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.