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Speech in the Schools

Emotional Intensity in Adolescence: Teaching Nuance
December 15, 2014 8:55 AM by Teresa Roberts
Semantic gradient is the fancy term for ranking concepts along degrees of intensity -- making nuanced measurements of meaning. We use gradients in everyday casual speech. When someone asks you how you're doing, you might use gradations of neutrality, e.g., "so-so," "okay," "not bad," "fine," "alright," or "pretty good." Reading Rockets, a wonderful early literacy website from public broadcasting, describes how to use semantic gradients with younger students, including specific directions and a video of children comparing size differences from miniscule to gigantic.

We can use semantic gradients to help adolescents understand their feelings and internal states of being. Adolescence is a time of heightened emotional responsiveness, as students are forming their identities, navigating peer relationships and group belonging, establishing separation from parents/caregivers, and are challenged with higher-level academic content. All of these changes transpire while they are undergoing incredible physical and neurological growth. Even in our modern world, from an evolutionary biology perspective, adolescents are innately programmed to perform socially to attract potential mates. The emotional highs and lows may be unique to this time period. We can teach them about varied levels of emotional responses by sorting and ranking adjectives for emotional terms.

  • Adjectives for mad: confused, bored, cranky, crabby, irritated, annoyed, perturbed, agitated, flustered, exasperated, mad, angry, furious, livid, etc.
  • Adjectives for sad: blue, listless, sad, unhappy, hurt, depressed, despondent, distraught, devastated, heartbroken, etc.
  • Adjectives for happy: interested, curious, hopeful, pleased, amused, delighted, happy, overjoyed, enthused, elated thrilled, excited, ecstatic, etc.

Students can work in small groups and rank the positive and negative responses along degrees of intensity. Recognizing shades that exist within any given emotional reaction increases students' self-awareness and descriptive vocabulary skills. There is not one correct way to complete a hierarchy, as emotions do not necessarily have discrete linear elements; however, it is important that students recognize extreme ends of the continuum. Once the adjectives are ranked, you are able to bridge to a variety of activities using the emotional terms:

  • Describe the physiological reactions related to the different emotions (heart racing, changes in breathing, body posture, etc.)
  • Describe (role play, photograph, video model, draw) the facial expressions associated with the emotions (always end the lesson with happy emotions -- we can feel the feelings we imitate)
  • Match adjectives to emoticons or icons
  • Use the emotional terms for daily check-ins or journaling
  • Choose emotional responses based on sample social situations (pictures and short narratives)
  • Self-reflect and generate examples of times that students have felt different emotions
  • Choose from a variety strategies to self-calm for the different emotional responses
  • Self-reflect about how quickly the students move along the continuum of emotions (does a student go from irritated to livid immediately?)
  • Match the adjectives to characters in sample social situations, literacy texts, videos, etc. (social perspective)
  • Expand the lists to include gradations of amusement, fear, surprise, etc.

Think back to your own adolescence and remember the intensity of feelings that we all felt at 16-years-old. We can use this melodrama as a learning tool!

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Creativity in Therapy
December 8, 2014 9:34 AM by Teresa Roberts
You are a creative thinker. You are using a heightened form of behavioral artistry every day in your job. For those of us who work in school settings, from preschoolers in Early Intervention through young adults in Adult Community Transition Programs, we understand creativity. Ensuring that therapeutic intervention is a positive experience for a toddler, a third-grader, and a less than enthusiastic adolescent isn't an easy task. We take all of the content knowledge of our field and transform it into interactive and engaging activities that address specially designed goals and objectives.

Artist and photographer Chuck Close achieved incredible levels of photorealism in portraying the human face with a restricted palette of colors, frequently using only black, white and gray. Limitations themselves can bring about greatness.  The act of providing speech and language therapy in a public school setting is a study in using a restricted palette. Restrictions are essential to target discrete achievable goals within a limited time frame; however, there are often even more restrictions based on shortages of resources and overly extended personnel. Restrictions need not be barriers -- they can prompt us to create our own forms of art. These words give you license to try new things in your practice. Think about the parameters that are under your control:

  • Movement: In what ways can you change physical positioning to modify the appearance of a task? Stand up, sit on the floor, walking in place, stretch, etc.
  • Speaking voice: How can you modulate your speaking voice to bring about excitement, anticipation, humor and surprise? Whisper, pause, change your rate, intonation, cadence, etc.
  • Materials: We can use materials found in the everyday natural environment, from the classroom, commercially available sources and more. Are your materials allowing you to try different activities? How can you adapt and modify them for new activities?
  • Activities: Rules are important, but so is experimentation. How can you give you and your students the freedom to complete an activity or play a game in a new way?
  • Pacing: We can control the pace of the session and we can modulate the pace depending on how we transition between activities and present information. Pacing affects engagement.

