Wednesday, August 16, 2017

When Students Feel Sad

Recently I experienced a deep sadness with someone I care about. It wasn't my sadness, but hers.  To see tears and self-doubt, a turning inside out was so incredibly difficult. I felt a strong feeling of helplessness when wanting to remove all the hurt from her heart. Of course, that is neither realistic nor helpful. Encountering and coping with sadness is crucial and I contend that the desire to not feel is why so many Americans are on antidepressants, but that's a different issue entirely. Sadness, hurt, grief are difficult emotions, yet passing through them gives us fortitude. Passing through them allows us to see our power within and the beauty in the world. While I wanted to tear the sadness from my loved one, I knew she had to navigate it herself, had to experience it, to find her moxie. The sadness is temporary, the lessons learned, lifelong.

As SLPs we often have students who are dealing with sadness, whether it is the loss of a parent,
being shunned by "friends," or family/economic concerns. We may find ourselves in positions to help assuage that sadness. As I shared my loved one's sadness I thought about my responsibility to my students' sadness over the years and I've learned a thing or two.

Be sensitive to my own emotional responses. 
When hearing of a student's trauma, my first response is, well,  to respond emotionally. I feel anger, sadness, disbelief, anxiety. I have to remember to keep my own emotions in check. If not, I could foment my student's response and that is not helpful. I need to be present, to be a compassionate listener. 

Practice the "art of the pause."
When confronted with a child's distress (or any difficult matter) I have adopted what I call the "art of the pause." I need to remind myself to stop and assess the stage and take in the circumstances. Pausing allows the rational mind to get footing and prevents responses that may be regretted later.

Be mindful of trust.
The fact that a friend, colleague, parent, or child has confided in me can be a source of comfort and a source of anxiety. Having information that has been shared in confidence can be burdensome. It is a blessing that the child trusts you with their secret, but it also presents challenges if I am called to seek help for the child. I am always forthright with students and tell them I may not be able to keep their confidence. Often these children find it difficult to trust adults, the last thing I want to do is give them more reason to doubt. Expressing at the outset, that the information may need to be passed on, gives a child the power to share or not share. It establishes an honest relationship.

I don't need to solve the problem. 
Another of my knee jerk reactions, is to try and solve the problem. This is frequently not possible and leads to my own place of paralysis and frustration.  I need to be cognizant of my role. My student doesn't necessarily need me to solve the problem. It serves us both better if I can be a sympathetic and compassionate source of support.

Make a realistic assessment of my role. 
Do I need to take action to help my student? There may be instances where steps are needed to help a child. Be realistic and cautious when discerning how to proceed. I always assess whether this is a place I should be involved and if not, who can I enlist to help the student?

Recognize the need for help.
Some situations require a larger team. If I think more professional help is needed, whether it's administration, a psychologist, or law enforcement, seek it. Being cautious not to betray a child's trust, get counsel from others if necessary. In the end, the child may feel more supported knowing there is a constellation of others who can help.

Be wary of judging. 
Being present for a child during times of sadness takes an emotional toll, as we know. Said toll leaves us wide open for passing judgment on those who caused the sadness. When my loved one was hurt, I most definitely passed judgment. I was angry and wanted to go to bat for her. That would have been a mistake. I always need to understand, I can only guess what the motivation of the other person might have been. It serves all involved well, if I try to remain nonjudgmental.

I have learned a lot about myself and my empathy can lead to considerable anxiety. I need to do whatever it takes to keep myself grounded when helping others cope. For me, I stay active. I have been known to clean for hours. I mean really clean, deep clean. It seems a metaphor for what I am feeling. Exercise is key and includes real sweat inducing exercise to yoga. Journaling is extraordinarily helpful in putting things in perspective. It is both cathartic and healing. Art, in whatever form is a wonderful distraction. Lastly, and for me the most helpful, prayer. Prayer for myself, that I will be a source of comfort, prayer for the child that she may find healing, and prayer for the source of the child's angst. My greatest prayer is that we all trust in God's providence.

