Friday, May 26, 2017

A Letter to Me...as a New SLP-A Frenzied SLP Linky

What better time to reflect on a career in Speech-Language Pathology than Better Hearing and Speech Month! This year heralds my 34th year in this field and it has been a storied career. It's hard for me to even imagine that it is winding down. I still have at least four years to work, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I love the way the Frenzied SLPs arrive at topics to write about. Individually, we are struck with a thought or idea and announce, "I have an idea! What do you think about...?"  One day I was reflecting and I thought, "What would I say to a younger me?" Here we are sharing our letters to our younger selves. I started working in the schools at 22 years of age. I had a bachelor's degree, and that's all I needed at the time. I worked for year and decided I should go back to school for a master's degree. I never gave much thought to the fact that some day I would be a veteran able to impart some wisdom to my younger self.

Dear Annie,
You did it! You managed to graduate with a BA with honors. You were accepted into Kappa Delta Pi, an International Honor Society in Education and were the secretary of your school's chapter. You were the VP of the Speech Pathology Club. And yet, girl, you played it safe. You let your reservations, your loss drive the bus (oh yeah, you literally drove the bus that was a mobile classroom).

I want you to know how competent you are. I want you to know the professional you will grow to become. You have awesome and creative ideas, act on them! Take risks my friend. Stretch yourself and grow, grow, grow. Know you are respected and loved. Learn to listen, sooner rather than later, to your colleagues and the parents of the children you are called to share your life with.

There is a memorable quote from It's a Wonderful Life, "Youth is wasted on the young." You are a passionate and funny young woman, but you think you know it all. I'm writing to tell you, you don't. Is it because you're young or is it to cover for insecurity? Perhaps it's both. Be gentle with your opinions and be gentle with yourself.

Take care of your health. Don't stay out too late, don't drink and drive, lose the diet pills and eat some food. This body is the one that is going to carry and nourish your children. This body is the one that is going to run 3 half marathons. This body is the one that is going to comfort sweet school children. This body will dance at weddings, hike mountains, and God willing live a long life. I don't like what you're doing with it.

I have so much to tell you, this letter could be a book. I think I need to find the one greatest piece of advice I can muster. You have suffered so much, but you have also known love and happiness. Remember, you are not a victim! Your choices define your destiny. The greatest advice I can give you, is to know where your value comes from and where it doesn't come from.

  • It does not come from your family.
  • It does not come from your professors.
  • It does not come from your administrators.
  • It does not come from your colleagues.
  • It does not come from your friends.
  • It does not come from ASHA.
  • It does not come from your students or their parents.

Your value comes solely and exclusively from you. It comes from your actions and your words. Your value is about you and you were created by the Master artist for good and beautiful work. You are a creation that will touch so many lives with love and humor. Know the gift you have to connect people and bring a group to a place of love. Understand this. It has taken me a lifetime to to say out loud, "I love you!"

With love for who you were, who you are, and who you will become,
Annie




Monday, May 8, 2017

The Rockin' Tale of Snow White Meets CCC-SLP

Well it seems I have taken the month of April off from blogging. It wasn’t intentional (it usually isn’t, is it?). Spring in New England isn’t really the stuff of spring. There are glimpses here and there, but overall it is dreary. I expect spring to be chirping birds and daffodils and unfortunately in New England late March and early April often are chilly, sometimes snowy, and generally muddy. I guess I was in a funk.