Speech-language pathologists are creative folks. In essence, our primary job is to guide another person to change a behavior (which will ensure access to the fundamental human right to communicate and/or the basic need to swallow). Changing patterns of habituated behavior is challenging on the neurological, physiological and psychological level. We scaffold the learning tasks to maximize success. We provide our clients with multiple opportunities to demonstrate, practice, and generalize new behaviors. We have the ability to analyze communicative acts and separate them into definable steps. Amidst all of these incredible feats of technical prowess, we develop positive and fun activities for individuals across ages and needs. We combine the concrete with the innovative. We are all artists. Reclaim the elements of intervention that belong to you and let your clinical imagination run loose.

How are you being creative with your students?

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A Bit of Insight
October 8, 2014 1:43 PM by Valerie Lill

Over the years, I've worked with numerous students with speech sound needs -- from simple non-developmental sound substitutions or distortions, to kids with numerous phonological process, to kids with severe speech intelligibility issues that didn't seem to follow any rhyme or reason. The majority of these students made good progress and were dismissed from speech while I was working with them.

However, there is still one issue that is nagging, even for kids who are dismissed -- carryover. Some kids just carryover on their own, with little to no reminders from me. Once they get their sounds, they "get" them. End of story. I find that most often in kids who have multiple articulation errors or those who are highly motivated to use correct speech. I often find these types of students to be in the minority. Most students who work on speech skills need help and practice to carryover skills taught in therapy. What is our role in carryover? When is enough enough? I'll address part of this in this blog and go into this issue more in future blogs.

I feel this has been an ongoing debate in my mind for years, and I can't be the only one who has stressed about this. How many times have you had a student who, once you offer an initial prompt or reminder of his/her targeted sound, immediately uses sounds correctly in the session, but the second he/she leaves your room, the child resorts back to their old speech patterns. Frustrating? Yes, for us as the SLPs. Yes, for our students also.

I never went to speech therapy as a child, so I haven't truly experienced what it was like to be a "speech student." There have been times I've wondered, "This child is so bright. Why can't she remember her speech sounds?" The reality is, it isn't easy and doesn't always become automatic as easily as we'd like. The realization of how hard this truly is occurred to me at my "speech therapy" -- a place where I'm learning new motor plans, and it isn't easy --- the gym.   

I've taken the class Body Pump on and off for the last 8 years (Google it if you haven't heard of it). The muscles are worked in the same order using different tracks of music every time. I've taken this class tons of times. It is still hard. I'm still clumsy. I still don't have my legs in the right position for lunges and squats. My elbows, arms and wrists aren't always doing what they're supposed to be doing, and I still have residual weakness in my left arm due to a fracture I sustained last November. I try, but it isn't easy. Even with an instructor giving directions and motivating me (like we SLPs do in our speech sessions), and a college intern walking around offering corrective feedback on body positioning, I still struggle. I find that when I take it regularly, it is much easier, less of a struggle, and I can go up in weight without groaning.

I now have a bit more understanding and insight to how my students working on articulation skills feel. Yes, it is our job to coach and motivate them, and their job to use what we've taught them; however, instead of being frustrated by lack of consistent carryover, we need to show understanding. It isn't easy. It can be a struggle. It sometimes is frustrating. It isn't automatic. It takes time and practice. If students practice regularly, it will become easier over time. 

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Working After Hours: For the Love of the Job?
September 24, 2014 7:00 AM by Valerie Lill
One thing school-based SLPs know, is that there is a lot of paperwork and "extras" that everyone takes for granted that we do as part of our job. These can range from writing Evaluation Reports and IEPs, medical access billing, to contacting parents on the phone or via email, consulting with teachers, planning therapy activities making communication boards, programming devices, writing social stories, doing research online about a particular therapy approach, device or app ... the list really never ends ... Sure, teacher contracts allow for planning time each week; however, with the responsibilities in our job being so great and the planning time being so little, the reality is, some, if not most of this work that needs to be done has to get done some other time than during our paid, contracted work day.

