A Whirlwind Tour of the New Speaking of Speech.com

NOTE:  This is the LAST post that will appear on this blog.  All past and future posts will now appear on the new Speaking of Speech.com.  This post is in reference to the changes on that updated website.

Welcome to the new and improved Speaking of Speech.com! I hope by now you have signed up for an account and have started exploring all of the exciting upgrades in the totally revamped site. Here’s a quick overview to help you get oriented.

If you have bookmarks to any interior pages on the old site, such as the Materials Exchange, or to any message boards, such as the Help Line, you need to clear them out and set a new bookmark to www.speakingofspeech.com. You can easily access all features from that home page.

If you haven’t done so already, set up an account so that you can access the site content AND make connections with other site users on the Social tab. This takes the place of the message boards, although the content from the message boards has been migrated over to the Social page AND is now searchable by category. Woo Woo! You easily post your message and categorize it with a single click, and you can upload pictures!! You can respond to someone else’s post via the LIKE button and you can leave comments in the message thread, just like on the old site, only better. Public Feed is the default, and allows you to see all posts. Timeline will show you posts that you have made. So, if you used the HELP LINE and other message boards on the old site, you will now use SOCIAL as the new message board!

The Materials Exchange was clearly the most popular feature of the old site, and I’m sure will be just as popular in the new format. At the top left, you’ll see “Mode.” This will allow you to change the way the materials are presented, either as cards with thumbnail previews or as a list. You can drill down to exactly what you want by using the category filter. Wow, isn’t that amazing?! When in card view, you can see a quick preview, rate the materials with stars, add a review, and mark your favorites by clicking the heart. You’ll also notice that the materials have been reworked with new graphics, adding a consistent appearance to all of the free downloads.   By using the icon menu on the left, you can see your downloads, favorites, and reviews.

Until now, I had to post all of the contributed materials, so you can imagine how excited I am about this improvement: YOU can now upload materials that you created. As before, materials must be your own original creation and the images that you use must be royalty-free; copyrighted images are not permitted. If you are unsure about this, please ask! To contribute, go the nine-box icon next to the bell at the top right of the page and click on Materials. From there, you’ll create a “store” even though all materials are free. You’ll then have a dashboard that lets you see how many times your materials have been viewed and downloaded and any reviews that have been posted. To upload materials, click on the Store Listings tab, then click the purple plus sign. An uploads window will pop up and walk you through the process. Easy peasy, right?

So, to review: you can interact with the site and site visitors through the Social section (formerly known as message boards) and through the Materials section (formerly known as the Materials Exchange). But here is something completely new! If you ever had the itch to write a blog post, here’s your chance! I’ll continue to write blog posts monthly, and hope you’ll join me in blogging whenever the spirit moves you! Just go to the Contributor Menu (nine-block icon next to the bell) and click on Blogs. You’ll be taken to a Dashboard, similar to the one for Materials, that will list your posts, monitor traffic, and show reviews of your posts. To add a post, click on Blogger Postings, then click on the purple plus sign. Then simply fill out the pop-up menu and – voila! – you are a blogger! We’d love to hear about your experiences, professional tips and tricks, and anything else related to the SLP world!

Lastly, in this quick overview of the new features, you’ll see that there is a tab for Jobs. This fabulous addition to the site will show you a long list of searchable jobs in our field AND you can start the application process for the jobs right there online! The Applied Jobs tab will keep track of those openings to which you responded.

Speaking of Speech.com has been a wildly popular and trusted SLP site for nearly 20 years, and now it has been brought up to contemporary standards with its new look and new features. I hope you enjoyed this whirlwind tour and hope you enjoy all that the new and improved site has to offer!

Wisdom of the Ages, Part 1

marilynvossavant1-2xIn just a few days I will be officially retired from my 29-year career as a speech/language pathologist.  One doesn’t last that long in our profession without picking up some wisdom along the way.  Here are a couple of lessons I’ve learned over the years through observation, reflection, and being open to all opportunities for growth.

