Thursday, May 30, 2013

Professional Issues Class Post 3: My Ideal Mentor

The assignment:  Describe your ideal CF mentor.  Think about who you are and how you learn when thinking about the person who you want to guide you into the part of the profession.  Thinking again about your learning style, what are your concerns about the CF and can you best prepare for whatever concerns remain?

After I graduate, I get to hang out in some sort of SLP Purgatory for a year. 
I think one of those skeletons is writing an IEP.

It’s called a CFY = Clinical Fellowship Year.  Luckily I can finally start drawing a salary, but I won’t be a full-fledged SLP until I complete the requirements, which include regular supervision by a mentor, a certain number of hours and establishing a level of competency in several areas.    
During my 3 clinical externships, I have had 6 different supervisors.  Every one of them has been kind, helpful and patient; never failing to answer my multitude of questions.  I have heard stories of other clinical supervisors setting up adversarial, drill-sergeant type relationships where students are quizzed on anatomical terms at random times and put on the spot in front of clients.   Maybe that kind of tough love works for some, but I fear such a tactic would shatter my fragile confidence like a watermelon in a prop comic’s routine.

The difference with the CF mentor is that this person will not be with me daily, answering my million questions, someone I can turn to when a client hits me with a question that I have no idea how to answer.   But rather, this mentor guides me from afar.  We will meet several times per quarter, but basically I will go to my mentor with the big questions, while I will be on my own to figure out the small day-to-day challenges in the trenches
Which brings me to my answer to this week's question.  What am I looking for in an ideal CF Mentor?

Sense of humor.   I like to laugh.  I joke around a lot.  I don’t know that I could work closely with someone for a whole year if we couldn’t laugh together.   Because sometimes kids do gross things or deadlines get missed and you just have to laugh your way through to the other side of whatever mess you are in.  So we'll start with an ideal mentor who is 1 part Wanda Sykes:

Patience.   Like I said before, I ask a million questions.  As a child, I got the distinct impression that my teachers didn’t always appreciate my curious nature.    As an adult, raising a miniature version of myself, I now understand the patience it requires to deal with someone who Must Know All The Things At All The Times.   Not understanding something is not an option.  Therefore, my mentor should also be 1 part Fred Rogers:

Creativity.  This goes without saying.   I don’t need a mentor who thinks that a crocheted larynx is over the top.   Or that photocopied worksheets are “good enough."  Or wonders why anyone would own a laminator.  Pshaw.  So let's add 1 part Martha in there somewhere:

Ingenuity.  But I’m still paying off student loans, so I'll do best with someone who can help me brainstorm marvelous lesson plans and therapy ideas out of common household items and supplies found around the workplace.   Here we’ll add a dash of MacGyver:

Looks.   I'm not saying it's a requirement, but it wouldn't hurt to have a mentor who looks a little like Zachary Quinto.  

Regardless of who I end up with, I look forward to the experience and I am glad that ASHA provides us a little safety net before we are thrust out there into the world of Speech Pathology on our own.  While I may need a little nudge from the nest, I hope it’s a gentle nudge and not a full forced shove.   Either way, I’m going to have to learn to spread those wings eventually.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

First Interview tomorrow!

We interrupt this regularly scheduled class blog for an important announcement:  I have my first, real SLP job interview tomorrow.   It's at a local school district, within 30 mins of my house.    One that is small (only 1 high school, 1 middle school and 8 elementary schools) which is nice because most of the districts around here are huge, with multiple high schools and many, many feeder schools.  

I am polishing up my resume tonight, working up a cover letter, digging for decent clothing to pack tomorrow, so I can scramble my way out of my internship at 2, change at a friends house and arrive at the interview sweaty and out of breath before 3pm.  I picture myself looking something like this:

Also trying to prep my interview questions & answers.  

Interviewer:  What is your biggest fault?  

Me:  Well, I regret to say that I am a workaholic and a perfectionist.  My therapist and I are working on it, but my potential employer well benefit from it, at least until the meds kick in.

But seriously, I just hope I don't blather on and on about why I decided to make this mid life change to become an SLP and can keep my answers brief and not too personal.   As to the questions I plan to ask, I need to find a way to express my desire not to work with preschoolers in a socially appropriate manner. 

"Ma'am, I listen to enough whining at home to fill three lifetimes, so mayhap you can hook me up with some older kiddos on my caseload?" 

Luckily, tricky questions about salary wont come up, because they are all graded out and posted clearly on their website.   Which is good, because after all these years of school and internships, I will just be so happy to get paid anything, I might enthusiastically accept an offer of "$1/hr plus tips" without thinking twice.  

   Wish me luck!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Professional Issues Class Post 2: Take me out to the ball game

The assignment:   As of 8/31/13, WKU is going to tell the world that you have speech-language-hearing competencies in nine areas.  Given that just because you're recognized as being competent doesn't mean that you are, what are your thoughts? Do you feel competent to assess and treat each of the big nine across the lifespan?

