Updates

Whew… This year has been off to a fast and furious start. I’ve started at a new middle school, picked up where I left off at the high school, and my time on the Assistive Technology (AT) team has increased! The increase in AT time has given me an opportunity to really tackle some projects to support our AAC users (and the professionals that work with them). Here are the two major projects that have consumed most of my time:

1. AAC support group for our SLPs that work with students who are using/could benefit from AAC. It’s a great way to share information and evidence based practices, and we talk about what’s working/not working for us. We’ve had our first meeting, and have the next one in a couple of weeks. This seems to be a success and I’m going to go ahead and add it to the win column.

2. Grant writing. After the PODD roll out didn’t go so well (due to my lack of availability to train staff), I thought it was time to take a step back. At the PODD training over the summer, Gayle Porter talked about the need to establish communicative environments for our AAC users. This foundation is KEY and I realized that I skipped this step last year. So, this year I’m going to change it up and support our professionals to effectively work with AAC users. That’s where the grant writing comes in. I’m writing a grant to our Public School Foundation to purchase materials for teachers to implement with their AAC users.

I will blog more about this in detail later, but the major points are:
* Professional development on myths/misconceptions of AAC users
* Professional development on the importance of aided language input
* Core vocabulary training
* Creating core vocabulary boards for teachers to use in the classroom

It’s important for me to really support teachers and staff, instead of adding one more thing to their unending list of demands. I don’t want this to be just one more thing, but something that teachers can easily put in place and will really make a difference for our AAC kids. I’ll keep you posted on how it all turns out.

Has anyone else done training like this before? Any info is helpful!

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Camp Chatterbox Wrap Up

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After a full week, I have recovered enough to blog about my week at Camp Chatterbox. To summarize my experience in one word – it was amazing. If you’re interested in the nitty gritty details, read on…

I left on a Friday morning and drove 11 hours!!! Yes, what was supposed to be a 7 hour drive took me 4 extra hours. This was because I didn’t know to expect major Friday night traffic on the Jersey Turnpike. Lesson learned. Once I finally made it to camp, I got to know my bunk mates. I shared a space with four other camp related personnel. The coolest thing about this was how immersed you were in the AAC culture. We talked about it at night before turning out the light, and brought it up first thing in the (very early) morning.

We spent Saturday and Sunday morning in training and preparing for the campers and families to arrive. That feeling of anticipation was the hardest for me. I just wanted everyone to get there. Finally, the campers arrived on Sunday afternoon and we had an awesome kick off event. Joan Bruno, camp director, planned an awesome theme – Road trip New Jersey. We started off in Hoboken with a Cake Boss themed introduction. All week we had cool New Jersey activities that culminated in the Ms. New Jersey pageant (in Atlantic City). The amount of detail and work that went into planning these activities was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. All of the families had attended the camp previously, but everyone was so welcoming and supportive. I cannot thank them enough for the kindness, patience, and acceptance I felt.

I worked with an awesome teacher and a great group of teens. Earlier this year I attended a PODD training with Gayle Porter. She said that it was important to talk to competent AAC users and boy did I meet some competent users there. I met an author, an artist/inventor, a world traveler, a budding entrepreneur, and a number of other great people. All individuals who use AAC. I left with many new friends and lots of connections.

In summary, camp was a lot of work. I was exhausted and spent most of last week trying to catch up on sleep (while starting a new school year). It was worth it. I had an incredible experience. I can’t even describe the feeling of being totally immersed in an AAC world. The number one lesson I learned was to SHUT UP! Just stop talking and let things happen. Good advice for anyone.

