they can help, too.  One of the best unintended perks to come out of creating Speaking of Speech.com has been the personal connections that have formed with SLPs all over the world.  There have been times (especially the two times when I had to recreate the entire site from scratch — ugh, the memory still makes me shudder) that I’ve been tempted to pull the plug on the website.  After all, the costs in time, energy, and money to keep it going for nearly 20 years add up, and I start to wonder if the site is really worth the effort.  Without fail, I’ll get an email out of the blue from a faithful follower or someone who is new to the site, telling me just how much the site has enhanced their practice and benefited their students.  Or the emails will be a personal response to something I’ve shared about my life in my newsletter.  Those words of encouragement, gratitude, and personal connection touch me deeply, and I can honestly say that this positive feedback is the reason the site still exists.  Words are that powerful.

I recently received a message from Jeanne Kleinman Williams, M.A.CCC- SLP about the power of words, and that inspired this post.  Jeanne is a long-time follower of Speaking of Speech.com, and, although we’ve never met, she has become a dear friend through emails, messages, and Facebook posts — a relationship forged solely by the power of words.  Jeanne has acquired much wisdom and experience in her 44-year career.  Her message to me, in part, was this:  “I am committed to making children feel safe, cared for, and nurtured. It is my responsibility to establish guidelines that help them to develop confidence in themselves, respect for themselves, and to be their advocate. If along the way I also help close that achievement gap, I’ve made a real difference. We are the ones who love the children who come to school with dirty clothes, mismatched socks, who look a little bit different from others, may act a little different, and definitely have communication deficits. When you can make a middle school student feel like they are a winner, it makes me emotional. It’s all in the little nuances of how and what we say to the children, the students. When they walk out with their head held a little higher, then I, a down-to-earth woman, will advocate to the end of time, for my students. I think this is to make a point that it takes little, small words sprinkled with kindness and compassion, to make others feel like a winner.”

Jeanne makes an excellent point:  “the little nuances of how and what we say” are so critical to relationships, not only with our students, but also with their teachers, peers, and even family members, and can have influence far beyond the moment.  I’d like to believe that, as caring SLPs, we are always supportive and encouraging to our students, and that all of our students leave therapy sessions with a good feeling about themselves.  After all, “establish rapport” is the first lesson in Speech 101.  So let’s go with that assumption and think instead about the words of others and how they impact our students.  Are we doing enough to protect our students from unkind comments and even bullying related to their speech/language disorder?  Here are some eye-opening experiences I’ve had that touch on this question.

I was once pulled from my assistive tech assignment to be a short-term sub for an SLP who was out on medical leave.  When I walked into one of the special education classes, the teacher introduced me to the students and said of one girl, “this one doesn’t talk at all.  She can but she refuses to.  Come on, Susie, say something to the speech teacher.”  I don’t know whose expression was more horrified, mine or Susie’s.  This 8 year-old girl was a selective mute, and I quickly discovered that everyone in the school — specialists, the school secretary, the recess aids, and even the principal — badgered this child every day, “come on, you can talk, say something!”  Clearly, nothing had been done to educate the staff about selective mutism and to make them aware that their words were only making the situation worse.  I’d like to think the inservicing I immediately did made a difference for that little girl, but I left that position after a month and didn’t have the opportunity to follow up with the SLP, except to let her know what I had observed and what I did to help her.

An elementary Life Skills teacher with years of experience suddenly had 3 students in her class who used iPads with communication apps  — a new development in AAC at that time.  She observed that the boys stayed together and didn’t interact with their regular ed peers when included in specials, recess, etc.  We took a good look at the vocabulary on the devices and realized that (1) the vocab didn’t really lend itself to age-appropriate social interactions and (2) the boys needed to be taught how to engage with their peers.  Creative juices flowed and the devices were made much more conversational.  The teacher created dialogues and word games that got the kids talking, and even elicited suggestions on topics and expressions from the regular ed peers, which immediately invested them in the AAC.  She invited each 4th grade class to visit her room for a demonstration of the AAC;  she explained how and why the boys used this technology, then had the boys answer questions from their peers.   It didn’t take long before new friendships were formed and the boys were viewed by their peers (and other staff) in an entirely different light.  Again, the power of words — the words the boys used on their speech-generating devices, the words the teacher used to educate their peers.