It is so hard to see others in pain, but we can be a source of comfort and healing for all involved. It has always helped me and the one I seek to comfort if I remain observant to my own understanding of what healthy compassion looks like and how to exercise it.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thoughts From the Back Porch 2017

I was planning on doing my second installment on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain this week, but since life doesn't always have a way of following a predictable pattern, I didn't get a chance to do the exercises. I did, nevertheless, read the chapters and have had several thoughts on how the process has life applications. I'm going to save this for another post, but I will leave you with a little teaser; when learning a new skill, keep a sense of humor! Here is my first attempt at a portrait from memory!
Blueberries are what have occupied my time this week. That and planning an impromptu trip to the Jersey shore. Here are some pics of what I've been up to. Check back next week for an update on my first drawing lesson.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Thoughts from the Back Porch 2017

 I am an artist. I have amazing, creative visions of drawings and paintings, mixed media works, and projects. Then I try to put these ideas on paper and poof, my hands don't procure what my mind envisioned. Why? I saw it so clearly in my mind, the color, the perspective, the light. I often look at my work and utter with disgust, "This is crap!" Sometimes I am brought nearly to tears. I look with awe and a fair amount of envy at the art of others and wonder, "Why was I behind the rock when the art gene was distributed?"

My family members have it. My grandfather was an accomplished artist who made his living by his hand. My cousin, Jeanette is an an artist. Her brother Christopher is an architect. My brother Jimmy is an amazing musician, playing the viola, piano, and composing. My other siblings are craftsmen and poets and writers. Why was I gypped? Oh the cruelty to have such a yen and not be able to create! But if I have the vision, why doesn't it translate to paper? There must be a way!

One of my strengths is perseverance and a desire for lifelong learning. This summer I began exploring how I can untether my creative juices and really make art happen. I started reading, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and it is fascinating! Not just from an art perspective, but from the educational and speech-language pathology perspectives as well.

This summer, I am going to go on a journey to tap into the right side of my brain, which is very counter intuitive for a left-brained language oriented sort of gal. I am going to share some of the nuggets I learn on this artistic journey in my Thoughts from the Back Porch 2017 series.

In her book, Betty Edwards, purports that drawing is an essential skill, like reading, that has implications for the perception and understanding of both visual and verbal information. She continues that our education system, that is so heavily language based is missing the mark in terms of cultivating creativity, perception, imagination, and intuition. This is fascinating. In her introduction, Edwards includes this quote from Albert Einstein, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." Nowhere is this more prevalent than in our schools! Furthermore, with the emphasis on facts, standards, and standardized testing as the measures of competence, we see less and less competence and more and more behavioral struggles and anxiety in our students, who are, in fact, unable to think their way out of a paper bag.

Edwards includes a 1969 excerpt from Rudolf Arnheim that is striking in its accuracy, "The arts are neglected because they are based on perception, and perception is disdained because it is not assumed to involve thought. In fact, educators and administrators cannot justify giving the arts an important position in the curriculum unless they understand that the arts are the most powerful means of strengthening the perceptual component without which productive thinking is impossible in every field of academic study. What is most needed is not more aesthetics or more esoteric manuals of art education but a convincing case made for visual thinking quite in general. Once we understand in theory, we might try to heal in practice the unwholesome split which cripples the training of reasoning power."

This just intrigued me, that perception fosters productive thinking; reasoning and problem solving. We know this as it relates to social pragmatics, but it truly extends to all aspects of the curriculum and life in general. We talk ad infinitum of metalinguistics and metacognition, but what of the magnitude of those. The simple fact that the brain is the only organ that ruminates on itself! I had never thought of it in those terms. The liver doesn't think on the liver, the stomach on the stomach, the skin on the skin!

Edwards's premise is to waylay the language dominant left brain and allow the perceptual right brain to run the show for a while. I think this practice may change the way I do language therapy in that the verbal overload in school is so very taxing on our language impaired students. It raises the question for me, "Is more language always the way to remediate language?" "Will drawing help remediate perspective and reasoning?" The basic components of drawing are listed as:

  1. The perception of edges (seeing where one thing ends and another starts)
  2. The perception of spaces (seeing what lies beside and beyond)
  3. The perception of relationships (seeing in perspective and in proportion)
  4. The perception of lights and shadows (seeing things in degrees of values)
  5. The perception of the gestalt (seeing the whole and its parts)
The correlation between these components and social pragmatics is staggering to me!