So basically, when I graduate, I will technically be an expert in the “Big 9” competency areas, as defined by our governing body, ASHA.    It’s all sort of loosely defined here, but according to the database that is getting checked off with each internship I complete, the Big 9 are:

Language, Articulation, Voice & Resonance, Fluency, Swallowing, Hearing, Cognitive Aspects of Communication, Social Aspects of Communication, and Communication Modalities

Since it’s summer and we’re in America and I love America’s Pastime, I have decided to address my competency in each of these areas with a baseball analogy.  If the competency was a pitch, lobbed to me as I waited in the batter’s box, what would I do with it?  

Language:  Home Run
And….it’s…OUTTA HERE!   Oh yeah, I love Language.   I love breaking down our spoken language into building blocks and deciphering where the breakdown is occurring.  Is the child having trouble with answering detailed questions from a story because she doesn’t understand temporal or positional concepts or because there is a deficit in vocabulary or because she did not effectively sequence the events of the story in her mind?   I love tying language to literacy and using children’s books to teach language concepts.  I love bringing colorful manipulatves into the therapy room and watching a child learn a concept and have fun at the same time.   Oh yeah, bring it on!   I’m competent like The Babe!

Social Aspects: Inside the Park Home Run

Ok, so this one is not a no-doubter that flies over the fence to the roar of the crowd.    Maybe more of a squibber down the third base line.   But social aspects, in my opinion encompass a lot of the work we do with individuals on the autism spectrum.   Because I live with autism 24/7, as well as two neurotypical children, I have a microcosm social study in my home and it never fails to amaze me how natural it is for my girls to navigate that maze of social interaction and how much of it needs to be taught to my son, like learning all of the ‘Stans in geography.    Social aspects means helping my clients understand emotions, the rules of conversation, the rules of the playground, the rules of personal space as well as the rules of the game – whether that game is Pok√©mon or dating.   I truly enjoy this and have had experiences working on social development through drama therapy, in structured conversations and semi-structured activities such as cooking.    I have no doubt I could score a run for the team in this area, even if it means I had to count on the left fielder taking a bit of an early dive in a failed attempt to make the big play.

Communication Modalities: Stand up Triple
Communication Modalities encompasses the use of an alternative system for communication.    There are several options for higher tech devices, such as iPads and Dynavox computer systems, but there are also simpler, lower tech forms of allowing someone to communicate nonverbally.  This is a special interest to me and I have had a pretty good amount of experience over the course of my prior 2 internships, with clients at a variety of communication levels using a variety of devices.   While I doubt I could put a run up on the scoreboard myself in this area right now, I feel like it could definitely be an area I could specialize in with some more training and experience.  

Articulation: Slid into second, just under the tag

Yeah, so I can get on base with articulation, but I don’t feel super confident.  I can elicit some of the more visual sounds pretty easily, like /l/ and /th/, but I still struggle with /r/ and vowels.   The ADHD that attracted me to this profession because of the inherent variety involved in conducting therapy in 30 minute blocks, also makes it hard for me to stick with the drill and repetition needed to make changes in a client's muscle memory.   I can get it done, but not in one swing, and I need an assist to score, which will likely come in the form of Pinterest ideas.
Swallowing: A base hit
Granted, I am only 2 weeks into my internship that focuses on dysphagia treatment and assessment, but I feel like I could be the guy who consistently gets the single, gets on base, keeps the inning going -  Ms Dependable, but none of that will get me into the Hall of Fame.   I understand the anatomy involved, I have a good grasp of the exercises and why they are used and I think that by the end of my internship, I will be pretty competent at swallowing treatment.    Put me in coach....I'm ready to
Hearing: Reached on an Infielder Error
I hit it hard, it went flying off the bat, but the short stop bobbled it and that allowed me to get to first base.  I am still going to be able to help the team score, since I didn’t get out, but I am not very confident with how I got there.   I have trouble deciphering the difference between working on articulation versus the specifics of aural rehabilitation for clients with Cochlear Implants.  I still struggle to keep my voice loud enough, consistently, for elderly clients with presbycusis.   I could use a lot more time in the cage, practicing my swing in order to effectively serve those with hearing impairments. 

Voice:  Hit by Pitch
Hey, I’m on base.   Maybe it wasn’t pretty, but I got here and the inning isn’t over yet!   So I worked with an adult voice client and I took data and measured her pitch and led her in her voice exercises, but I don’t have the confidence that I personally did anything profound to help her.  I do have an interest in instrumental assessment, so maybe one day I will have a chance work in a voice clinic and check out someone’s vocal folds with a scope.    Until then, I’ll just straddle the plate a little too much and hope to keep the inning alive. 