That's where the "big debate" amongst SLPs comes into play. How much of your own "free," unpaid time are you willing to give up for your job? (I know, it is a career, but for the sake of semantics, I'm writing job here, because I feel that my career is that of an SLP no matter where I work, but my job is my current place of employment). 

My two jobs that I held prior to working in school rarely, if ever, required me to work beyond my contracted hours. The only "afterhours" work I recall doing in my days covering a maternity leave in a pediatric outpatient rehab center was putting these red and white cards into a machine and punching them for billing. That took all of about 15 minutes at the end of the day. My second job was providing home- and center-based Early Intervention speech services. Never once do I ever remember having to do work at home. However, once I began working in schools, that all changed.

I can still remember the first time I brought work home once I started in the schools. I remember the names of the two kindergarten boys whose IEPs I worked on while sitting on my sofa one evening after school. They are now old enough to be in college! Since then, the amount of paperwork required by SLPs and the time spent outside the paid workday on such paperwork has dramatically increased. When I first started working in schools, I was single (though dating my now-husband) and living alone. I had time to spare. I didn't mind coming in 30-45 minutes early and staying sometimes up to an hour after my contracted day ended. For the love of the job, I did it. Oh how times have changed.

Once I got married and started thinking about having a baby, I realized how much the demands of being a school-based SLP interfered with my "me" time on evenings and weekends. I remember spending literally 8 hours every Sunday doing paperwork (thank goodness for football season - always provides something to have on in the background while doing school work!!).That is a full day of unpaid work. At that point, it wasn't for the love of the job any more, it was about survival. My caseload was in the 70s, and I serviced three different buildings. I was nearing my breaking point.

Life and priorities changed dramatically for me when my son was born. From that day forward I realized that he is more important, and always will be more important, than any student on my caseload. For the love of my son, the job and its commitments had to take a back seat. Sometimes doing the bare minimum is all I was able to offer at work. When I realized that the demands of work (hours and hours of unpaid paperwork at home) were interfering with my love of the job, I got out. I switched to another school district. Best decision ever.

Now I have one building with a caseload in the 40s, half of whom have moderate-severe impairments, and for the first few years (when my son was a toddler/preschooler) I rarely, if ever, brought schoolwork home. Do I do schoolwork at home? Yes. Do I spend 8 hours on a Sunday afternoon doing schoolwork? No. Never again. I find myself saying to my son now and then that I can't do something because I have "schoolwork to do," and I hate myself for that. The love of my son vs. the love of my job? A fight that the job should never win, though sometimes I let it. 

What about the readers out there? How do you keep your personal life and work commitments in balance? How much unpaid work are you willing to do before you realize something needs to change? Does the love of your job outweigh your priorities in your personal life?

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First Day for an SLP
August 27, 2014 7:45 AM by Valerie Lill

I'm writing this blog after sitting at two hours of baseball practice on the first day school. Although the calendar says summer, that means fall is here to me. So how does a school-based SLP spend the first day of school? I've been reading posts on online discussion groups about what SLPs do the first week(s) of school. Some SLPS start therapy day one. Most handle other job responsibilities for the first week or two.

Here's a list summarizing some of the things this SLP did on her first day of school:

  • Morning bus duty - trained a new teacher to my building how to do morning bus duty, got lots of hugs from former and current students, and greeted many other students (speech and non-speech)
  • Scheduling, scheduling, and more scheduling -This is how I spent the vast majority of my day. It is probably one of my least, if not the least, favorite tasks to do during the school year.Every year, I never think it will come together, and every year it always manages to! I try to get a schedule up and running as soon as possible, but definitely by next week if I can't get it all figured out by this Friday.The classroom teachers have their schedules pretty much worked out, but the learning support teachers do not. I also need to compete with specials, OT and PT for scheduling speech. Never a fun thing to do. Plus, I'm one of those SLPs who asks teachers for time preferences, though I know some who just make their students' schedules and don't consult with the teachers. That would probably make my life easier, but I just don't see myself ever doing that. Luckily, I had several teachers email me multiple time slots that work for their students, so hopefully I can get something figured out soon!
  • Meeting with the OT - the OT travels to three buildings, so we met to discuss the days she'd be at my building. We worked on her pull-out schedule (so it didn't conflict with times I had scheduled for students), scheduling co-treat sessions, and planning on when we'd have our once per cycle Life Skills team meeting. We also reviewed some student IEPs and discussed new students.
  • Kindergarten registration screenings - I went through the screenings from last year and created a pass, fail/follow-up, and did not receive the screenings list. I also prepared and sent home "informed consent" notes to the parents of all the students who either failed part of the screening or were never screened.
  • Printing, printing and more printing - I printed off enough student therapy logs to make it through the first month of school and hopefully a bit longer. I also printed off class rosters, notes to send home and information to display for parents at Back to School Night.
  • Emails, emails and more emails - Every time I looked at my email icon at the bottom of my screen there was a number on it, indicating the number of emails since I had last checked it. I received some good news from my emails - the teacher of one of my students with multiple articulation errors commented that she "didn't have any trouble understanding" the student (not the case last year) and guessed that he "must have made a lot of progress." I am looking forward to talking to this student and getting a speech sample!
  • Afternoon bus duty - This was my duty last year, so I helped "train" the teacher who has the duty this year. It was a great opportunity for me to see the majority of my speech students, one of whom excitedly asked, "Am I in your class again this year?" followed by, "When can I come to your room?"

