Now Reading: 5 Lessons I Learned in my 1st Year as an SLP — A Guest Post From My Niece Francesca

5 Lessons I Learned in my 1st Year as an SLP — A Guest Post From My Niece Francesca

5 Lessons I Learned in my 1st Year as an SLP --  A Guest Post From My Niece Francesca


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!


5 Lessons I Learned in my First Year as a Speech Language Pathologist

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 🙂

1. If you are concerned with your child’s speech, get them evaluated.

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.

2. Sensory needs are REAL.

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.


3. Don’t dread the diagnosis

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.


4. Carryover is essential.

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.


5. Different methods work for different children.

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 🙂

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11 People Replies to “5 Lessons I Learned in my 1st Year as an SLP — A Guest Post From My Niece Francesca”

  1. Really good post. Coincidentally my own niece has recently qualified as an SLT (you're a useful; bunch to have around!). Even though my ASD son is 13, your points are as relevant to me now as 10 years ago XXX

  2. Ignore the jerks! This was a great post! I'd love to see more by you and other types of therapists!

  3. Thank you for your post, Francesca! Your links were especially informative; I learned a lot. You also have a great writing style. Looking forward to future posts from you.

  4. R

    Anonymous, no need to be a jerk. You don't know this girl, how do you know she has no empathy? Not to mention you missed her point, entirely. Labels are not harmful by the way, you should read Autism with a side of fries' blogpost, that mom says it best. She is basically saying the same as Francesca and she has a 13 year old son with autism AND has worked for years before that in the field.

    "Your kid already HAS a label. The weird one. The troublemaker. The quirky one. The "What's with that kid?" one. Why not get them the correct one? "

    Even Autism Daddy has a similar post. Interesting that you only jumped to be rude to this girl, under the excuse of "she has no experience" but I guess that was the only thing you could think of to try to invalidate her point of you.

    Francesca, I have so much respect for the job you chose. I couldn't do it, I would be psychologically wrecked so I admire you. Keep it up and ignore the person who suggests you have no empathy. Looking forward to reading more posts written by you.

    1. Thank you for your comment and your support! <3

  5. Anonymous

    Dear Pollyanna,

    Don't tell parents how to feel about their child's diagnosis – develop your empathy and listening skills instead. Labels do harm. They are a necessary evil but they do harm. Work ten years, then share wisdom. You are an excellent writer and clearly excited about your work and that is wonderful!! Truly! But please don't tell parents how to feel or minimize the gravity of our labels, develop better empathy and listening skills.

    1. Anonymous

      Thank you Anon 1:46am!!! SLP states, "Don't dread the label." Very easy thing for a twenty something with no kids much less autistic kids to say. Save the speech hon. We've lived it for 20 plus years. Parents….RPM… much more effective than years of speech and ABA!

    2. Dear Anon,

      Some labels do harm. Other times they help. I struggled getting early intervention help for my son. Our case worker advised us not to get a diagnosis in order to avoid labeling him. Guess what? It wasn't until we did that she really started doing her job and helping us get the services he needed.

      The label of autistic doesn't define the child. He will still be who he is with or without the label.

      Thank you to Francesca for your insight into the view from your side of the road. Much appreciated!

    3. Anonymous

      Anon – your comment is hypocritical. If you don't like labels then don't label others. Your "Dear Pollyanna" is degrading and offensive. You have had your struggles as we all have. But there is no need for this. Some positivity is always welcomed in my book!

      Francesca – keep on keeping on! I enjoyed your post and look forward to hearing more from a fresh mind.

    4. Anonymous

      I empathize with you in regards to the emotions that come along with a diagnosis. Believe me, I know the pain they bare. I have experience with this myself. I was diagnosed with type one diabetes when I was six and it was a life changing experience for my family. Devastation wouldn't even cover it, it was almost as if they mourned me. I can imagine it would be similar feeling for any diagnosis.

      In my post, I am by no means trying to undermine anyones emotional response. Those emotions are always going to arise and I am not blind to that, despite how optimistic I choose to be. I like to think that my empathy and listening skills are a strong skill of mine. I am simply offering another perspective and trying to offer some comfort to those it may speak to.