Wednesday, March 20, 2019

You Should Never Work with Children

Once upon a time, at the end of my first year of grad school, a woman who was assigned to be my mentor told me "You should never work with children. You don't have the right personality."  It was during our last meeting of the year.  This meeting was supposed to be a final discussion about everything I had learned over the past year working with my mentor and the client I had shared with her.  That's right.  I had ONE student with her, and she felt that the hour a week we spent together with that child was enough for her to make that statement.  This meeting was supposed to be an end of year confidence-boost before going off to the assigned externship locations to earn the hours needed to graduate and begin my clinical fellowship year.




It hit me like a brick.  If this had been said to me during my first month of grad school, rather than my tenth, I would have probably nodded in agreement.  My goal when beginning the journey towards becoming an SLP was to work with stroke patients in a hospital setting.  I was terrified of children.  I didn't know how to speak to them or play with them.  Growing up I had never really been around them.  But that's the great thing about having to go through 6 years of schooling plus a 9 month CFY- it gives us almost SEVEN years to change our minds, better ourselves, and to LEARN. 

A statement like my mentor's could have ruined someone's spirit.  It might even have been enough for someone to start doubting their capabilities and their career choice. 

It may have done that to me, except for a few things. 

1.   I am privileged and was raised to believe I can breathe fire.  Many people, however, are not as lucky.  As SLPs, we need to remember kindness above all else.  We, above many others, should understand the influence of words.  If you are in a position to boost the spirit of another SLP, do it. 

2.   I had another supervisor that same year who I shared 5 students with.  She was incredible.  On the first day, I was honest with her and told her that I didn't know what I was doing, and that I was afraid.  She listened, showed me compassion, and helped me develop into a strong and confident pediatric speech therapist. I was blessed to have her as a supervisor.  Many others are not.  If speech pathology students are assigned only one supervisor that first year of their master's program, when they are especially vulnerable, they could be in trouble.  If you are a CFY mentor, or an externship supervisor, understand and respect the gravity of that role and the affect you could have on your intern's career.  You may be the one person in their life who is rooting for them to succeed, graduate, and become a rockstar therapist to help hundreds of people.

3.   At this point in my schooling, I didn't want to work with children.  I was completely determined to work in a hospital setting.  So, yes, her words hit hard and it felt like crap to hear, but she wasn't crushing a life-long dream by saying it to me. If I was another student in my program, who had dreamt of working in a school by whole life, I probably would've cried the whole walk home.

This is my seventh year as a school-based SLP working with students from preschool all the way up to 10th grade.  I love my job, and I love my students. 

SLPs, SLPAs, and students, hold your dreams tight and don't let anyone pull you away from them.  Remember why you started this journey.  Find a support system.  Look for your people, your team, your tribe.  They want you to succeed and so do I. 


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

What a Mother and her Daughter Reminded Me





Today, as my husband and I pulled into our driveway, we saw a Girl Scout, who looked about 10 years old, and her mother on our front porch. The mother waved to us, her daughter looked at us, but then proceeded to ring the doorbell five times, causing our dog to start barking like crazy. 


As I got out of the car I thought, okay kind of unusual, she saw us but still rang the doorbell.  We walked up to them and said hi. The mother smiled wide and said hello. The Girl Scout didn’t respond. Instead she was trying to now knock loudly on the door, calling for our dog to come to the door and play. My SLP brain clicked, and I realized she was somewhere on the spectrum. 

The mom turned to her daughter and reminded her to say hi and to ask us if we would want cookies. Instead, the girl turned toward us and asked if she could come inside to meet our dog. We said yes, of course, as long as it was okay with her mom. Mom happily nodded and agreed. 



They were inside our house for about 15 minutes. The girl LOVED our dog. She talked to her a mile a minute, gave her treats, and tossed her treats. The mom chatted with us the whole time. Finally, we bought two boxes, and they were on their way. 

Why am I sharing this with you? This girl’s mother did not ONCE apologize for her daughter’s socially questionable behaviors of asking to enter our home or her multiple requests to borrow our dog, or to stay at our house longer. She was patient with her daughter. She praised her for being so gentle with our dog. She asked her a math question about how much money we owed if we wanted two boxes and they were each $5. She gently reminded her to say goodbye. This mom rocked. The word “Autism” was never mentioned, because it didn’t need to be.  