Is this a comprehensive list of everything I did today? Not even close. Tomorrow I'll start to meet with some of my students to gather baseline data and do some observations/push-in for my new students.  Now that I'm back, in some ways, it feels like I never left!  How did you spend your first day of the new school year?

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Get your Year off to a Great Start
August 21, 2014 7:39 AM by Alexandra Streeter
I am such a school SLP nerd. I love going back to school and seeing all the fresh faces!  It's always so motivating to try to make each year a great one!

How can you get your year off to a good start as a school based SLP?

Here are some suggestions!

1) Get your scheduling done and start seeing kids ASAP! It can be very difficult to schedule everyone, but the sooner it's done the better. Teachers and parents don't like when SLPs and support staff take too long to get started.

2) Brush up on curriculum! Get a list of classroom themes for the first few months, and figure out the key concepts you're going to target

3) Revisit the school wide behavior expectations, and come up with some activities to target the vocabulary. Most PBiS schools have three behavior targets, such as Respectful, Kind and Caring. Create lessons and social stories that help our kids understand what those mean.

4) Touch bases with your teachers and provide information about the kids you share.

Being proactive at the beginning of the year can influence how the rest of the year goes! I hope you have a great one.

What are doing to ensure a smooth start?

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But I Have NO Artistic Talent!
August 13, 2014 8:00 AM by Valerie Lill

By "no" artistic talent I have zero, zip, none whatsoever. (Ironically one of my brothers is an amazing artist and graphic designer ... must be a recessive gene that passed me by). Normally when you are an SLP, a lack of any artistic skill is a non-issue. I'm pretty sure SLPs who are doing swallowing studies or are worried about billing the insurance companies in private practice give little or no thought to using artistic skills at work. School-based SLPs? We are not so lucky (well if you are artistic/visually creative, then maybe you enjoy using those skills). Although we aren't "teachers," we are still part of our school's community and have certain obligations as part of it - namely, decorating our rooms.

I remember my college roommate actually having a class on making bulletin boards as part of her early childhood/elementary education studies. I recall going to a room in the basement of the library to see her bulletin board that was a huge part of her final grade. This while I was taking "Science of Speech & Hearing" (my least favorite SLP class ever ). However, here I am over 15 years later, and I'm wishing I could've taken a bulletin board class! I can't cut a straight line, let alone decorate an entire bulletin board! Yet, it has been an expectation nearly every year I've been a school-based SLP. Fortunately ,now I only have one building (therefore only one room to decorate) and when my SmartBoard was installed in my room 2 years ago, my lone bulletin board was taken down to accommodate.  However I still have rows of cork stripping in the hall outside my room and inside my room, plenty of wall space and a chalkboard that I essentially use as a bulletin board (Does anyone even use a chalkboard for writing on any more?). So some decoration is necessary, meaning some creative and artistic skill is needed on my part.

