Wednesday, June 26, 2013

‘There but for the grace of God go I’

I published this piece last year, and feel the need to post it again.  I'm working with a child with a very serious illness; a child who, when he was healthy, looked eerily similar to my own boy when he was young; a child who should be learning to read and having playdates; a child who is wonderful, loving and fun to talk to.  I have watched this family struggle for a year, constantly fighting battles against his illness; constantly sacrificing.  Their struggle could be my struggle-- but for some random stroke of fate.  I think about this little guy all the time and am so grateful to know him.  

----repost from June 2012

I'm not a religious person in a traditional sense; I'm a lifelong Unitarian Universalist.  "God" is used a word used a bit loosely, there is no creed, and people believe essentially what they want.  Personal theology is more of a journey, not a destination. That being said, I haven't been attending church regularly lately.  Sunday mornings are kind of nice to spend with the family--and honestly, some of the sermons at my church have been a bit dry.  I think I would prefer to go do some public service on Sunday mornings--like serve breakfast in the homeless shelter, or camp out with girl scouts. 

When working in schools as a speech pathologist,  I do struggle with why I was born the way I am for no apparent reason (compared to some families and children I work with). Maybe I should attend church more!  Around me I see poverty, discrimination, disabilities, illnesses,  and at times death of an innocent.   I can't say that my upbringing was exactly ideal, but my resulting adult life seems a bit random on the lucky side.  Why me?
  • Why am I currently so healthy?
  • Why do I have everything I need?
  • Why are my children college graduates?
  • Why do I live in a country where I have so much freedom?
 My luck, of course, could all change tomorrow.  Still, fifty-five years of a relatively untroubled, well-fed, and wealthy life is more than totally most of the Earth's population gets.  I count my blessings each and every day, although  I still don't understand it.  I can only hope that now I approach parents with empathy, and the realization that I could have been in their shoes but for some random stroke of luck, and one day I might need the compassion from a stranger such as myself.  Maybe this ability to reflect will make me a better speech therapist.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Anger---When you and your team are the target

  "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

One thing (among hundreds of things) that was not taught in grad school was how to deal with anger.  Not an SLP's own anger, but the anger of parents directed towards school personnel.  A speech pathologist may have followed an IEP to the letter, written appropriate notes, loved the child, consulted frequently with a teacher, conferenced with the parents--but still be confronted with anger.  Perhaps another team member had slipped in their job, perhaps the child didn't make adequate progress, perhaps the child was injured in school, perhaps the child isn't included with nondisabled peers, perhaps there are too many kids in a classroom, perhaps....myriad things can happen.   Or, perhaps the parents carry anger in their hearts regardless of how well a job is done.   The speech pathologist, as a member of the school team, is often part of the collective target of someone's angry feelings.

During my younger days, this phenomenon was very disconcerting---aghast at not being perceived as the modern day miracle worker, I would stew about little situations and work harder, jump higher, worry more, usually to no avail.   Now, with additional gray hair and worry lines, I have some advice on how to help my younger colleagues cope with chronically angry people.

1.  Prevention is the key---do your job.  See the child as the IEP dictates, write progress reports, keep data, follow behavior plans, consult with the teachers and communicate with parents.  Stay out of the hot seat.

2.  When disagreements arise, or anger rears its head, it's best not to argue.  An online article I found by Timothy Dey describes the first step as this:

    When beginning to deal with an angry person,the first step is always to listen. This is done with eye contact, but very few words, until the initial wave of angry energy pauses for the first time. During that interval, listen for the factual content of what that person thinks is their concern, while letting the emotional content wash by without "hooking" you. Don't put much effort into sharing information at this point. The person who is very angry is not in a state where they can absorb much of anything you have to say, even if they would benefit from hearing it. They may often misinterpret your quick verbal response or problem-solving as a way of getting rid of them and their needs.
A great metaphor to hold in mind as you listen during this first
step is that of a great ocean wave crashing over you as you stand in the surf, or perhaps a volcano erupting with hot rock and ash. There is no point in trying to shout over the noise until the initial outburst is complete.....

So sometimes, in meetings, I wait until the right time to talk.  And, I try to not talk a lot.
3.  When it is time to talk, Timothy Dey suggests this approach: When the pause in their verbal torrent finally comes, briefly mirror the factual content with the goal of letting the other person know that you've heard the core of their complaint accurately. This can sound something like: "So if I heard you correctly, you're saying ..."or "What I hear you saying is this ...", but you should always use your own judgment in choosing language that sounds natural to each situation. 
4. At that point is where solutions to problems can be explored.  Most major problems are out of the control of an SLP, and it's helpful to accept that. As a team, we hopefully can all work together to explore solutions, but I've participated in meetings that are in need of outside mediators.  If an objective person is needed, then so be it.  Mediation often tempers anger.