Dear parents and special educators of any kind, our students and these children are so much more than just a label. Instead of apologizing for any unexpected behaviors, let's do what this mother did and look for what these children are doing well, then praise it.  Let's thank any bystanders for their patience, rather than apologizing that our student is not listening, or sitting, or having quiet hands.  Dear parents, keep up the good work.  It is not easy, but it is worth it when your child feels your love and support rather than disapproval. Dear special educators, let's take notice of these parents actions, adopt them, and bring them into our classrooms and therapy rooms. Let's remember that these children are just that- children.  



*Credit: blog image from SpeechLanguagePirates

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Preserving the Language of Our Grandparents

"Buono venedi! No lavoro domani!" 👨🏻

"Yes! Hurray for fini de semana!" "Ancora una giornata!"👩🏻

"Oggi una giorno di sole." 👨🏻

"Si, it is nice.  Make sure to mangi buono dolce later."👩🏻

"Si, ci vendiamo domani. Tu voluo bene."👨🏻

"Sounds good, ci vendiamo domani, love you sempre."👩🏻

Ever since my grandpa passed away one year ago, my Uncle Nick texts me in Sicilian.  This is an example of one of our conversations, with my sentences mostly being a mix of Sicilian and English.  My uncle knows my deep yearning to keep our family's language alive.  I was never fluent.  My grandparents always spoke English around me.  Now that my grandpa isn't here, I feel a desperation to hold onto every sound and syllable that his tongue once spoke so naturally.  I struggle with the vowels and the conjugations and the vocabulary.  They feels clumsy in my mouth, and I imagine the words slipping from my brain like sand through fingers, like that item on the top shelf your fingers graze against when you can't quite reach.


Me and Grandpa

As Speech-Language Pathologists, we understand better than many the frequent unfortunate demise of  family's native languages.  As people immigrate to new countries, it's only natural that they try to acclimate.  The first way how, is by learning the language.  As they begin having children, these children go to school and learn the new language quickly and fluently- often much more fluently than their parents ever will.  The children may become embarrassed by the way their parents speak, and then refuse to use their L1 (first language). Alternatively, in the past and unfortunately sometimes in the present, doctors or other professionals recommended parents stop speaking their L1 to children to avoid "language confusion" or a language delay.  This myth now has been proven false by many, many research studies.  It is our responsibility as professionals, to educate these families on the facts and on the importance of maintaining their culture through their language. 

Here are five ideas for helping your children become bilingual, if you yourself are.

1. Split up the language. Have yourself speak only one language to the child at all times, and have your partner speak only the second language to the child.  Make sure that the language you are assigned is one that you have native-like proficiency in!

2. If you do not have a partner to split the bilingual responsibility with, no problem.  Divvy up the languages by day.  Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays get one language, and Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays get the other language.  This way, children hear full day vocabulary, rather than speaking one language every morning and a second language every night.  If you do this, they may only learn how to say "breakfast" in one language 😂

3. Make sure to read your child books in both languages that you hope they become bilingual in! Books are known to have much more extensive vocabulary than we typically speak in day-to-day life.  It will also expose your child to written words in both languages.

4. Do your parents have more fluency in a language than you do? Insist that they speak only this language to your children at all times! Don't be flexible about it.  I so wish that my grandparents had only spoken Sicilian with me, because when growing up I was at their house pretty much every other day.  I'm sure it never occurred to them, but now that you have the knowledge from reading this blog, share it with your parents.

5. If your household all speaks the same second language fluently, another option would be to speak ONLY this language at home with your child.  They will learn the country's dominant language at school and out in the community, so there is no need to worry about this.

Bonus Tip!

Do. Not. Give. Up. It is HARD and a lot of work. This is why in many families the first born child is the most fluent in the parent's native language as well as their environment's language, and the second and third born children are not.  With every child they have, parents are busier, more tired, and more overwhelmed with day-to-day responsibilities.  But please, do not quit.

One day your child will speak the same words that your grandparents once spoke to you, and your heart will flutter with happiness, pride, and nostalgia as you feel your ancestors smile down on you.


