Observing the Complexity of Fun
We know that we make positive changes in the lives of our clients, but our work can also make a meaningful difference to the next generation of speech-language pathologists.
Many years ago, when I was learning to be a clinician, I observed Dr. Bob, a speech-language pathologist in private practice. Dr. Bob specialized in working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). On the day that I observed, he spent 30 minutes with a precocious five-year-old boy who had ASD.
Dr. Bob and the child sat side-by-side at a table to complete a wooden alphabet puzzle. Each puzzle piece was a letter of the alphabet and had a colorful drawing of an animal that matched the letter. They took turns placing the alphabet pieces into the board. With each turn, they alternated between multiple tasks:
• They looked at the puzzle piece together, and looked at each other while Dr. Bob made expressions of interest and curiosity about its design
• They pretended to put the piece in the wrong way before fixing it, or pretended to give the animal the wrong name
• They traced the letter’s shape
• They made the sound of the letter
• They labeled the animal, e.g., “that’s a giraffe”
• They described the animal, alternating between physical characteristics, habitat, actions, etc.
• They pretended to be the animal or pretended to see the animal in the room, raising their hands up to their eyes as hand binoculars
This one simple puzzle was used to address social, language, and literacy goals:
• Social reciprocity and turn-taking
• Problem solving and absurdities
• Letter and sound correspondence
• Orthographic knowledge
• Phonological awareness
• Naming and describing
• Asking and answering questions
• Imaginative and dramatic play
Dr. Bob was laughing. The child was laughing. It looked like fun. They were both having fun throughout the session. The half-hour passed quickly. I saw how the therapy was engaging, interactive, and enjoyable. It took years before I understood how much had happened within that short time frame. It wasn’t until I learned more about intervention, disorders, and clinical management that I fully realized the complexity of the session.
My observation was just a moment of time within his busy day, as new clients arrived every half hour. I was one of countless students who observed, as teaching and clinical training were foundational values of the clinic. Allowing university students to observe is a form of generosity. When our therapy sessions are open and welcoming to university students, we are giving ourselves to our clients and to the future of the field.
I am grateful that Dr. Bob taught me essential skills:
• Incorporating multiple goals into a session
• Managing therapy time efficiently
• Using materials in creative ways
• Infusing social development into every activity
Even though no one is as skilled as Dr. Bob was, we still do have a lot to offer. We have clinical experience. We provide intervention that benefits clients and can enrich university students’ education. Open the therapy room doors and let everyone observe the fun! Our work changes lives and Dr. Bob’s work changed mine!