I did have something fun and new to keep my mind off the lack of spring warmth, a play! I wasn’t performing this time, I was assistant directing our middle school play. A very different activity for me, but one I felt well suited for given my background in speech-language pathology. As I embarked on this challenge I was reminded of how theater and speech-language pathology are interrelated. In fact, I recalled thirty-three years ago when I was a graduate assistant. I had nearly forgotten that my time was split between two departments, communication sciences and disorders and speech and theater. How could I forget that? In working to help our students give a spectacular performance I was so happy to have a background in articulation, anatomy and physiology, voice, and social pragmatics. Here is how this all played out:
  • Articulation - I was dumbstruck by the number of girls who dentalized everything. Not only that, they didn’t voice /d/s and /z/s! They seemed to want to sound like all the Disney pop stars. On the other hand, some of the kids over-articulated their lines to the point where they sounded forced. Neither of those practises translates well to the stage and I was able to help them achieve better placement of their articulators for lines and singing.
  • Voice – The other piece of sounding like a Disney pop star is nasality. WHEW! We worked on establishing oral resonance when singing, but they always went back to Disney pop. I was also able to help our actors learn how to use their larger muscles as a basis of support for voice volume and projection and with the music director’s expertise how to adequately use breath support for both volume and pitch. We helped them recognize the difference between shouting while singing and supporting. We worked on appropriate rate and helped them understand that during performances when all that adrenaline was surging they had the potential to go even faster. 
  • Social-Pragmatics – This was the really fun piece: acting. My background in social was extremely helpful here. We talked about eye contact and body position on stage, remembering to never turn backs to the audience, but rather “cheating” out a tad. We worked heavily on not sending a mixed message. For instance, learning how not to laugh when telling the king that his wife has died or actually smiling when happy. By the same token, I helped the actors understand that it’s crucial to use a tone of voice that reflects the sentiment of the line that is being delivered. So if you are an evil queen you need to use a tone of voice and body language that is wholly evil. Performing in a play, like role playing in therapy, is a great opportunity for students to practice perspective taking in a non threatening and fun situation. It provides students the ability to stretch themselves as well as to consider the perspective of the other characters. I recall watching Robin Hood Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner. While overall I enjoyed the film, I was disappointed in Kevin Costner’s British accent. It seemed sometimes it was there and sometimes it wasn’t. Maintaining the integrity of the character played is as much a part of social as it is acting. We all assume different roles in different social scenarios. The work Annie is different from the home Annie who is different from the party Annie. They are all me, but they shift according to the scenario and other “actors.” This was a fun perspective to help our middle school actors understand. They still had to maintain their characters, but their character could shift as the context and other actors shifted in different scenes. 
The role of assistant director was new for me and I thank Monique for showing me what a good director does, as I performed in her plays. It was a wonderful distraction from my spring melancholy and despite being a ton of work was a fabulous experience, one I hope to have again.
Reflecting back, my colleagues and I had, what I consider, the perfect quantities of let’s make this good and let’s make this fun. We remembered when to be firm and when to laugh, when to remember this had to be performed and when to remember these are kids. We brought our own unique talents and strengths and I think we complemented each other perfectly. I am so grateful for my professional background, because without that expertise I think I may have missed the why behind the what in theater!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

It's Spring! Fresh Ideas for Speech Therapy


I used to love spring when I lived in NJ. The daffodils and crocuses would lift their sunny heads and the weather would warm up. Spring in NH is not nearly as nice. In fact, yesterday, the 24th of March, we got eight inches of snow. Earlier in the week we had indoor recess, because with the wind chill the temperature was below zero! After everything melts we get blessed with MUD. Oh the mud in NH! We live on a dirt road and it gets perilous! I learned early on after our move to New England to drive fast up the mountain in the snow and slow up the mountain in the mud. It seems counter intuitive, but that is how it works. Oh and try to stay out of the ruts!

I am fairly busy these days, so my therapy is going to be somewhat simple. Simple as springtime!


I realize I could go on, but I must stop somewhere and I need to get ready for a Saturday middle school play rehearsal! I hope these ideas inspire you to spring into spring with some fun and fresh therapy!! Enjoy and HAPPY SPRING (when it gets here!). Please link up with the Frenzied SLPs and share your springy ideas.





Saturday, March 25, 2017

I am Not Superpowered!


I can't explain it. I have had a very, very busy year with no less than six evaluations pending at a time and I have been coping quite well. Two weeks ago...BAM! Leading up to my proverbial "hitting of the wall," we had been coordinating a two-day NHSLHA Spring Conference and rehearsals for our middle school play began. I am assistant directing this year. Adding a little lemon juice to the paper cut I had progress reports and IEPs to address. This was all magnified by a system of meeting scheduling that is inefficient and panic inducing. Case managers submit requests for meetings to the secretary, who then begins sending a barrage of emails to the required meeting attendees asking if the date is good. This means I may get a permission to test and a meeting request within days of each other. Naturally, I don't have the testing done or the written evaluation and already a meeting is being scheduled. I can get four of those at a pop! I can't think about a meeting when I haven't even had the privilege of evaluating a student. I quite literally had a panic attack, twice. My breathing became shallow, I was dizzy, and the tears just came.

I saw a friend who suggested I go to our principal for help. She was very supportive and suggested I take two days and get as much testing done as I could. She also offered administrative days whereby I could do my progress reports from home and type my evaluations. I declined the administrative days as I have no problem going to work. I happily accepted the time to test. I spent Wednesday testing and felt relieved. Thursday morning, lying in bed, another unproductive emotion reared its ugly head; guilt. Guilt over not seeing students for therapy, guilt over being given the time I needed to do the work I have been given. Guilt, guilt, guilt. I immediately began sabotaging myself ("I'll see my regularly scheduled students. I'll test in between groups.") UGH! I ignored my guilt, however, and I did test.