  1.  When it’s sink or swim, grab onto a lifeline!  My first assignment out of grad school was just that kind of situation.  The caseload, split between 2 buildings, was made up of 103 students, K-21, in multiple disability support and life skills classes.  Of those 103 students, only 9 of them could speak.  As a graduate assistant in the special education department, I was responsible for the maintenance of and training with what little assistive technology was available at the time, so I at least had some working knowledge of switches, communication boards, and simple speech-generating devices.  But nothing in my coursework or practicum experiences prepared me for working with so many students who had so many significant and varied needs.  I immediately knew that I was in over my head.  The only way to survive this was to reach out to the special education teachers, OTs, and PTs in the schools to help me learn how to schedule, write and implement IEP goals, and work as part of an integrated therapy team.  Day by day, my learning increased (sometimes the hard way) and so did my confidence.  This first year was full of challenges, but the experience laid the groundwork for a career full of successful collaboration and supportive relationships with other team members.  I’m sure there was plenty of eye-rolling when the teams heard they were getting a first-year SLP.  After all, this would have been a tough caseload for an experienced SLP.  Had I tried to bluff my way through, that eye-rolling would have continued, I wouldn’t have learned much, and my students certainly would have been underserved.  But, by reaching out and admitting I needed guidance, the teams realized that I was eager to learn from their experience and they were willing to be my lifeline.  The takeaway for new SLPs:  Don’t feel you have to know everything and don’t ever be afraid to ask questions or seek support.  Asking for help is not a weakness;  indeed, I view this as an attitude that will strengthen your skills over time.
  2. Avoid negativity.  I would never, ever deny that our jobs are demanding:  difficult students, difficult parents, difficult administration and staff, oversized caseloads, ridiculous amounts of paperwork, ongoing professional development, unending IEP meetings, and, just when you are at your breaking point, you have to push everything aside and go to a staff meeting. AARGGH!  But that is the nature of our job.  We knew that going in, and we should know that no amount of complaining will change that.  Yet, complain we do.  Misery loves company, but all it breeds is more misery.  I have found that to be effective and efficient in my job, I need to avoid negativity at all costs or else I, too, will get caught up in the energy-sucking spiral.  For that reason, in schools where the faculty room is the place for moaning and criticizing, I choose to eat at my desk.  Seriously, I worked in one building where morale was so low and complaints and back-biting were so high, I felt a palpable weight on my shoulders whenever I entered the faculty room;  the air was just so thick with negativity.  Sorry, I just don’t have time for that.  And, too bad if I sound like Pollyanna here:  there are lots of positives about our profession that we need to focus on!  The rewards of seeing our students make progress, the joy of sharing laughter with the kiddos, the interesting variety of our students’ needs, the daily opportunities for growth and creativity, the freedom to devise our own therapy plans, and, I’ll admit it, the fact that no difficult session lasts more than 30 minutes:  this is why we went into our profession in the first place, and this is what should keep our batteries charged throughout our career.  The takeaway for all SLPs:  pull yourself out of negative gripe sessions that have no hope of a productive outcome, and focus instead on positive moments in your day.  If you are like me, you’ll find you have more energy, more pride in your profession, and better relationships with your colleagues.

More “pearls of widsom” to follow.  Until then, have a wonderful summer!  You earned it!!!

Changes, Changes

There comes a time in every SLP’s career when we have, to paraphrase the Beatles, “memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.”  I have reached that point.  Due to family circumstances, after nearly 30 years in the field, I will be retiring at the end of this school year.

In August 2017, a week before I started a new school year in a new school, my dear dad passed away from complications related to strokes.  I wrote about this rough experience, from both a daughter’s and SLP’s perspective, in my post, “The Therapy Voice.”  My parents lived 70 miles away with no family around, and I had promised my dad that I’d move Mom back to Bucks County (where she had lived except for the last 20 years when they retired to Lancaster County) before the winter.  All through June and July, he would repeatedly grab my hand and say “it’s going to snow; get her out” and “take care of the house; sell it.” After he passed, I kept that promise.  I continued to make the 70-mile journey every weekend through November to help my devasted mother pack up and sell off the house and extraneous belongings.  In December, we closed on the house and Mom moved in with my husband and me.  Meanwhile, I continued to work full-time in my new school 3 days a week and as an assistive technology consultant 2 days a week.  When the holidays came and went, it was apparent that the stress of what we had been through and my mom’s continuing bereavement was taking a toll on me, so I reduced my AT work to one day a week, leaving me with Wednesdays off.  The financial cost of this change was far outweighed by some of the weight this lifted off my shoulders.  Life was still very stressful, but at least was more manageable.