When my current principal started at my building, she initiated the use of a building-wide theme. Rooms, hallways, assemblies, activities, etc., at school all revolve around the year's theme. For me (and my lack of room decorating skill), this is pure genius. It makes decorating my room easier since the theme gives me direction!  This year our school's theme is Dr. Seuss. We can do a general Dr. Seuss theme for our room or pick a book and decorate our room accordingly. I decided to go with If I Ran the Zoo since this has always been in my top three favorites of Dr. Seuss stories (along with The Sneetches and The Lorax - though I already knew of a teacher using this theme, so I didn't want to copy). I have done lots of online searching, bidding and purchasing to find items for my room that go with my theme. For a small monetary investment, I've gotten bulletin board pictures of animals (that I'm going to rename in a speechie way - something like "articupotamus"), a copy of the book, a laminated enlarged card with text and a picture from the book, a stuffed Bippolobungus and a few ideas floating around my head. Next week, I'll be going in to my room to laminate my decorations and decorate my room for the start of school (among a million other things I need to do). I'm hoping my room turns out in the way I'm imagining and that my students enjoy their visits to my zoo!

Do you enjoy decorating your room? What creative ideas have you used over the years? Does your building use a theme? Do you use that theme to help decorate your room?

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Using Facebook as a Resource for SLPs
August 6, 2014 7:57 AM by Alexandra Streeter

One nice thing about summer is having time to browse SLP offerings on Facebook. Lots of clever SLPs share information on Facebook, and I want to share some of MY favorites with you!

For SLPs, subscribing to ASHA: https://www.facebook.com/asha.org?fref=nf  is a must. There is lots of information and interesting and useful articles.

I LOVE this SLP group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2212002912/?fref=nf

There is always good discussion, with the sharing of good ideas!

Here is a thread providing support for SLPs new to the field: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2212002912/?fref=nf

There are always great tips and sometimes giveaways from Dynavox: https://www.facebook.com/dynavoxtech?fref=nf

Super Duper shares a free worksheet each day, with tips and information about their sales: https://www.facebook.com/SuperDuperPublications?fref=nf

These amazing SLPs links their Teachers Pay Teachers site to Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Natalie-Snyders-on-Teachers-Pay-Teachers/103784796477051?fref=nf and https://www.facebook.com/AllisonSpeechPeeps?fref=nf

A recent discovery gives information about free apps: https://www.facebook.com/techinspecialed/photos/a.373728459312644.94578.181038188581673/787676864584466/?type=1&theater

Finally, last but not least, don't forget to "like" the ADVANCE page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ADVANCEforSpeech

There are lots of resources, and contests for SLPs!

What are YOUR favorite SLP "likes" on Facebook?

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The BEST Part
July 30, 2014 8:51 AM by Valerie Lill

I'm a school-based SLP. If you're reading this blog, it is likely that you are also. Let me be honest here. There are a lot of things I love about my job, and other things that I don't love so much. However, by far, the best perk of being a school-based SLP is the summer "off." I'd be lying to you if I tried to pretend that I don't absolutely love being "off" in the summer. Here are just a few reasons why: Sleeping in a bit (though not much as I'd like to given that my husband's alarm blares bright and early at 7:00 a.m. every weekday!). Having time to go to the gym and work out multiple times a week (and being able to take morning classes instead of the dreaded afternoon and evening classes when I'm already exhausted). Getting together with my friends I rarely see during the school year - including those in education (all of whom are also off in the summer, as I discussed a bit in my last blog). Having time to clean my house (ok, maybe this is not a perk...). Being a stay-at-home mom to my son and all the fun that comes with it - taking him to swimming lessons, using our season passes to visit a local amusement/water park at least once a week, mini golf, fishing, bowling or going to the movies on a rainy day, playdates, going to the library, eating ice cream at one of the many local joints, family vacations, day trips ... the list is nearly endless. The bottom line is, having TIME is what I enjoy. I'm in the midst of loving every bit of my summer vacation (because once that calendar turns to August, I know it is the beginning of the end).

One of my biggest pet peeves is when non-education folks bash professionals who work in schools with declarations that we are overpaid and underworked because we have "three months off" every summer and get paid for it. I know all of you out there know (since you work in schools like me!) this statement simply isn't accurate. The last time I checked, mid-June through mid-August is only slightly more than 2 months off. We don't get "paid" for our summers off either. Depending on where you work, you likely either only get paid for 10 months of the school year or your salary is stretched throughout the year to get paid year-round (my district does this; however I opt to take the lump sum in June.)

