My Interview with Kimberly Scanlon, CCC-SLP and Author of My Toddler Talks
Today I am excited to share with you the first of my two-part interview with licensed and ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist, Kimberly Scanlon. She runs her own speech therapy practice and is also the published author of the book, My Toddler Talks. Through my interview with Kimberly I learned much about her unique road to becoming an SLP, as well as her genuine love for our profession and the populations she has served over the years.
Join me today and next Tuesday for my complete conversation with Kimberly as she shares her advice about what it takes to start your own speech therapy practice and why she chose to write a book designed to empower the parents of toddlers!
Stephanie: Tell us about yourself and your speech and language background? What made you choose the career of speech-language pathology? What population(s) have you worked with during your career, etc.?
Kimberly: I'm a lifetime New Jersey resident and live in a small town in northern Jersey with my husband, Ryan (happily married for 4 years), our beautiful 1-year-old daughter, Kerrigan, and our cute chocolate Labrador Retriever, Barney. I consider myself quite lucky.
In 2002, I graduated from Rutgers University with a BS in Environmental Policy and Procedures (nothing related to communication disorders, yet I still believe that we need to protect the environment for future generations to enjoy). However, after graduating I realized that there were very few job opportunities at local environmental organizations and governmental agencies. While I was pondering my future, my brother, who is a high school principal, and my mother, who was a learning disability teacher consultant for almost 40 years, suggested that I look into speech-language pathology.
Back then, I knew little about this field. Exploring speech pathology was life changing for me. I distinctly remember thinking during one of my first intro class, "This is it. This is what I want to do". I fell in love with the idea that I could make a difference in people's lives and help many different populations in various settings while addressing different disorders. The possibilities seemed endless!
After a year of taking pre-requisites at night and working full-time for a finance firm, I was accepted into graduate school at Montclair State University (MSU). Since graduating, I have worked in several settings (hospital, nursing homes, school, early intervention, and private practices) and treated a range of ages, from young toddlers to geriatrics. Until I had my daughter, I often worked upward of 60 hours a week. After finishing a full-time job, I'd then start a per diem job. I loved it! And with whatever free time I had, I took continuing education classes, attended workshops or went to conventions. To this day, I enjoy living and breathing speech-language pathology. Though now that I have a young daughter, I work fewer hours than I used to as I cherish my role as a parent.
Stephanie: What made you decide to write a speech and language therapy book and how did you develop the topic?
Kimberly: I have always enjoyed the process of creating. As a young girl, I would spend hours upon hours painting and drawing in my parent's basement. Creating, whether it's making pottery, writing, drawing, cooking and designing products, energizes my spirit, alleviates my stress and provides me an outlet. Writing My Toddler Talks allowed me the opportunity to tap into my creative side while striving to make something that could help others.
The topic developed naturally. When I began in early intervention, I read textbooks and journal articles, and attended seminars and workshops. Yet, I still didn't have a good sense of how to best incorporate the techniques into play or daily routines. Despite my textbook learning, I questioned my use of the strategies and techniques. As I gained more hands-on experience, my confidence grew. I became better. I was willing to try new things and integrate the techniques into something I felt was beneficial. Eventually, I developed my own flow to a session. I did what made sense to me while observing best practices. It wasn't until I saw improvement with many children, and received praise from families about their children's progress, that I decided to write this workbook. Some parents even encouraged me to write about it! The support from my clients, my family, and in particular my husband motivated me to sit down and write down my ideas. That is how My Toddler Talks originated.
Stephanie: Your book focuses on including play in your therapy sessions, tell me why you feel this is so important?
Kimberly: I feel strongly that toddlers should play during our therapy sessions as well as throughout the day. Play develops cognition, enhances attention, and promotes language development. Playing also helps develop rapport between therapist and child as well as parent and child, the most important dyad in therapy. Through play we can model techniques in a comfortable, motivating, and age-appropriate context. In addition, studies have shown that parents' stress levels decrease and their overall well-being improves after playing with their child.