Cognition: Sacrifice Bunt
Cognition, or working with the effects of language and memory with patients who are suffering from dementia, is very difficult for me.  Again, I am only 2 weeks into this aspect of treatment, so I know that with experience, I will better be able to handle the emotional ramifications of short term memory loss and deterioration in cognitive skills.   In the meantime, will make that sacrifice bunt to get the runner over.  In other words, I will do what is expected of me, but I would much rather swing for the fence with language or social aspects.  
Fluency: Hit into a double Play

Fluency (aka stuttering) is a pitch you don’t want me to face.   Bring in the pinch hitter.    I worked with one preschool client and one of the hardest things for me to do in his treatment, was not to treat.   A lot of the basis of early fluency treatment is to deal with it indirectly.   The therapist is supposed to model and encourage slow, easy speech, educate the parents, but not directly address the stuttering.   I’m a doer.   And despite the fact that I saw this very approach work very well with a young client of ours, I know that in the real world, I will start swinging for the fences and in my attempt to overachieve, I will hit into an inning ending double play.  


All that said, I feel very fortunate to be entering a field with so much diversity that I will challenge myself to continue learning, developing new skills, and expanding my own comfort zones.  


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Professional Issues Class Post 1: Snow forts and lightbulbs

For my final graduate school course, we are charged with creating a blog that will serve as a tool for making personal reflections on our journey and the path ahead.    This first assignment involved perusing 6 pages of quotations about education and learning, to find the ones that “spoke to us” about the journey we have made thus far.    I was tempted go just go with:

-- Homer Simpson, Matt Groening cartoon, Unknown

I mean, my entire life to now could probably be summed up in a series of Homer Simpson quotes, but rather than the above (which actually was included on the list for the assignment!) I would have picked:
Alright Brain, you don't like me, and I don't like you. But lets just do this, and I can get back to killing you with beer.
-- Homer Simpson, Matt Groening cartoon, Unknown

I may or may not have had that exact same conversation with my brain every time a writing assignment has been due for the past 3 ½ years.   Alas, that one wasn’t on the list. 
So in an effort to write something a little more inspirational, I picked the following:

Don't wait for something big to occur. Start where you are, with what you have, and that will always lead you into something greater.
-- Mary Manin Morrissey, Unknown, Unknown

People often say that if you wait for the "best time" to have children, you never will.  Having been a parent for the past 12 years now, I can heartily agree.  Is there ever a "best time" to decide to forgo sleeping in on weekends for the rest of your life?  When is the best time to decide that your DVR no longer needs to be full of action movies and trashy reality TV, but rather 782 episodes of My Little Pony:  Friendship is Magic in HD?

In the end, most people just go for it.  They find a way to fit those adorable little beasties we call children into their lives and most of us are better off for it.    I find the same is true of going back to school.    I already covered the Who, What & Why in my now defunct Grad School Mama 2010 blog, but the When is really the point of this post. 

Is there ever a perfect time to spend $30,000 for the privilege of replacing all fiction reading with peer reviewed research journal articles?  Is there ever a perfect time to choose to stay up late for class 3 nights a week and turn your social life into a distant memory?  Is there ever a perfect time to drag yourself out of bed at 6:30 in the morning to don scrubs and march into the Skilled Nursing Facility to be drilled by your supervisor on various dysphagia exercises?   
Nah,  you just do it.  You take that first step and then keep at it, one foot in front of the other.   FAFSA, GRE, Admission Essays, transcripts, textbooks, Blackboard, research papers, clinical placements, CPR training, lesson planning, laminating, Pinterest, childcare juggling, Praxis, resumes and before you know it, you are writing blog posts for your final class.   
Reading back on that old blog, I am glad I decided to go for it.   I worried that I would be 40 by the time I graduated.   Well, as the old saying goes "you'll be 40 anyway. "  
What I have discovered along the way is that despite the journal articles and late nights, it really has been an amazingly fun ride.     I love laminating and lesson planning and working with kids.  I love that feeling that comes when a client "gets it" for the first time.   

Which leads me to the last quote from that 6 page list that resonated with me.  

It feels a lot colder when you're shoveling snow than when you're building a snow fort.
-- Cynthia Copeland Lewis, Really important stuff my kids have taught me, 1994
Because school is work, and if you just focus on the drudgery, it's enough to make you quit.   But building a snow fort is fun!   My snow fort is built with bricks of knowledge, friendship, accomplishment, inspiration, empathy, growth and humility.    Or maybe it looks something like this:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


This blog is a requirement for my final class in graduate school, but I also hope to use it to chat about my journey from being the parent to a wonderful 12 year old boy with Autism, to the other side of the IEP table, as a newly minted school-based Speech Language Pathologist.  

Stay tuned for more words of wisdom.   Or words of stress.   Or words of humor.