To all the naysayers out there and those who constantly criticize and question those of us in public education ... Yes, I am "off" in the summer. Yes, I love being "off" in the summer. Yes, it is a great perk. Yes, I believe we deserve to be "off" in the summer. We work our tails off mid-August through mid-June, arriving to school early, staying late, and still bringing home our laptops so we can complete mandatory paperwork on our own time. If you add up all the hours I spend outside of my contracted day (8:15-4:15) doing schoolwork during the school year, it likely adds up to the number of work hours I'm "off" in the summer. Here is the real reason I think the public complains that no person working year-round would admit to: Yes, I understand that you are at least just a teeny bit (if not more) jealous of the life of leisure that I'm currently enjoying. I put "off" in quotes because I know that a lot of other school-based SLPs do a lot of work in the summer or even work another job in the summer. I'll be honest with all of you blog readers, I don't do a lot of school-related tasks/work in the summer. Thus far, I've watched a two-hour online training  while my son and some neighborhood kids were playing in the backyard, bought one new game - Magic Jinn, which I've blogged about before - on clearance for $2.98 at Target, voted on the proposed  teacher contract, exchanged my old school laptop for a new one at the high school, checked my email at least weekly and responded when needed, posted to a speech pathology discussion group on Facebook looking for ideas to decorate my room based on my school's Dr. Seuss theme this year, and wrote this blog every other week. That's it. Do I feel guilty about this? Not in the least. That's what summer break if for! Come August, I'll get back into "school mode" again, I promise!  I hope all of you are having a great summer "off!"

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A Speech Circuit!
July 24, 2014 1:14 PM by Alexandra Streeter

Today as I huffed and puffed through a circuit workout with a few friends, I remembered how well a "speech circuit" worked for me a few years ago. My goals for the speech circuit are to have the students evaluating themselves, get as many productions of their targets as possible (using a tally counter; the kids LOVE being in charge of their own!)

I used some of the materials and ideas from Articulation LAB.

NOTE: I used to have a copy of these materials, and they are neat, but you can create everything on your own if you want.

Depending on the number of students, I create three or four stations through which the children rotate. There is usually a game station where students take turns listening to each other saying their targets, and then they take a turn of a game.

Some of my favorite games to use include:

Pop up Pirate

Or Crocodile Dentist

Games that involve just ONE step are best; the goal is always to get as many productions of targets as possible, hopefully 100 in a session! I have a gross motor station; kids have to say their targets while doing jumping jacks, hopping or skipping. I always include a SILENT station; kids use a whisper phone and the ARTICULATION STATION app on the IPAD to quietly listen to their targets.

Finally, there is an SLP station where the kids worked with me. It helped to have the help of a paraeducator, but I've made it work on my own. Working with kids using these stations yields many repetitions, while I get to serve larger groups of kids at a time.

Have you used this approach either as an RtI intervention, or as artic services?

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Meeting of the Minds
July 16, 2014 10:22 AM by Valerie Lill

It is summer vacation for the majority of school-based SLPs. Time to relax, spend time with our families, go on vacation, maybe even take a few minutes to spend time on ourselves. One of my favorite things I enjoy doing in the summer is to catch up with friends I have limited time to see during the school year. Given that I work in the schools, many of my friends also work in schools and are available for get-togethers and playdates during the summer.

Today, I was able to get together with three very important friends - three other school-based SLPs. More than 6 years ago, we all worked together at the same school district. We all worked together for about 5 years - during that time we celebrated weddings and the birth of six of our seven children. Over the years, we have all gone our separate ways employment-wise (though coincidentally two of them still work together at a different place of employment), but continue to remain friends and school-based SLP resources for one another. I truly respect these ladies' opinions and advice on school-based SLP issues, concerns, therapy approaches, goals, you name it. I think it is so important to have friends who are school-based SLPs (we truly "get" each other and can post those ridiculous quotes on Facebook that only SLPs find humorous), but even more so to have friends who work at different places. It is always interesting and enlightening to hear about how different school districts handle all things SLP. Plus, in the heart of the school-year,  I know I count on my SLP friends. They always lend an ear when I need to vent. They offer suggestions and ideas for goals, assessments, and therapy activities. Most importantly, they know what it is like to be a school-based SLP (something regular ed and special ed teacher friends will never fully understand).

So on the too few and far between occasions when we four school-based SLP friends get together, it becomes a real meeting of the minds. School-based speech topics that came up in our chat today (while all of our children played in my yard) included changes of building assignments/caseloads, being a mentor, administration, auditory processing evaluations, caseload calculations (workload  versus caseload), and procedures for screenings (i.e., informed consent, child study teams). Among the four of us, there are three different school-based SLP employers represented, all of whom handle things a bit differently.