Currently, there is an emphasis on having therapists train parents on how to use language development techniques during daily routines. Such training is critical, however, in my opinion, it should not be the sole emphasis nor should it entirely replace play during our sessions. I find with hands-on play that children are more apt to try new things and to experiment because they feel comfortable and safe while playing. If the child doesn't feel comfortable in this context, then the adult should ask him or herself: "Am I controlling the play too much? Am I giving the child time to explore and to problem solve? Am I accepting of mistakes?" Personally, I like when children make "mistakes" because it shows that they are thinking and trying. Part of our job is to set something up (e.g. putting a desired object into a container they can't open or giving them a toy that is difficult to manipulate), give them time to figure it out (wait and watch), and if necessary, model some appropriate ways to play with something and to encourage them to request help. If we didn't make mistakes, weren't allowed the opportunity to explore and troubleshoot, and didn't feel comfortable asking for help, we wouldn't learn.
When it comes to play, Fred Rogers, one of my role-models, said it best: "When we treat child's play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that's to be found in the creative spirit. It's the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives."
Stephanie: I love that! Great quote! In our discussions you have mentioned the importance of incorporating therapy techniques into a child's daily routines; however that can be difficult for some parents to both understand and implement. How can we as therapists help parents do this effectively?
Kimberly: Incorporating therapy techniques into a child's daily routines is important for several reasons. Early intervention is family centered. The entire family has to be included in the therapy process. If the family is busy and playing with their child is not part of their daily routine, then it's probably best to show them how to use a technique during snack time as opposed to how to use it when playing with Johnnie's train set. When parents don't understand why something's important, it's usually because they're not too sure how to do it. Understanding and implementation go hand in hand. We're more likely to try something new, if we know how to do it. It's our responsibility as therapists to explain the why and to show the how.
Certain routines like getting dressed, brushing your teething, eating a meal, happen at least once a day. I explain to parents how established routines build a foundation of consistency and security for a child. If he or she knows something always happens at a particular time or place, the child will be more likely to initiate or interact. For instance, if the parent always says, "It's time to eat. Yum, yum, yum!" immediately before eating, the child may begin to say "yum, yum, yum, after the parent is taught to pause and wait expectantly after saying "It's time to eat."
Now that I'm a parent, I understand how certain daily routines can be challenging (e.g. changing my daughter's diaper now that she insists on turning over and sitting up). If a particular routine is cumbersome, parents are probably not thinking about how they can make it into a language enriching experience. Talk to the parents about their daily routines. Ask which routines are stressful and which ones they enjoy. Help them troubleshoot and start with something they will have success with. Some parents may simply feel too rushed or stressed to incorporate language techniques into a particular routine. We, the therapists, have to respect their feelings. I find that when I start training them on how to use a technique during a routine that they enjoy (e.g. reading to child before they go to sleep), they will be successful and be more willing to use a learned technique during a more challenging daily routine.
Stephanie: Great advice for parents! What is the main message and skills you want both therapists and parents to gain by reading your book?
Kimberly: I would love to share the following three messages about My Toddler Talks:
First, I sincerely believe that all parents, regardless of their educational backgrounds, can make a difference in their child's communication skills. Parents, intuitively, know their child better than anyone else. With a little bit of practice, know-how, and dedication, parents are most effective in promoting their child's language development.
Secondly, I don't feel a child needs to have an endless supply of fancy toys or overly elaborate play activities to improve his or her language. I have purposefully written step-by-step play routines that include some of the most popular toys and activities. I want parents to know that it's not the uniqueness of a toy or complexity of an activity that will get your child talking. It's how you use a toy, how you interact, and how you implement a strategy or technique into your play that will be most effective. My book is a good resource on how to learn to acquire some necessary skills to get your child talking. It's not meant to primarily be an activity book.
Lastly, I want readers to know that My Toddler Talks is a perfect accompaniment to early intervention or speech therapy. If you have true concerns about your child's language development and are growing frustrated, seek the services of an experienced, certified, and licensed speech language pathologist. Many of my most satisfied readers were the ones who had already consulted with a speech therapist and read my book as a way to further practice at home.
To learn more about Kimberly and to purchase a copy of her book,
please visit: http://www.mytoddlertalks.com/.
Join me next week for the second half of our intriguing interview!