5 Lessons I Learned in my 1st Year as an SLP — A Guest Post From My Niece Francesca
September 14, 2017
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Now Reading: 5 Lessons I Learned in my 1st Year as an SLP — A Guest Post From My Niece Francesca
September 14, 2017
Howdy, folks, ol’ Autism Daddy here. Remember way back in January when I introduced you to my niece Francesca? She wrote a guest post for me called “Tales From a New SLP: A Guest Post from My Niece Francesca” where she gave y’all a bit of her backstory as to why she wanted to become a Speech Language Pathologist working with kids with autism.
Well, now she’s got a year of full time work experience under her belt and she’s back with her second guest blog post for me:
Take it away Francesca!
Hi again everyone! My name is Francesca and as you may remember from my previous post, I am Autism Daddy’s niece. Thank you all so much for your positive feedback on my last post! I am so excited to be writing another entry for you today.
I just recently finished my first year as an “official” speech therapist and undoubtedly, this year has been the most education year yet. Since I am mainly working in early intervention (birth to three years old) I have had the opportunity to communicate with parents much more frequently than I had in the past.
This has been eye opening. As a therapist who doesn’t yet have children, I look at special services through a different lens than parents do. In having many conversations with parents, I have learned that too many feel alone, confused, and often have to fight long battles for their child – especially at the early intervention level.
This post is geared toward you, parents and caregivers. I hear and acknowledge your struggles.
Below I, talk about some of the most important lessons I’ve learned this year. I share this information with you in hopes it will provide insight and a little comfort for those who need it 🙂
This is one of those things that specifically relates to my experience in early intervention, but I think it’s definitely worth mentioning.
There have been countless times that I have started working with a child who is two a half/three years old and is barely communicating at all. In my initial interview, I always ask when parents/caregivers noticed their child may have a speech delay, and usually parents say around their first birthday but were told by professionals that they shouldn’t jump the gun or worry.
Ok, yes, there is totally the possibility that your child just needs a little more time to develop. But mom, dad… you know your kid better than anyone. If you have a gut feeling that your child may need some help, get some help. Ask for an evaluation or a referral.
It could turn out that your child doesn’t need services at all, but if they do, at least they are starting as soon as they can.
I can imagine how incredibly stressful evaluations can be for parents. Sometimes they are quick and easy and other time it seems like days before its over. Just know that this is a preliminary step to getting them what they need. Any services that are provided are only to benefit and never hurt your child.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Trust your instincts mom and dad. Get an evaluation. Or at the very least, call your doctor and ask if they could help you get a screening. If your child does need therapy, it’s okay. Take a deep breath and know that therapists are there to help and to provide you with techniques and activities to use at home.
In my facility, I work very closely with other paraprofessionals, specifically physical therapists (PTs) and occupational therapists (OTs). On more than one occasion, I have heard that occupational therapists find it difficult to explain to skeptical parents why a 2-year-old child would needs services.
Very generally speaking, occupational therapy focuses on fine motor activities, such as drawing a line, holding a pencil, grasping items, building strength in extremities, etc., and sensory integration. Most parents are very aware of the fine motor aspect, but I would argue that sensory needs are equally as important. Research has shown that children may behave in deconstructive ways when they are disoriented, disorganized, and over-stimulated.
I have had multiple experiences with parents who have told me “I’m not worried about OT” and want to focus exclusively on speech and language because that is the tangible issue.
But…it is immensely important to determine WHY a child is having difficulty with speech and language.
If your child is having difficulty controlling the sensory needs of their body, they may not be able to focus enough to comprehend and express language.
I love love love my occupational therapists. For my children who have sensory needs (which is many of them,) I request that they have OT before coming to see me.
Why? Because it is AMAZING how much more productive our sessions can be once the OT has helped them organize and orient their bodies.
I could go on for days about how important sensory integration is. But instead I’ll let the professionals speak for themselves.