 

 

COUNTDOWN TO CAMP CHATTERBOX

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Three days! On Friday, I will be driving to NJ to spend a week at Camp Chatterbox. I’m so excited and a little nervous to try something new so far from home. I know it will be a great experience and I can’t wait to blog about it when I get back. At the PODD training I attended earlier this summer, Gayle Porter said that it was important to talk to individuals who are competent AAC users.  I know that I will have the pleasure to meet lots of individuals who use lots of different types of communication devices. It’s gong to be a blast and I’m looking forward to soaking up all of the information I can. In preparation, I read a book by a former camper  from Camp Chatterbox. It’s a lovely work of fiction about a young girl with CP who goes to camp for 10 days. I loved it and got some insight on what to expect (I have never been to an overnight camp). The book is called Dancing Daisies by Sara Pyszka. You can find her website here and a link to the book on Amazon here. I’m looking forward to meeting Sara and all the campers and staff at Camp Chatterbox. Stay tuned for updates on how it goes!

10 Tips for the New School Based SLP

With the start of school rapidly approaching, I’ve seen several tips for the newly minted clinical fellows out there. I’m going to jump on this band wagon and offer some nuggets of information that I learned along the way.

1. YOU ARE GOING TO MESS UP!!!! It’s just a matter of when. We are all human and we all make mistakes. When the inevitable happens, take responsibility, work to make it right, and MOVE ON! Believe me when I say, “It will be ok.”

2. If you are working in the school system, make friends with the front office staff and custodians. They run the school and can basically address any issue you will ever have.

3. Ask for HELP. Even if you are the only SLP on site, bring difficult clinical cases to your supervisor or fellow co-workers. Asking questions does not make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing. Take every opportunity you have to learn from your coworkers.

4. It’s ok to procrastinate… a little bit… My first year of work, I would rush to complete any paperwork/task that was given to me (e.g. completing annual professional development plans) well before the due date. Inevitably something changed (“Hey Ashley we gave you the wrong form”) and I ended up doing the work twice. It’s important to meet deadlines, but you don’t need to complete things months in advance. Wait and see how it’s all going to shake out.

5. Your relationships matter more than the amazing activities you plan. I spent a ridiculous amount of time my first year finding and making in depth materials for my students. Pinterest has helped immensely with that (definitely get into Pinterest if you haven’t already), but I also quit worrying about finding the perfect activity and focused on establishing connections with my students. I’m not saying, don’t have a plan – but really think about what the goal is for that student. Then think about how you can address this goal using what’s in front of you and what the student cares about. Check out my post on inclusive practices here. I doubt my students will remember the awesome board game I invented, but I hope they will remember that I listened to what they had to say and advocated for them.

6. Stretch out activities. Again, when I was planning these elaborate activities I found that students couldn’t always complete the task(s) I prepared in one session. I found myself rushing through sessions to get everything checked off the list. Remember – it’s not about the final product, it’s how you get there. I see this a lot when working on written expression. Many times my students were just worried about getting the assignment done, and negate the entire process of writing. My greatest success last year was when one of my high schoolers was given a writing prompt and asked, “Can I preplan first?”

7. Ask “Why?” and don’t be offended when someone asks you “Why?” Basically, if you don’t know why you’re doing something, nobody else will either. Keep asking yourself, “Why am I using this evaluation tool?” or “Why am I asking this student to complete this task?” If you can answer this question, you will be fine. It’s not a bad idea to state the reasons up front to avoid any confusion down the road. It’s also ok to ask others “Why did you do that?” You can learn a whole lot by doing this.

8. Smile – even when you don’t feel like it. When you walk down the hallways, smile big and say hello. Even if you aren’t in the building that much, people will at least know you as the nice, happy person that walks around.

9. When you feel overwhelmed, repeat this mantra “This is the last first time I will start at this school” or “That was the last first IEP meeting I will ever have.” You will never ever ever ever start a new job as a clinical fellow again. You’ve done it!

10. Try to leave work at work! I still struggle with this as I tend to take things too personally and carry a lot of baggage home with me (both emotional and work to be done). I have never met one person who worked in the schools that felt like they had everything checked off his/her To Do list. You know that feeling of wrapping up a semester and feeling accomplished? Yah- that’s over. There’s always going to be more to do. Really prioritize what needs to happen and what would be nice to happen. Focus on what needs to happen.