I was chatting with some SLPs extraordinaire and the subject of retirement came up. We were sharing how many years we have left to work. I like to think I can do everything I could do when I was twenty-two. I question why I can't run as fast and long, why I can't run up those steps or why I can't kick my heels up (I'm sure the extra twenty-five pounds I'm hauling doesn't help). I am putting forth the same effort and work ethic as I did when I was younger. I haven't given up any responsibilities, but I am tired. My fatigue joins forces with my anxiety, which, for me, has been a lifelong reality. A perfect storm for panic and a feeling of drowning. Understand this: I love what I do. I love my friends. I love the schedule. There is so much that is wonderful about it, but the workload can get the best of me.

My friends had some wonderful suggestions ranging from prayer, to exercise, to Vitamin D. I understand how to relieve stress, but how do I keep it at bay? I'm a thinker. That can have benefits and downfalls. I started to wonder why as SLPs we are so susceptible to stress? I wondered if I bring any of it on myself? That's when it occurred to me; I have a water cup that reads, "I'm an SLP. What's your superpower?" I loved the sentiment, it gave what I do some sort of value, but it also sets the bar really, really high. The notion that I am superpowered also caused me to compare myself to the other "supers." I had to maintain a level of performance that resulted in near burnout. The bottom line is, I don't have superpowers. I am but a mere mortal, who as one SLP pointed out, has roughly five full-time jobs.

My thinking has led me to this:

  • While I would like to don a cape and mask and save all my students, their families, my colleagues, and administrators, I am not superpowered. There I said it.
  • Every speech therapy session does not have to have a book companion, game, mixed group activity, or the latest and greatest material. Sometimes a little positive reinforcement after a target is produced is all my students need and want.
  • I read fewer blogs. I am pretty good at my job. I've been doing it for 34 years and I have to trust that what I have been doing has merit. I don't need to compare myself to everyone else.
  • Perfection cannot be my hallmark of success. I realized my standards are VERY high! Incidentally, my standards are how I measure everything and everyone; not fair!
  • I love interpreting testing data. I love digging through test results and parsing out an accurate diagnosis. I love to research different aspects of communication disorders. I don't have to write a fifteen page evaluation, each and every time! Again, my standards are exhausting me.
  • When I am given help, I need to accept it. It does me no good to cry, seek and receive help, and not accept it. I need to do so without guilt. I've heard it said, guilt is productive for all of ten minutes, then it becomes destructive.
  • This one may be the hardest for me...EXERCISE. Getting my heart rate up for twenty minutes four times per week is as effective as medication for me. One week I set a goal to run fourteen miles. I did it and I felt awesome, and then, I stopped! 
  • I need to remember not to tick off my to-do list over and over in my head or aloud. Each time I recite what I have to do it triggers my anxiety all over. In fact, I don't even know how many students are on my caseload. I decided not to count. It doesn't help me.
Since last week, I feel better. I am setting realistic goals and as I tackle the work my anxiety gets checked. I am doing simple and effective therapy. I am still writing fifteen page evaluations, but one thing at a time. At least I have a handle on my emotions and repeating, "this too shall pass. I always get it done," has been helpful. I would love to hear how you handle your job. If you have no anxiety associated with work, PLEASE share! I can use all the advice I can get!!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Teamwork: The Blessings and Challenges

As professionals, members of families and communities we frequently engage in activities that require group dynamics. Whether you are coming together to raise funds for a new playground or church or to put on a production or event, you are working with individuals with their own experiences and backgrounds. Those experiences invariably shape their thinking, feelings and actions and can have an impact on the group as a whole. Their experiences may spur the group onward reaching for more and encouraging members to strive for results. Their experiences may be grounded in doubt and therefore detract the group from taking risks. Their experiences may be more pragmatic and result in taking very measured steps to the end. Whatever their background, their experiences will add a distinct flavor to the group dynamic, for better or worse.

Because we really have no way of knowing what the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of our group's members are, I have been thinking about how crucial it is for us be be mindful of our intellectual and emotional health when tasked with group activities. I arrived here because, I know the blessings and challenges that come from group work. Moreover, I am struck by how often, I know I don't always consider these same challenges and blessings when I am working to help my students learn to work in a group.