Friday, December 28, 2018

I'm Just Not Where I'm Supposed to Be

In 2016, I blogged about how I made an impulsive decision to change jobs (Click here).  I went from my dream of working at a school for the Deaf to working in a K-8 New York City public school for special education students.  It's been an adjustment, and I've been thinking lately about this transition and how it's affected my life/how I feel about it (as most people usually do as NYE approaches). It's had me recalling a conversation I had with one of my girlfriends a few months after making the change.  She asked me how the job was going, if I missed her (obviously, yes), and if I felt it had been the right decision for me.  I launched into my standard, rehearsed answer about the perks of my newly acquired dental and vision insurance, pension, and opportunity for tax-deferred annuity.  Then, remembering it was a close friend I was talking to and not some old acquaintance I had bumped into at the mall, I paused, frowned, and said

"But I feel like I'm just not where I'm supposed to be." 

She nodded, instantly understanding what I meant, as best friends tend to do.  The job benefits could be stellar, the speech department could be welcoming, the supervisor could be supportive, and the students could be wonderful, but my heart was still screaming for the Deaf and hard of hearing population that was my passion.




I struggled with it for more months than I'd like to admit.  There are days where I still struggle with it.  When I enter my building, muscle memory wants my arm to sign "good morning" to the school safety guard.  When I tell a student to wait, my hand automatically forms a fist to say "hold on."

While reflecting pre-NYE however, I realized I've been rewarded for my struggles by way of personal growth.  I never expected to gain the confidence I now have working with students with moderate-severe autism, students with emotional disturbances, or students with down syndrome.  I am often surprised by my newly acquired knowledge of behavior management and my collection of visual supports that I have created.  I've developed compassion for students and families of cultures different than my own. I've learned some Bengali, and my Spanish has greatly improved.  I can give sound advice to teachers and friends about students that are having challenges.  Most importantly, I've realized that it's important to hold steady when in new, frightening, trying experiences.  Stagnant living doesn't bring about growth.  I think that's what I'd like to bring with me into this upcoming new year, and I hope you do as well.  I've realized that I'm now exactly where I'm supposed to be, and if you aren't, I hope you make changes to get there. 

Sending you peace and love in the new year!


Sunday, September 2, 2018

Top 5 Strategies for Surviving September as an SLP



September is here already, and I'm having some pretty strong feelings about it.  If you're an established SLP or a brand new CFY September can be rough.  I'm in my seventh year now and have come up with a few ways to make it to October with a bit less stress.  Here are the top five strategies that I use:

1. Be realistic with your parent engagement. In the past, I bought a notebook for each of my students with the idea that I would write home or tape in an activity completed in speech on a daily basis.  This was insane and put so much unnecessary stress on me at the beginning of the year.  Instead, talk to your students' teachers and find out what system they have in place, then piggyback off of it. They probably have their own communication notebook or folder that goes home with the students every day.  Whenever you want to send something home, add it to the teacher's system.  Don't expect to send something home so often.  Set the bar low with an introduction note at the beginning of September and then one other note or activity during the month.  Make your goal be to touch base with the parents twice a month in some form.  It's realistic and will be appreciated by the parents.

2. Meal plan.  On Sundays sit down with a piece of paper (or an app, whatever, I'm old school), and write down your planned dinners for the week.  By doing this, you can then go grocery shopping on Sunday and you'll avoid having to run to the stores during the week because you'll have everything you need already in the house.  You also will avoid the dreaded "what should I make for dinner tonight" conversation with yourself on your commute home, because you'll have a set plan.  I also try to make two meals on Sunday, one for Sunday and then the second we eat on Monday.  Mondays are my long days at work so by already having a dinner made, my Monday nights are a little less hectic.  I also plan for at least one crockpot meal during the week to ease up on the after-school stress as well. There are actually a bunch of hashtags on instagram that you can use to find easy crockpot meals if you're looking for some inspiration: #CrockPotRecipes #CrockPotMeals #EducatorEats

3. Self Care.  You know what's worse than having to go to work in September? Having to go to work in September sick.  Take precautions before this happens.  Stock up on purell, clorox wipes, wipes that are safe for children's skin, tissues, and paper towels.  Make sure you use all of these things frequently.  Your hands may be dry but your nose will thank you.  I purell after every session, and have my students use it at the beginning.  I also use a clorox wipe over my desk before I eat lunch and again at the end of the day, in addition to any time there is an obvious need for it (think bodily fluids). This is also the time of year to make sure you are taking your daily vitamins and drinking enough water.  A lot of stores have cute water bottles out right now, so pick one you like as a motivator.