I don't want to make us sound like a bunch of speech nerds talking about speech things all day.  (Though I love this shirt http://teespring.com/slpphonetics and this https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1425215197760272&set=a.1394490800832712.1073741827.1394488657499593&type=1&theater so maybe I am a speech nerd?  Anyway, we of course talk about lots of other topics other than speech! Children, summer activities, vacations, family, and class reunions were hot topics this afternoon.

I hope you are all enjoying your summer and are taking a break from being a school-based SLP, if only for a little while. I can't stress how important it is to spend some quality time with your friends, especially those who are school-based SLPs!

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Keeping Our Kids Safe Over the Summer: Children with ASD
July 9, 2014 8:14 AM by Alexandra Streeter

In my last two posts, I wrote about keeping kids safe on the Internet over the summer. Today, I want to address the importance of keeping kids with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) safe. The summer is a particularly dangerous time, because of the lack of routine, and increased access to water.

Drowing is the No. 1 cause of death for children with autism.

If a family has  a pool or hot tub, they should purchase an alarm or cover.

Ensure the doors are locked, and again, consider an alarm for the door.

Teach the child to swim. (School staff could consider visits to a swimming pool to work on this)

Purchase an ID bracelet or a tracking device for a child who is non verbal.

Let neighbors know there is a child  with ASD nearby who might wander.

As SLPs, we  work hard to teach kids a way to provide personal information, whether that be using the ID bracelet, learning how to write the name/address (some children with autism have better written language than oral language), ensuring they have a little communication wallet attached to clothing.

We can create social stories for the higher functioning students that pertain to safety about water/wandering.

Teach children the universal "stop" sign, cut it out, laminate and give copies to parents to stick on doors, etc.

Share this resource with parents: http://www.projectlifesaver.org/

Do you have any tips/tricks that would help parents keep their children with autism safe? Please share below or in our ADVANCE Facebook page.

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When I Retire...
July 2, 2014 7:56 AM by Valerie Lill

The title makes it sound like it is right around the corner for me, but in reality, it is about 20 years away (Yikes!). The topic of retirement is never really one that crosses my mind as it is too distant to even give it a second thought. However, in  the past month I attended two retirement parties - one for two teachers retiring from my building and another for an SLP I worked with at my previous district - so seeing others at the end of long, successful careers made me think about mine and where I'd like to be by the time I retire.

For the two co-workers who retired at my building - one was a regular education teacher, and one was a special education teacher. On the last day of school, when co-workers spoke about these two women to the staff and students at our building, they raved about them as teachers but also as friends, mothers, school volunteers,  etc. I thought it was nice that these personal touches were included. Yes, they were teachers for many years, but that alone did not define them.

The retirement dinner for my former SLP co-worker was a smaller, more personal gathering. There were at least 10+ SLPs in attendance from throughout her career. It was fascinating to see all the different SLPs she worked with over the years (many of whom were still employed, a few now retired). It was also wonderful to see the look of surprise and joy she had as she walked into the room to be greeted by a roomful of SLPs. I'm not 100% sure how many years she spent in my previous district (many  more than I did!); however, during that time her presence on the SLP staff impacted enough of us that some of us came back to honor her at her retirement party. Some of the SLPs there worked with her 20 years ago, some like me worked with her in the past 5-10 years, and others were current co-workers. She expressed to me that although she was indeed retiring from her years in the school, she was not retiring as an SLP (i.e., looking into some private practice, PRN work, covering maternity leaves etc.).

How do I want to be remembered when I retire?  How do any of us want to be remembered when we retire? Do I think I'll become a "famous" SLP and come up with some fabulous treatment approach that will gain me national recognition?  I guess that's possible for any of us, but that's not a goal for me at this point. Suppose I remain in my current job for the next 20 years and subsequently retire from it. How do I want my SLP and non-SLP co-workers to remember me?  What can I do now (and keep doing) that will influence how others see me?

  • Remember that other SLP co-workers will remember me. I need to remember that my interactions with others SLPs now will be remembered, so let them be positive ones!
  • I'd like to be remembered as more than just the "speech teacher" at my building - I'm a co-worker, a friend, a mother, a volunteer, someone who participates in and attends activities at school rather than just the mysterious "speech teacher" whose office is located down a little hall next to the guidance counselor and only comes out on rare occasions.