The question then becomes, "how do we remain positive, motivated and encouraged" and "how do we impart these strategies to the students we work with?" First of all, there will be times in most of our lives when we are part of a group that has a common goal. This group may be professionally based, community based, church based or even family based. What has recently occurred to me, is that because you share a common goal, you may believe you have a common vision. That may not be the case. Goals and visions aren't necessarily one and the same. Merriam-Webster defines a goal as "the end toward which effort is directed" and vision as "a thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination." Personally, I think this is where I run aground; goal versus vision! This distinction is huge and has the potential to prevent much discord. When working in a group or when helping our older students learn HOW to work in a group, it may be important to clarify the difference between a goal and a vision and encourage the group to refine their collective notion of each. When, as a group, your goals and visions are aligned, it becomes easier to recognize where problems are seated.

Second point; remember when working in a group, you are in fact part of a group. That means that the group is the driving change and decision making body. So while you may have grand ideas and visions, if they aren't shared, they most likely won't be accepted. That can be very discouraging. It is in those moments that often we are faced with making a decision about whether we have a good fit with the group. I am not suggesting giving up. I am suggesting either yielding to the majority or perhaps finding/forming a group that is more in line with your goals and visions. In some groups, the discomfort associated with change is more than the discomfort associated with stagnation. Those groups might not change and if that is what the group wants, then that should be what the group gets. Find your group!

Third point: you may feel like an island, believing you are the only one with a vision of growth and success. That may not be so. As a wise friend said to me once, "As long as there is at least one other person in the trenches with you; that's the mover and shaker you need. Two can turn into four, and four can turn into eight, and so on." The takeaway here is, find an ally. I don't mean someone to collude with. I mean someone who complements your vision and can help you express it effectively.

Working in groups is one of the most wonderfully difficult, challenging blessings we can engage in. It is a life skill that if not learned, can result in family, school or employment struggles. Group dynamics bring about dichotomous relationships; the discouragement of roadblocks with the elation of success; the sadness of isolation with the joy of unity; frustration of negativity with the thrill of positivity. In life, there is value in experiencing and learning to cope with all.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Imagination Speech Therapy

It's March already! Wow! I have been on winter break this past week enjoying balmy temperatures when suddenly the temperature dropped to 5 degree! It's hard to imagine it will ever be warm, but imagine I will.

As I dreamed of flowers and bird song, I started planning therapy for my return to work. I have so many St. Patrick's Day and spring activities, but I wanted something different. It's important for me to stay motivated in speech therapy as well as my students. Our students are keenly aware of when we are bored, too! When my children were little they would engage in the most creative and imaginative play. They would have "set ups" with fairies and dragons and knights. I headed straight to the attic and dusted off the bins of fairies knowing the kids at school would love them. Imaginative play is immensely motivating as well as therapeutic. I decided to create a leprechaun and fairy village that can double later in the spring as a gnome village. Out into the bitter cold I went collecting mossy bark, sawing fungus off stumps and collecting branches. I thought my little fingers would freeze off!

I began the process by applying Mod Podge® to all the pieces to seal them and give them a glossy finish. My husband helped me cut stepping stones and ladder rungs. We devised a seesaw and a swing hung from a fungus canopy. He cut pieces for a table, chairs, and benches. As my friends commented, "It's enchanted." I couldn't help playing, arranging pieces and rearranging them. Oh my word, had I had a village like this as a little girl, I would have played on end.







The possibilities for language are endless. I've added just a few of the language targets I will incorporate in speech therapy. I don't want to use any cards, worksheets, or printables while using the leprechaun village, I very much want my students to play in a naturalistic language context. I will, nevertheless incorporate tools like the Expanding Expression Tool and Story Grammar Marker.
  1. sentence formulation and expansion
  2. vocabulary development
  3. categorization
  4. associations
  5. similarities and differences
  6. defining and describing
  7. grammar
  8. making explanations
  9. question formulation
  10. social pragmatics
  11. narrative development
  12. concept development
  13. understanding complex sentences for direction following
Not only will my leprechaun village be seasonal and motivating, it can be recycled as a gnome village later in the spring! The best part of all was using my imagination to plan and design the different features and spending the afternoon with my husband in construction. We had such fun and it was wonderful to watch him get "speechie" as he said, "Let me make these different widths, so you can work on following directions with different thicknesses."

I will certainly post pictures of my little ones playing, imagining and learning.