I was recently assigned to a new school and held my first preschool transition IEP with parents and a wonderful kindergarten teacher.  The incoming student had multiple articulation errors, not all of which were developmental.  I explained to the parents the nature and severity of the errors, described what the articulators needed to do to correct production, and gave examples of how I was going to cue the student to elicit those sounds.  When the parents left, the kindergarten teacher said that she learned more about speech production in that IEP meeting than she had in her 30+ years of teaching, and asked if I would please do an inservice for all K-1-2 teachers. It was clear that she gained a new respect for just how hard these speech students have to work to correct their sounds, and now felt more empowered to support them in the classroom.  I was happy to share with her a copy of my children’s book, “The Mouth With a Mind of Its Own,” which I had written several years ago to make this very point.

I could go on and on…..classroom presentations to acquaint peers with hearing aids, teaching sign language to peers of deaf students included in regular education classes, educating parents and teachers about voice disorders and speech dysfluency, creating a functional curriculum for high school students in Life Skills and Multiple Disability Support classes that built relationships about the school with peers and staff.  All exemplify the power of words to educate, enlighten, and encourage not just our students, but also the adults and peers with whom they interact.  Speaking to Jeanne’s point about how our words affect how our students feel about themselves, I was tagged on a Facebook post by the mother of a young boy who stuttered.  We had worked for a couple of years in elementary school on fluency-enhancing strategies and also on acceptance of stuttering.  Her post was a video of him in middle school giving a presentation to his class, proudly and confidently.  Her tag said “he never would have had the confidence to do this without your encouragement and instruction.”  Wow, my words made a difference in this young man’s life, and his mom’s words brought me to tears.

For a first-person account by a parent on struggles with words, read “My youngest isn’t just quiet, he has a serious speech disorder.”

Summer Reading List

One of the best things about summer is finding time to read!  During the school year, my reading time is limited to a few minutes before falling asleep at night.  But in the summer, busy though I am with lots of chores and activities, I still make it a point to carve out some time each day to read, especially on rainy days which I feel Nature provides specifically for that purpose.  Getting lost in an exciting mystery, an inspiring biography, or illuminating historical fact or fiction book clears my head and recharges my batteries.  And as much as I relish the escape from work, I do try each summer to read one book related to our field to gain new insights and renewed compassion for people whose lives are very different from mine due to disability.  Here are some of the books I’ve read over the past few years that I would strongly recommend.  I’m linking the titles to Amazon so you can read more about the books, but encourage you to visit your local library or patronize your local bookseller, both so very worthy of our support!

My Stroke of Insight:  A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.  41xxS5wUJtL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_This is the brutally honest biographical account of a young, healthy, brilliant neuroscientist who was devastated by a massive stroke.  Amazingly, she was able to regain functioning through incredible determination and countless hours of therapies.  The account of her eight-year journey to recovery includes her memories of being completely helpless and unable to communicate, yet perceiving the attitudes and emotions of caregivers, even when she could not comprehend their words.  I always share this information in my workshops with school staff who deal with students who have significant disabilities.  You can view Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED Talk here, but read the book, too!

Ghost Boy:  The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body by Martin Pistorius.

Screen Shot 2018-07-19 at 9.35.36 AMWell, the title pretty much says it all!  Martin was a perfectly normal and healthy boy until he was completely debilitated at age 12 by an unknown virus that left him locked in his body for 10 years.  I did a review of this book on this blog in 2015;  you can read it here.  I always include information from this book in my workshops, as the memories of Martin as a profoundly disabled school-age boy are eye-opening and shocking, and serve as a reminder to all educators to always presume competence.  Through Martin’s recollections, we also get a glimpse of the effect his condition had on his parents — another important insight that I share.  Martin Pistorius also has a TED Talk entitled “How My Mind Came Back to Life — But No One Knew,” but read the book first so you are even more blown away by his recovery.

51HsAQlyqFL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_41QZ3WNoKNL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Two other uplifting come-back stories are “In an Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing” by Lee and Bob Woodruff, which recounts the recovery of this ABC News journalist after a devasting head injury in Iraq, and “Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope” by Gabrielle and Mark Giffords, about the US Congresswoman who survived an assassination attempt but was left with lifelong challenges.

31-E5HeYuEL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_A fictional story that I really enjoyed — and would recommend for young teens as well — is “Out of My Mind” by Sharon M. Draper.  This is the compelling story of a young girl with CP who is the smartest girl in her school, but is considered by all to be mentally challenged because she is unable to speak.  Her determination will warm your heart and change the way you view people with disabilities.