The crux of this journey will likely be a challenge for this language infused individual.  It occurred to me as I was reading, that my self-talk is a boon and an axe. I use it to do my job and express my feelings, to make my unending points and to write. I also use it to sabotage myself, to quit when I'm exercising ("I can't. This is too hard.), to beat myself up ("This is no good.), to remind myself of my failures ("Remember when you couldn't/wouldn't/didn't?"). I am excited to pull away from the language Annie and cultivate the perceptual Annie and to share that journey here.

Friday, July 21, 2017

ASHA Connect 2017 and Why I've Been MIA

I am woefully behind in my blogging duties and for that I will apologize! My last post was the end of May!! Naturally, I always have the best of intentions, but as we know "the road to hell is paved with good intentions!" Henceforth I will commit to my writing.

Where have I been? Well, the end of my school year was busy and exhausting. I just had neither the motivation nor the inspiration to write. That, my friends, is a mindset I need to change. One of the notions I have considered is that my posts don't need to be earth changing, therapy changing, mind blowing tomes of inspiration that take a half a day to write with photos that take another half a day to curate. Sometimes they can be brief snippets reflecting real life, real world thoughts. That is my new focus; create connections and stay present.

Speaking of "connections," ASHA Connect did not disappoint. Writing the blog Doyle Speech Works has been the catalyst for so many connections with those I now consider my dear friends. ASHA Connect 2017 was the catalyst that brought many of us together in real life for the very first time. We call ourselves the "Splitcoast Speechies" and share many conversations daily. Unfortunately one of our gang couldn't attend ASHA Connect, but her state is represented here nonetheless. What a ball we had!!

The days spent learning from thought leaders in the field and evenings spent taking in the splendor that is New Orleans made for a perfect experience. Most of the sessions I attended delivered at least in some way, but there were two standouts for me; Reimagine Your Service Delivery: Strategies for Dosage, Scheduling, and Other Challenges and Recipe for Success: Mixing Low- and High-Tech AAC Tools for Classroom Success.

Reimagine Your Service Delivery: Strategies for Dosage, Scheduling, and Other Challenges, caused me to consider some options to my service delivery model including a modification to the 3:1 model. I've been exploring the idea of a 4:1 model; four days of uninterrupted therapy with one day per week of consult, meetings, and assessment. If I can establish buy-in with my colleagues, we can employ this model without the need to change service delivery in the IEPs. It will also be helpful in creating a dedicated time for consult. I also have been thinking about co-treating with the special education teachers. In this way, one rather than two scheduled times for intervention will be necessary. the benefits to the student speak for themselves.
The session Recipe for Success: Mixing Low- and High-Tech AAC Tools for Classroom Success was the last one I attended on Sunday morning. It was loaded with practical information on a topic that often unnerves me. I was so happy to have attended.
I always purchase the Plus Package which allows me to access recordings of all the other sessions, with the exception of Michelle Garcia Winner's presentations (she doesn't participate in that option). Consequently, I attended her sessions because I knew they would be unavailable via the Plus Package. I won't do that again.

On to the NOLA experience! After another amazing dining experience, I remarked that, "Each thing I put in my mouth is better than the thing I had before!" I have never experienced such gustatory delights as I did in New Orleans. With our resident Cajun gal and tour guide, Mia McDaniel at the helm, we dove into divine doughnuts the size of dishes, frozen frosé on the streets, beignets with powdered sugar perfection, piquant pork rinds that ate like popcorn, fruity fried lemon slices that I tried to replicate at home and failed and so much more. I came home to 21 Day Fix containers that nearly had me weeping. With musical delights and an architectural style completely unique to New Orleans I was on a sensory high. I loved every minute of my experience and to enjoy it with my best friends was truly special.
I've included only a handful of photos that capture the essence of the trip. Enjoy, I did!

Oh that chocolate chip cookie at Willa Jean!

St. Charles Trolley experience

Splitcoast Speechies minus Sparklle SLP and Amy (3D SLP)

How to eat a beignet without get powdered sugared! 
Connecting with my BFF at Connect (yes, I donned the cutout with beads and they remained throughout Connect)

Love this photo (and it won me a $50.00 Amazon Card! Thank you ASHA!)

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Letter to 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,

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.