4. Don't Compare. You have instagram right? You go on pinterest and maybe facebook also?  I bet your feeds are full of pictures of teachers and SLPs showing off their gorgeous, clean, spacious therapy rooms right now.  Everything is color coordinated and brand new and that feeling starts growing in your stomach.  You know the feeling.  It's a mixture of anxiety and envy and uncertainty that you're good enough. X OUT OF THOSE PAGES.  As soon as you start having those emotions it's time to close your computer, take a breath, and remember that the way your room looks doesn't matter.  Your students don't come off the bus in September excited for a colorful classroom.  They don't learn because the room has a giant window in it.  You are all they need.  I bet if you stop and think back to when you were in school, you can't remember a single classroom or what it looked like.  I bet, though, that you can remember the names and faces of teachers who made an impact in your life.  Don't compare yourself to others, just be the best version of yourself.

5. Lesson Plans.  Shhh want to know a secret? I don't really lesson plan for September.  *gasp*  Want to know why?  Besides the insanity that is the first month of school, I feel like there is just so much more important than having structured lessons in those first few days of therapy.  I see most of my students only two or three times a week, and they are usually new kids to me.  I spend September getting to know my kids, following their leads and their interests, building rapport, taking a language sample, and informally assessing their skills.  It means more fun for them, less prep for me, and an overall more successful year because I know where they are in terms of their speech/language, and I also have a good idea of what motivates them.


Happy September everyone!

Monday, March 12, 2018

5 things I Learned from a Parent Crying in my Room - Speech-Language Pathologist Style



A parent cried in my office today.  It was awful.

It's triennial season.  For a speech-language pathologist, this means tests to administer, then score, then reports to write, and then actually attend and participate in the IEP meetings.  A few weeks ago, I had an intense IEP meeting.  It consisted of a parent in my office, crying, past the end of the school day, and a language barrier.

A lot went wrong, not much went right, so I came home to reflect on how I could have improved it.

Let me share with you what I gained from this mess of a learning experience.

1. If possible, don't schedule a meeting for Friday afternoons.  If the parent has a lot to say, or is upset like in this case, it is easy for the meeting to run late and then staff members may have to leave.  It will seem like you're squeezing them in, the parent might not feel like their feelings are important or valid, and you may not speak about everything that you need to.

2.  If you expect there to be a language barrier, try to line up a staff member, who you know, to interpret.  At my school, there are many staff members who speak the language of the mom who I met with.  In hindsight, we should have requested one of them to interpret rather than using an interpreter phone service, because face to face interpreting makes it easier to convey a message with the same tone, facial expressions, and body language intended. Additionally, a staff member would have known the student being discussed on a personal level, which always adds a level of compassion to the conversation.

3.  Have a tissue box in the room.  I literally had to leave the room for about two minutes while the parent cried, trying to locate a tissue.  In the end the best I could find was a paper towel.

4.  Have resources available for situations where a parent expresses feelings of loneliness or depression - or know who to reach out to to obtain those resources as quickly as possible.  It would be helpful to have some cards pre-made that have the school psychologist or counselor's contact information on them to give out.

5.  Don't make blanket statements.  At the beginning of the meeting, before it was truly my turn to speak, I made the statement of "(student name) is doing So well lately! She has made a lot of progress!" Before I could elaborate, mom looked up hopefully and said, "(student name) is talking?!" to which I then had to say "well no, that's not exactly what I meant."  I didn't exactly set the best tone for the meeting, which didn't set up the other team members for success either.

Followup - I've invited the same parent to come in and sit with their child's team again tomorrow.  I've prepared better this time and have taken all five of my own suggestions into consideration and hopefully it goes significantly better.  Wish me luck!

Monday, February 26, 2018

5 Activities for Teaching your Students about Emotions

The number of students coming to us in elementary school who have autism, emotional disturbances, or have been exposed to drugs in utero, continues to grow.  These populations have an unbelievably difficult time with social skills and emotion regulation as they become school-age.  One of the foundational necessities of these two skills is being able to identify emotions based on facial expression or body language and to understand what causes us to feel these different emotions.