Sunday, February 12, 2017

Letters to Those Who Inspire Us: a Frenzied SLP Linky

I have recently had an opportunity to write a "palanca letter." Palanca means lever in Spanish and is intended to uplift the recipient. They are often written to those who are on retreat or a journey, often spiritual, but frequently just life changing. I wondered why it would take a big event for me to tell someone who is or was instrumental in my life what they mean to me, to offer them encouragement as they have given encouragement to me.
The Frenzied SLPs posted a blog hop on kindness last week, so I think writing palanca letters the week of Valentine's Day is the perfect extension of kindness. We are linking up again to write letters to someone who inspires and encourages us. It may be a college professor, a mentor or supervisor, a relative, colleague or friend who has been the "lever" in both our professional and personal lives. To me it is my friend and colleague Allison. I want her to know what she means to me.

Allison and I have been working together since 2003. She is as ideologically different from me as fire is to water, and yet we are bound by a mutual respect and admiration for each other's passion and commitment. We are alike in the value we place on tolerance, kindness, love, respect, education, growth, perseverance and so much more. Personally, I think we are the poster children for how people of differing opinions should treat each other.

Here is my letter to Allison EET style!
My Dear Friend,

I was thinking about how to write this letter to you, one, because it is public and two, because my blog is often speech oriented. It occurred to me that a public expression of admiration is a practice we should all engage in from time to time and I have the perfect speech tool for describing! You know I love using the Expanding Expression Tool in speech. We use it to describe objects and also to develop writing summaries, writing from background knowledge and writing biographies or autobiographies. It is very handy little item and it provides a wonderful framework for describing you.

Green: You are my faithful friend, a strong woman, a caring and tender mother, an advocate for all and an insightful and gifted special educator. You are an athlete a writer, a visionary and one classy lady!

Blue: You are always there to act as my touchstone whether it is to problem solve on a student or process a more personal issue. You encourage me to exercise (something I'm not naturally drawn to) as well as to stretch myself professionally. When I am hesitant about my abilities you always say just the right thing to encourage me to leap. I'm not sure you even see how instrumental you have been in my life. When I was falling, you LITERALLY picked me up and held me. I watch you do so much for your boys. I saw what a grateful and loving daughter you were. I see how you commit to your relationships and it furthers my own commitment.

Eye: I recall watching the ABC Afterschool Specials. One movie in particular was a favorite and I've mentioned it to you before. Skinny and Fatty was a 1958 film directed by N. Terao and written by Mitsuo Wakasugi and Seiya Yoshida.  It originally aired as part of the 1967 CBS Children's Film Festival that was hosted by Kookla, Fran and Ollie. When I think of us I am reminded of that film. It was very inspirational to me because it was about unlikely friends who encouraged each other, but it's largely our height difference that reminds me of Skinny and Fatty. You are tall and lean and beautiful with curls so dense and lovely. I know you sometimes bemoan your height (as I do mine). I think it suits you.

Wooden bead: This is the part I like; your character! What makes you, you? Well you are faithful, an unfaltering friend. You are always honest. You listen without judgment. You are a yin and yang of traits; humble, yet beautiful, strong, yet kind, brilliant, yet eager to learn, serious, yet funny, adventurous, yet rooted. You're amazing!

Pink: I don't know all of the life events that have had an impact on your life. I do know about your experiences with competitive swimming and how the work taught you perseverance and sportsmanship. I understand how the loss of your father as a teen impacted you, in fact that loss connects us as I had a similar experience. Your life growing up in Miami gave you a broader perspective of life. Then of course a college education at Harvard and meeting the man who would become your husband. Moving across the country to California and then back to NH with two young boys must have been a challenging decision, but again like me it became a place where you could find solace in difficult times. As a daughter, building an addition for your mother was an act of love and devotion. I am sure your mother was full of love for you especially as you nursed her during her illness. Dealing with a parent's terminal illness is something I can't even imagine. What a gift that you were there with your mother. When things got even more difficult and you had to make even bigger changes in your life, you did so with grace and courage. Not one to be stagnant, you continue be a model for your three boys by to taking your life by the reins and growing. I am excited to be a part of the next phase of your life!

White: This is where I could edit. I wouldn't change a thing!

Orange: What else do I know? I have been blessed with an amazing friend. A person who can laugh with me and cry with me. I love our relationship, one where we both give to each other. I relish those long after school conversations where we process a situation or talk about trends in our professions. I love talking movies and curly hair and kids. I love how I can look at you and you know what I'm thinking. After all this I am left with a single question; "Will you marry me?" :)
Is there someone special who has been a lever for you? Let them know, I suspect it will mean the world to them.