41fxsXxLq9L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_There are scores of books about autism.   Any book by Temple Grandin is worth reading, as she generously shares her “insider’s view” of being autistic and offers valuable advice to parents and educators. The writing of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” by Mark Haddon perfectly captures the voice and thoughts of a young man with autism who relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions, who hates to be touched and can’t abide the color yellow.

 

This immensely popular story was made into a Broadway play.  Unlike some of the others I’ve mentioned, this book makes for light reading but will keep you thinking, long after you close the book.

519TerFSCjL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I am currently reading the 560-page tome, “Neurotribes:  The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity” by Steve Silberman.  The author presents a fascinating and sometimes horrific history of autism research and treatment from its earliest days, and spotlights many people on the spectrum who have used their unique talents and perspectives in important, but often invisible, ways (think computer programmers, NASA, etc.).  Indeed, he makes the argument that autism and ADHD are not errors of nature but rather natural variations in human development.  I’m only half-way through the book, so I’m just about done the section devoted to the history of autism and look forward to reading about the author’s view of the future of neurodiversity.

41JNxY4tU-L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_For a compelling and honest account from a parent’s perspective, I recommend “The Child Who Never Grew” by Pearl S. Buck.  Pearl Buck’s daughter, Carol, was born with disabilities at a time when such children were hidden away in institutions to avoid shame on the family.  Ms. Buck was determined to provide the very best care for her daughter and others like her, championing the rights and acceptance of people with disabilities.  She candidly shares her struggles as a parent in this story that still offers timeless wisdom and encouragement, nearly 70 years after its publication.

These are just some of the books that I have found to be entertaining, enlightening, and thought-provoking.  What books would you recommend to your SLP colleagues?

 

A Salute to Two Generous Souls

Two retirements were announced in the past few weeks by two gifted SLPs whose reach extends far beyond their own caseload.  These women started blogging early on and shared countless ideas and resources, free to anyone who could use them.  I have always admired their generous spirit and creativity;  to me, they represent the best of our profession.

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-3-33-49-pmCindy Meester’s Blog, “Speech Therapy with a Twist,” is a delightful compendium of ideas for making every aspect of school-based therapy fun, functional, and motivating.  Cindy knocks herself out with amazingly creative theme units.  The photos of her room decorations, the way she incorporates technology and literacy, and the many ways in which she builds multiple therapy lessons into a single theme are nothing short of inspiring!  Just look at her posts!  How could her students and teachers not love Cindy’s “twist” on therapy?  I’m not sure how long Cindy has been blogging, but it seems to me that she was one of the pioneers who has been around at least as long my site.  To maintain this high level of energy and enthusiasm for so many years — that should be the goal of all SLPs.  Cindy has set a wonderful example for all of us and, through her blog, has left a detailed roadmap of inspiration for SLPs to follow into the future.  Cindy will be retiring at the end of this school year, but will be maintaining some part-time involvement in private practice.  This seems a wise move for Cindy;  I can’t imagine this energetic SLP going cold turkey into retirement.

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-4-21-25-pmRuth Morgan is another pioneer in blogging.  On her blog, “Chapel Hill Snippets,” Ruth describes herself as “a mentor, speech pathologist, mom, wife, and technology junkie.” But that hardly says it all.  Ruth has dedicated her energies to students who have significant disabilities.  In post after post, year after year, Ruth has created and generously shared visual materials to support even the most challenged students in communicating and engaging in literacy activities.  In addition, Ruth has shared lots of ideas on using the iPad in therapy, created easy-to-follow tech tutorials and data forms, and much more. While she has a great fondness for using books in therapy, she also sees potential lessons in everyday life, such as the social skills lesson she built around this funny political ad.  As Ruth prepared herself for retirement, which took place about 2 weeks ago, she wrote a post for her replacement, but the message is one that we all should heed:  Helpful Tips for Teaching a Language Group for Students with Severe Communication Challenges — outstanding advice to read and share.  Those tips give us a glimpse of the insight, compassion, and dedication that Ruth brought to school each day.  Like Cindy, Ruth is more “easing out” than cutting ties abruptly.  After a vacation in Florida, she’ll join the board of New Voices Foundation and promises to keep blogging and creating.

Cindy and Ruth, I am sure I speak for countless SLPs when I thank you sincerely for your outstanding contributions to our field!  You’ve certainly earned a very long and happy retirement.  Congratulations on your wonderful careers.  You are leaving a legacy of creativity and generosity that will continue into the future.

With best wishes,

Pat Mervine