Mom stayed with us until July, when she finally felt she had the strength and need to move to an independent living retirement village 3 miles from my home.  The move was rocky, as Mom was still very fragile and this was one more change in a series of changes that were not part of her original life plan.  It wasn’t until early September that she finally settled into her beautiful new home and community, and started to make friends with some amazing women who seemed to be put there for the purpose of supporting her.  I started the 2018-19 school year with much more energy and focus than I was able to muster during that difficult year before.

Then, fates changed our plans again.  On October 5, Mom was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer.  Biopsies and scans revealed widespread involvement, so that surgery was not an option and we were told this wasn’t a cancer to be cured, just contained for as long as possible.  Being that Mom is 84, otherwise very healthy and energetic, but still missing my dad terribly, we had many conversations in between tests and consults about quality vs. quantity of life and how the options of chemo vs. no chemo might play out.  By late October, Mom decided to give chemo a try.  Treatments would be on 3-week cycles;  2 trips to the hospital on the first 2 weeks for chemo and fluids (averaging 4 hours per trip), then bloodwork and doctor appointment on the third week, the results of which would set up the schedule for the next 3 weeks.  Scans and consults with a specialist in Philadelphia every 3 months were also in the mix.  It became immediately clear to me, and fortunately to my supervisors and HR director, that there was no way I could keep up with work and care for Mom, so I started on a medical leave on November 1.  My intention was to go back to work on March 1, but that was not to be.  Tests showed very minimal improvement (but no worsening!) and we were told that chemo would continue through the end of March, followed by a short break and reevaluation.  Because of the high incidence of breast cancer in my family (Mom, my sister, my aunt, a cousin, and me), I was advised to have preventative surgery to protect me from ovarian/peritoneal cancer.  I had that surgery last week and, while I am still very tender, the peace of mind is a wonderful thing.

By mid-May, we will know what options are available for Mom.  Blessedly, she is looking and feeling really good right now, and is enjoying life with family and friends.  However, we know this isn’t going to go away, so some form of treatment or maintenance chemo will be needed, unless Mom decides otherwise.  In any event, I need to be available to support her, so have decided to retire in June.  I know this sounds like a terrible tale of woe and, yes, a lot of this has been hard.  But the gift in all of this is the time I’ve had with Mom.  During their 20 years in Lancaster, I’d typically only see them every few months, usually at holidays and birthdays, and always with my family with me — nice times, but never one-on-one time.  We’ve certainly had lots of time together throughout the past year and a half, when she lived with us and especially since treatments began:  time to laugh, to cry, to remember, to share.  In between treatments when Mom is feeling up to it, we’ve had fun, too:  shopping at her favorite department store, seeing displays of Christmas trees and quilts at our county visitor’s center, attending a presentation by one of her favorite authors, touring the local Designer House, taking a drive along the river to see the daffodils and rhododendrons in bloom, and enjoying visits with family and friends (especially 5-year-old Miguel, my grandson, who lights up every room he is in).  We’ve decorated her lovely home for each holiday, so that it really does — finally — feel like home to her.  None of us know what the future will be, but I am so relieved — and blessed — to know that I will be here for Mom, come what may.

That doesn’t mean, though, that I won’t still be involved in the profession I love.  My website will go on;  in fact, you can look for some very exciting improvements in the next school year!  I’ll continue to blog twice a month and send out my monthly newsletter.  And I just might finally be able to travel and present to school districts and SLP conferences.  I’ve presented at national speech and special education conferences, and I’ve done loads of trainings in visual supports and functional communication, but these were always in conjunction with or timed around my full-time job.  I’ve turned down many invitations in the past that didn’t fit my work schedule, but maybe now I’ll have some time to explore these opportunities.