Last year I graciously accepted the role of guest blogger on HoJo's Teaching Adventure's blog, and today I wanted to share it with you, in case you missed it!  These are my 5 favorite activities for teaching emotions.



1. Reflections! 
First, find pictures on the computer of your students' favorite cartoon characters making different faces and print out the pictures. You'll be surprised at how many options you get if you type something in such as "Peppa Pig Sad!" After printing out the pictures, I suggest laminating them for durability.  Next, give your students a mirror to hold in front of themselves and try to match the facial expressions of their favorite characters!  Make sure that after they copy the face that they also name what emotion matches the face they are making.  Each student should get to take a turn with the mirror.  To make sure that your students are getting a wide variety of emotions to try to emulate, have them select a card that is face-down, so it is truly random.  This will stop them from always choosing a picture of someone happy.  We want our students learning what facial expressions look like for many emotions, rather than just one or two.

Special Note -> I find that mirrors with handles work best for small hands.  If you are concerned about students dropping the mirror, or if you work with students who are physically challenged, you may choose to do this activity in a mirror that is already hanging on the wall, such as in the bathroom or on the back of a closet door.  

2. Real Life Photos! 
Use a camera to take pictures of your students making facial expressions depicting different emotions, or if your students are responsible enough, they can take the pictures of their classmates themselves! To begin, I like to have students make happy faces, sad faces, angry faces and surprised faces.  It helps to use an even number of students for each emotion, if possible.  You can then print, laminate, and cut out your students’ pictures in the size of playing cards.  These cards can be used in an incredible number of ways.  You can use them to play matching (match emotions) or go fish.  This is why it is helpful to have an even number of students making the same kind of face.  You can spread the childrens' faces out all over the floor and have them toss a beanbag.  Whichever card the beanbag lands on, students can name the emotion and also think of a time they may feel that way, or have them imitate the facial expression.   You can have each student select one card, imitate the expression they see on the card, and have their classmates guess how they are pretending to feel.  This activity of using real life photo is only limited by imagination and creativity!

*Special Note -> Don’t forget to get photo permission from parents and guardians in advance!

3. Role play – Reader’s Theater!
Have you heard of Reader’s Theater?  I only recently learned about it in an online course about dyslexia and dysgraphia.  The idea behind Reader’s Theater is that your students play out a script in front of their class.  It’s wonderful for struggling readers because emphasis is placed on body language and facial expressions, rather than literacy skills.  This is perfect also for our students who are trying to learn more about how facial expressions and body language reflects feelings.  Find (or create your own) scripts that have a lot of emotions in them!  For students who are struggling with these, pair them up with a partner who needs to portray the same emotion as them (the script calls for both students to have the same emotion).  Having a peer to model and remind your struggling student of what their face should look like is a strategy that allows the student to feel more independent since you aren't directly prompting them.

4. Freeze dance!
Remember playing Freeze Dance during recess or gym as a child?  Someone would play music from a boom box (I'm aging myself now) and everyone would dance.  When the music stopped, everybody would have to freeze.  Play this game the exact same way, except have your students freeze in a posture and with a facial expression that matches an emotion.  You can give them an example of having a huge smile on your face, arms raised, to show the expression of excited or proud.  For some contrast, show your students they could freeze with their hands on their hips and a scowl on their face to show anger or annoyance.  There are so many different ways to shape our bodies and faces to match an emotion! 

5. Movie: Inside Out!
Have you seen this Pixar movie yet?  It features characters based on 5 common emotions, living inside of a girl's mind as she grows into her teenage years.  The characters are: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger.  First, let your students watch the movie (it's only an hour and a half).  Next, have your students separate into five groups, and assign each group one of the characters/emotions.  Explain to them that they are going to make a collage based on their assigned emotion.  They can use their own creative ideas on a poster board, to display things that make them feel that emotion.  They can clip pictures from newspapers or magazines, print images from the computer, draw images, or write the images in bold, colorful fonts.  Once completed, the groups will stand in front of the class and present their collaborative collages to their peers, explaining what emotion they had and what makes them feel that way.

*Special Note -> Inside Out is a PG movie.  Use your judgement on if your students are mature enough to watch the move before showing it.  Getting parent permission may be a good idea, if you have any concerns.