The amazing OTs I work with recommend THIS WEBSITE entitled “A Sensory Life.” It is written by occupational therapist Angie Voss. She provides free resources and also mentions specific sensory behaviors and reasons why your child may be exhibiting them. She has also written a book, which is available in PDF form, entitled Understanding Your Child’s Sensory Signals.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Occupational therapy, specifically sensory integration, can be critical to your child’s holistic development. Sometimes these sensory needs are very obvious, other times they are very subtle. Either way, my advice is to keep calm and trust your OT.
This one is WAY easier said than done, I know.
Coming from an early intervention (EI) standpoint, I noticed that many of the parents I work with are afraid of their child needing services beyond 3-years-old for a couple of reasons
One, because I’m sure there is always the hope that your child’s needs will resolve before school starts
Two, parents may not want their child to be “labeled”.
So a little background…
Children who receive services through early intervention are part of a family oriented system. The child’s parents make the goals, monitor progress, voice concerns, etc. all on their own.
When a child who receives early intervention services turns three years old and begins preschool, there is a transition from a “family” system to an “educational” system and new formal document (an Individual Education Plan or IEP) is created to reflect this. This document will typically state a “diagnosis” and goals that have been made by evaluators to help remediate a child’s difficulties.
These diagnoses are very general. In Westchester county, there are only 13 diagnoses covered under the IDEA (individual with disabilities education act) that can appear on an IEP.
These words on a formal document tend to make parents very nervous, especially when the IEP is first being created.
Parents – I totally understand and I feel your struggle. But just know that these diagnoses are more to help a child receive the services they need then a representation of your child’s disposition.
Diagnoses are not set in stone and can certainly be changed, revised, and revoked if necessary.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Diagnoses, no matter how heavy they are, do not define your child. As therapists, diagnoses are good information to know generally what a child may present with. But we are trained to treat their symptoms, not their diagnosis. Children are unique and their individual needs differ greatly, even just day-to-day.
No matter the age of your child, there should be some type of communication between a child’s parents and educational team. This is a fact I cannot stress enough!
Children are like a sponge! They are constantly soaking up information and absorbing it to memory. It is absolutely essential that they are practicing learned skills at home for optimal carryover.
I would love to think that I am so incredible that I am able to see a child twice a week for 45-minutes and make a huge life changing difference, but realistically, my job is to introduce tasks and provide you with tools and language in order to help you help your child.
If your child’s educational team is not communicating with you on a semi-regular basis, reach out.
Ask how you can help with your child’s goals.
Tell them the positives and negatives of what your child is doing at home.
Send in a journal or send a text.
I try to communicate with families at least once a month if not more, but sometimes I forget too, we’re only human! Parents, you should feel free to call, email, text, or use whatever method is agreed upon by both parties, to ask about your child’s progress.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE: The main goal of therapy is for your child to perform tasks that are practiced in sessions and have them complete these tasks independently at home. The quickest way for that outcome to be achieved is for him or her to practice at home as well. We should all be communicating with each other to make sure we are on the same page. I recommend talking to your child’s education team and deciding on an appropriate time to check in every two weeks/every month.
Sometimes I feel like there is more controversy in therapy than there is in politics.
I never discuss politics, religion, or the effectiveness of oral motor therapy for speech disorders. LOL
This is a joke, but really!
As therapists, we know parents do incredible research to find the method you feel would be the most beneficial to your child. I definitely take parents wants and needs into consideration, but there should be flexibility and open-mindedness on both ends. Sometimes theses research based approaches sound great on paper but may not integrate well with your child.
For example, I am PROMPT (Prompts for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets) trained. I took the course, I drank the Kool Aid, and I use it all the time. But it is never my only approach because I believe there is value in variety.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Have an open line of communication with your therapist. Tell them about what you’ve researched and ask them their opinion. Tell them this is something you want to try, but also be flexible with your expectations.
At the end of the day, the goal is to meet each child’s needs.
To do this, we all work together, through good times, bad times, and in between to reach our goals and make progress. And in those tough times, try to remember that even the smallest victories are still victories 🙂