The changes in my life over the past two years haven’t been easy, but much of the hard stuff is now behind us and I feel I have the strength to handle what comes next.  I consider myself very blessed to have the support of my family, friends (including so many wonderful SLPs I’ve met through my site), and employer, and, now that the decision has been made,  I am really looking forward to the next chapter of my life.  Spring is a wonderful time for change.  Expect to see photos of my garden, my quilting, and my grandson’s “Nailed It!” cooking creations to pop up in future newsletters among all the SLP-related articles, as proof that life is good.  I have so many wonderful memories from my career, and I look forward to sharing them in future posts with the hope that they encourage and inspire you to continue supporting our kiddos who have communication challenges.  Thank you, as always, for all you do and for sharing this journey with me!

Challenging Parents

f7a5478d223be000631d6d90ed0968f2In my career, I’ve met all kinds of parents.  Most have been supportive, appreciative, and trusting, but there have been others who have been, at one time or another, angry, argumentative, or distrusting.  Dealing with challenging parents is probably the least favorite aspect of our job. If you build a good rapport with the parents from the initial contact, actively keep channels of communication open, and always be the consummate professional you know you are, then you may well avoid many conflicts.  But, inevitably, you’ll have some experience at some point with challenging parents.

I’ll say right up front that there are toxic people, and some of those are parents who will never agree or be satisfied, so what I’m about to say does not apply to all parents or situations. Believe me, I get that!

As with so many aspects of life, I believe that attitude is everything.  When I’ve been involved in conflicts with parents, either as case manager or member of the IEP team, I’ve tried to view those conflicts as growth experiences.  Rather than get defensive, I do my best to examine the situation objectively.  That’s not always easy, but it does help to keep me calm and focused, and often leads to important insights.  One of the most memorable conflicts, and the situation that first taught me this valuable lesson,  involved the mother of an elementary age boy who had profound disabilities.  (This happened early in my career, when the movement toward inclusion was just taking hold, and multiple disability support classes were more about keeping the students comfortable, safe, and entertained, rather than engaged in a strict curriculum.  Related services were typically weekly consults with the teacher, rather than direct therapy with the student).  This mother was loud, brash, often jaw-droppingly inappropriate in language and dress, but she had made herself well-versed in current literature and best practices, and was going to make darn sure her son was the recipient of the latest educational trends.

There was nothing subtle about this mother’s manner.  She’d pop into the classroom, unannounced, disrupt the staff with loud questions and comments, and demand weekly team meetings which caused high anxiety among team members.  You can imagine that the team was none too pleased with this mother. After all, no one wants to feel bossed around or to have their professionalism questioned, and some of the things she was insisting upon were unheard of in our program.  There was a mutual lack of trust between the parent and the team, and the immediate reaction on both sides was to dig in their heels and defend their position.  Little compromise was achieved;  tensions grew.

Always much more comfortable being proactive rather than reactive, I took a critical look at what we were doing and read over the notes I had taken of the mother’s demands in the last meeting.  Away from the emotionality of the meeting, reading these notes made me much more open to ideas.  I started researching Environmental Communication Teaching with its task analysis and the new view that Every Move Counts.  I became a fan of Linda Burkhart and her simple assistive technology.  I took training in PECS.  Through reading, workshops, and videos, plus networking with special education teachers and SLPs in other programs who were already implementing new teaching strategies and equipment, I was convinced that we could develop an exemplary educational program in what was already a very warm and supportive classroom with a team that got along very well.

Very long story short, the team joined me in actively pursuing professional development, and we worked together — one piece at a time with support from administration — to build a program that incorporated clearly defined and measurable goals, integrated therapy, assistive technology, visual supports, Standards- and IEP-based task analysis and use of a consistent prompt hierarchy, data collection and videotaping for progress monitoring, and regular team meetings for curriculum planning, review of data, and sharing of observations. (All of this seems so obvious and commonplace now, but remember this happened years ago).  The result was so positive that our classroom became the model for the larger program in the county.  Both students and staff grew that year, and that growth has continued because the team, encouraged by the success of implementing the first new ideas, remains open-minded and forward-thinking.  The mother became a partner, rather than an adversary, and strong bonds were formed among all team members that continue to this day.

Very often, we would label a mother like this as “difficult,” and there were times when that would have been an understatement.  But I prefer to think of such parents as “challenging,” not in the sense that they are hard to deal with, but that their questions and demands challenge us to honestly assess what we are doing (or not doing) and to make improvements where needed and possible.  Sometimes, that challenge can be all we need to keep us growing as SLPs.

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!