5.  Other helpful advice in dealing with a potentially angry parent is to realize that you and that parent will never be BFFs.  There is no need to connect through social media, no exchanging gifts at Christmas, or sharing personal information.  An SLP may think that this will help, but ultimately, inappropriate friendliness on the part of the SLP may raise expectations of parents to an unreasonable level.  Stay professional, and you'll have a better chance at being treated with more respect.

6. It's very helpful to not ruminate about issues.  Talking incessantly about difficult meetings, or problems with parents doesn't make for any solutions.  Debriefing after a strenuous meeting or encounter is one thing, but obsessive rehashing is tiresome and unhelpful.

So those are my little words of wisdom.  Anger in parents comes from many sources and is hard to bear.  Sometimes it's justified; sometimes it's part of their grieving process; and sometimes, parents are just angry people.  People from all walks of life have children with disabilities, and often there is a hotbed of emotions that can erupt.  Speech-language pathologists can and do learn with experience to counsel parents and react in a professional manner when emotions take over. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Updated tutorial for making a Google Form for IEP data collection

screenshot of updated posting

Websites change and Google changed their method recently for making a form.  Two years ago, I published a tutorial for creating Google forms for IEP data collection.  I've updated the screenshots and terms a little based on the changes that Google made.

Go here if you want to see the updated blog posting.  Google forms have made my life so much easier!   

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


“You can't stop the future
You can't rewind the past
The only way to learn the secret to press play.”
Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why

Sometime during the magic year of 2016, I'll be eligible for retirement from the North Carolina Public Schools. Three years seems reachable, and I'll be ready for a change, having worked in the same elementary school for over 20 years.

Change is a good thing!   I've been thinking about the possibilities, and they are wonderful!  Here's a list so far!

  • I have a fantasy that I could take on a traveling speech job, and work temporarily in a setting like Alaska or Oregon for a few months. I could then come home for a few months and then take off again for another wonderful assignment. My husband is eager to tag along!  

  • Another fantasy is that I could apply for certification in Australia or England, and take on a short term job there.  (This would require a bit more work in terms of certification but it's possible.)
  • I've seriously considered getting trained in accent reduction therapy and working out of my home.  There are some undeniable perks to this job.
  • I could join the Peace Corps and spend 27 months doing good work someplace where help is really needed.   This would entail a major commitment; what would my husband say?
  • I could set up a private practice and work with little kids with developmental delays.
  • Once I retire, a fantasy is that school systems with shortages would hire me back at contract pay (since North Carolina isn't giving anyone raises, what SLP will want to work for the regular salary?)
  • I even thought about leaving my current comfort zone and working with adults.  I loved my experiences in a VA hospital, home health, and acute care many years ago, and know that I could get satisfaction from this again.

    The point of this post is that my chosen field is rich with opportunities.  Retirement actually opens quite a few doors for me and I'm excited.  This event (though three years away) is on my mind quite a bit, and I am gradually gearing myself to take a class or two in dysphagia (this wasn't a requirement when I was in school), and look at trainings for accent modification.  I want to have options and advance planning will help. 

    How about you readers out there?  Any big changes coming your way?  How are you preparing?


Monday, June 10, 2013

Guess whose 30th Anniversary it is?

We did not have a big wedding back in 1983.  I made a simple dress, and we had an informal ceremony on the Lexington Unitarian Church grounds with about 10 friends, including a guy who was working in the church garden and joined us for cake.  The cake was a delicious homemade carrot cake, and flowers (daisies) for the bride (me) were picked from a field shortly before the vows.  There was no music, aisle, pews, tuxedos, flower girls, or stress. I have no regrets 30 years later.
June 11, 1983

Sunday, June 9, 2013

How do Horses Feel? Printable book with icons (Free)

School has ended!   No more needs to be said.  (I do go back on the 17th for ESY, but those are shorter days and shorter weeks, no IEP meetings or assessments, less of everything.)

If you are still working in your setting, or teaching your child at home, I've written another simple book, How Do Horses Feel?  Lots of kids love horses, so I'm hoping your children will find the topic motivating.

I'm going back to the basics, so this book targets feelings, and you can also emphasize answering questions, sentence structure, describing pictures, or basic literacy.  The link above is to Tarheel Reader where I created the book.  The link below is to the book in Google Drive.  You can download and print from there.  The icons are on the last page.

There are 18 pages all together, and the feelings shown include happy, sad, angry, friendly, silly, hungry, and thirsty.

 Click here to download the book.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Progress Report Time!!!! Google Document to share

This is not the most riveting topic.  In fact, it is really the least favorite part of my job. Usually about two weeks before the end of a quarter, I start assigning myself several progress reports to write a day until they are done.  Sometimes, if it's a new IEP, I have to create the form, and often, I have to bother other folks (EC teachers, OT) with questions about the child. 

I wonder, sometimes, what other SLPs use for progress reports. The image below is what our school system uses, and I've included a link below if you are in need of a form.  This is a collaborative document---all of the service providers use the same form.  Ideally, we would sit and discuss the goals together with all of our data.  In the real school world, however, we collaborate electronically.

Click here to download the template

Progress Report Form