I've just started scratching the surface as to how I'd like to be remembered when I retire. I have 20 years to work on it, so there's plenty of time!  Are any of you retired from the schools?  What influence do you feel you've had on co-workers and on your schools?  If you're not near retirement, start thinking now about the legacy you'll leave behind when you're done being an "SLP in the Schools."

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Keeping Our Kids Safe Over the Summer ...The Internet!
June 25, 2014 7:22 AM by Alexandra Streeter

In my last post, I discussed how extra important it is to help kids with cognitive, language and developmental disabilities understand safety when it comes to their smart phones and gadgets. Today, I want to share some resources I have discovered that protect kids on the Internet.

Here is an article which explains how to set global parental controls across devices:


If you are in the market for a new router, consider Linksys.


You can easily set the wifi controls, and set a timer so that wifi is OFF for certain periods of the day.

Review information at this website: http://www.netsmartz.org/internetsafety with your child.

Check with the parents of your children's friends. It always helps when other parents are on the same page. (Will kids be looking at the computer alone in a different room?)

Check out this parental control software: http://www.mobicip.com/

Read this book: I Rules: You Can Find It Here. 


This article reviews five parental control apps:


And check out the parental controls built into your child's phone or device.

As usual, ensure that the family computer is in a public space so your child knows what he/she is doing.

Finally, it's important to keep the conversation open with your child, and especially with your child who has a learning or developmental disability. Provide examples about what is OK and not OK, and be specific about consequences. Do not be embarrassed to use concrete language and vocabulary (in understandable ways). If they don't learn what is safe Internet behavior from their safe adults, they will be more influenced by friends.

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School's Over: It's a Wrap!
June 16, 2014 7:45 AM by Valerie Lill

I'm writing this blog on my second full day of summer break. Several bags are nearly-packed from my upcoming vacation. I realize that depending on what part of the country you are in, when you started your year,  and how many snow days you had this past winter, many of you are probably still in school. I'm not trying to make you jealous - you'll all be joining me shortly!

So another school year is in the books. This means it is time for a bit of self-reflection before my brain goes into complete summer mode. Did I accomplish anything this year? Did I learn anything this year? Is there anything I want to change or accomplish for next year? I'd like to say my answer to all of these questions, at least to some extent, is yes.

I'd say my biggest accomplishment, at least at a district level, after what seemed like eons of asking, our district how has its own loaner iPad for trialing AAC apps with students. In the past I either worked with kids on my own iPad (fine for in therapy but not good for real trialing as they could not take my iPad with them everywhere, every day in school), or I had students' names put on waiting lists. The wait could be anywhere from a few weeks to as long as several months. Not very practical when waiting to trial! I've had limited opportunity to trial the loaner iPad with students, but I look forward to the sheer convenience of having such an iPad available in house (and shared by only eight SLPs versus hundreds!).

I had the opportunity to attend three different professional trainings this year - including one on articulation/phonology (learned a method for getting a non-stimulable kid to produce /k/ that worked like a charm the very first time after months of frustration!), a LAMP training (which I had been wanting to attend for years), and one on training communication partners in AAC (I attended this training near the end of the year, so I have yet to use anything I've learned, but hopefully next year!)

From a "speech room" perspective, I finally went through and organized my books on my bookshelf. I organized them areas they address, theme, and/or characters. Next year I really need to make an effort that when I'm reading "spring" books to put them back on the "spring" section of the shelf.  I also bought a rolling cart with four drawers to organize my materials that I use to make adapted books versus having crafting supplies in plastic bags and random drawers throughout my room. On a related note, another accomplishment is that one of the Life Skills teachers and I got a grant for next school year to make an adapted book library for her class. This was my very first attempt at getting a grant, so I was thrilled that we received it!

Next year. Do I really want to think about this before August? Not really, but I sort of already have. Things to change, well, the OT and I have done co-treat sessions for many of our students with moderate-severe impairments. We realized that it is a great model, but it doesn't work the way it should for all students. We've already discussed which students for whom we'll continue the co-treat model and which ones we will see using more "traditional," separate, pull-out sessions. Since my initial grant request was fulfilled, I would like to pursue applying for future grants (my district offers them twice per school year). I already have a few ideas in my head!

So how did your school year wrap up? Did you have any exciting accomplishments for this year?  What are in your plans for next school year? Have a great summer break!

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About this Blog

    Speech in the Schools
    Occupation: School-based speech-language pathologists
    Setting: Traditional and specialized K-12 classrooms
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