Monday, July 22, 2019

Our Students Don't Stay With Us Forever

When I first started my clinical fellowship year, I had a student on my caseload who I’ll call S.  She had significant health impairments and was involved physically and mentally.  She used an assistive technology device as well as American Sign Language to communicate, however she had poor fine motor skills and her signs were approximations.  Everyone on her team was familiar with her approximations and understood her fully.  Oh, and how S loved her team.  She LOVED us, and we loved her.  She would climb down the bus steps, look up, and grin widely as her eyes met the eyes of one of her people. 

S had her challenges.  She would get frustrated easily and was known to have outbursts.  She was the first student to ever bite me.  One time she slammed my door so hard she put a hole in the sheetrock. She would cry and yell.  She hated to be corrected.  After three years with her, I asked my supervisor for a break.  I felt guilty about it, but I justified it in my mind that maybe it would be best for her to have a speech-language pathologist with a fresh outlook, more patience, and new ideas.  My supervisor agreed, and come September, S was placed with someone else.  I explained it to her, that she would have a new SLP, but every time I heard her walker coming down the hall, I also heard it pause outside of my speech room.  By October, I had decided I wanted S back on my caseload the following year. 

Except I couldn’t, because she was gone that November.  I arrived to school one day and my supervisor called me into her office.  She told me that S had been pulled from the school and would be attending a program that was specialized for her primary diagnosis (not deafness). 

My heart dropped and thoughts raced through my mind.  S was going to be so confused.  Her guardians didn’t know ASL and would not have been able to explain to her what was happening.  Would she wonder where we were? Would her new staff know American Sign Language and understand her sign approximations?  Would her AAC Device follow her?  Were the IEP goals I had written clear and understandable with measurable short-term objectives?  What about all of those skills I was working on informally? How would they know about her love for princesses and weddings and Barbie dolls and her preference for staying inside and watching the flashing fire alarm lights rather than evacuate the building? Most importantly, would they love her the way that we did?

I never got the answers to my questions, because I never saw or heard about S again after that.  So now, I sit with these thoughts and this guilt for not preparing her for this unexpected transition.  And although I can’t change anything when it comes to her, I can make changes to avoid this from happening again in the future. 

I now read and re-read my IEPs before finalizing them.  I think about the functionality of the goals I write and make sure that they are truly stepping stones in helping my student gain future independence, job skills, and daily living skills.  I also now always include a sentence on my students’ interests.  I take the extra time to tell my students how important they are to me and how much I enjoy that they are in my life.  When they ask me if I will be their speech teacher the following year, I never make promises.  I talk about how changes happen all the time.  Sometimes that means a new classroom teacher, a new bus, or a new school.  I talk about how change can be scary but also exciting and fun.  

Most importantly, I don't take any of my time with my kids for granted. 

P.S. Looking for more speech lessons I've learned along the way? -> How A Moment In My CFY Almost Broke Me, And What I Learned From It

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

10 Ways to be a Professional and Awesome Student Observer

Every person striving to become an SLP will need to complete observation hours.  It is essential to be your best self on these observations, because you are representing your college and your speech-language pathology program.  Additionally, if you make a poor impression, it is not uncommon for the observation site to contact your school and request that future students not be invited back.  The SLP world is minuscule, and the connections you make on these observations may benefit you in your future career.  You want to be your best self!  

Here is how: 

  1. Dress as though you work there (slacks, black pants, no midriffs, no shorts, no sneakers)

  1. Leave your cell phone on silent and in your bag.  Do not check it.  If you’re waiting for an important call, let the SLP know in advance.  If you need to know the time, wear a watch.

  1. Don’t chew gum -it’s distracting

  1. Don’t wear perfume or strongly scented hair product – many special needs students are hyperaware/sensitive to smells

  1. Introduce yourself – don’t assume the SLP knows your name or the school you are from

  1. Prior to beginning your observation, ask the SLP if you should write your questions down during the session and ask at the end, or if she prefers you to ask as the session is being held

  1. Take notes.  Bring a notebook and two pencils with you.

  1. Look interested.  Yes, you are observing to meet a requirement, however there are very limited opportunities in the future for you to see how other professionals conduct their sessions.  Make the most of these hours.

  1. Do not join into the session unless invited.  Do not assume that if the student and SLP are playing a game, that you will also be playing.  Stay slightly back when observing, unless the SLP signals you in.  If the child tries to include you, ask the SLP if you should.  Always follow the SLPs lead.

  1. Thank the SLP in person and also send a thank you email to follow up.  Be sure to get their contact information before leaving.  It is good to leave a strong and positive impression. You never know if this SLP will be able to help you in the future in your job search.

*Bonus – Arrive between 5-10 minutes early.  If you greatly enjoyed your observation, don’t be afraid to ask the SLP if she would be open to you returning to observe again in the future.  Also, don’t be nervous to tell the SLP that you are interested in working in a similar environment in the future, and is it okay for you to send her your resume. 

P.S. - starting to get ready to find a CFY? Make sure to read -> I Applied To 84 Positions Before Landing a CFY