Good luck to all of those new SLPs out there. You are entering crazy, fulfilling, and awesome profession.

Does anybody else have some recommendations for recent graduates?

Thank You New Voices Foundation!!!!

Whew…it’s been awhile since my last post. Since I’ve last written, another school year has wrapped up and I kicked off the summer with an amazing professional development opportunity. Thanks to the genorosity of the folks at the New Voices Foundation, I was able to attend a PODD 2 day workshop led by Gayle Porter. To be in the same room with one of my idols was awesome in itself, but I learned so much. Seriously – Gayle Porter has this wealth of knowledge about people with complex communication needs and has dedicated her career (and what seems like her life) to enhancing communication for those who require augmentative and alternative forms of communication.

For the first day and a half of the training, I had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind. The one I get at all conferences, “How am I going to find time to get this started in the real wold?” But as the afternoon of the final conference day wrapped up, Gayle talked about the importance of creating an environment to support aided language development. This was my AHA! moment. This is where I need to start. I can’t throw tools at teachers and expect them to just implement them in the classroom with no background knowledge. We need to first focus on building foundations that support the aided language. Here are some key points:

* We need to model, model, model  (in NATURAL, everyday contexts) the language we want the child to produce (including augmentative and alternative communication). Aided language input (ALI) is an evidence based practice!

*  NO PRESSURE!!!! One of my favorite Gayle Porter quotes was, “Nobody has ever died from using pictographs to communicate. So go ahead and do it.” Basically, there is nothing that an individual has to do to show that he/she is “ready” to communicate.

* Likewise, don’t put demands on individuals to use the communication system. You don’t want to the person to see the communication system as work. Unfortunately, this is not what has happened to many of our older students. You need to overcome the idea that the communication system means they have to do something (and they may be unsure of what to do). This can be a slow process, but DON’T GIVE UP!!!!

* Which leads to the next point. What if the behaviors we sometimes see in individuals who are nonverbal are NOT because they can’t adequately express themselves? What if those behaviors are the result of individuals NOT understanding what is being asked of them? Food for thought….

* EVERYONE has the right to communicate. We know that. But I’m going to take it one step further. Everyone has the right to be an environment that supports their language development – no matter what the system may be.

So…. I am excited to get started in the fall. I hope to be able to educate other professionals in my district on these key principals and give them a strong foundation to implement augmentative and alternative forms of communication.

Again, I cannot thank the New Voices Foundation enough for providing me with this wonderful opportunity. I look forward to future collaborations and growing our AAC program in the public schools of NC!

Feeling Happy…

This evening, I had the honor of watching my mentor (Ruth Morgan of Chapel Hill Snippets) receive an award for her many contributions to the practice of serving students who need alternative or augmentative communication. It was a much deserved award and her passion for her work was evident.

A WONDERFUL organization called the New Voices Foundation sponsored the event in honor of an amazing individual who used AAC – Laura Jane Parker. They awarded four individuals who have dedicated their careers to serving students with physical and communication needs. Check out their website to see more of the awesome work that they do – I could go on all day!

It was a true honor to be in this room, surrounded by some amazing professionals, celebrating the work of our peers. I will admit that prior to this event, I was feeling kind of low. Political agendas (both state and local) had gotten me down. But sitting in that room – I felt the love.

The folks behind New Voices truly care about individuals with communication needs and for the professionals that are working to serve those individuals. That’s something I haven’t felt in a while. I left with a renewed spirit.

The field of AAC is dynamic. This is the time to be innovative and to collaborative! Tthings aren’t great in the NC public school systems, but there are people out there fighting for us to get the tools and support we need. I hope to work with New Voices in the future.

It’s time to get out of my funk and focus on the good – believe me there’s a lot of good. It’s an exciting time to work in AAC!

What do others do when you start feeling low about your work?

 

Tis the Season…for Job Interviews

As many of you know, I have the privilege of working with an enthusiastic and hard working graduate clinician this semester. It’s been a true pleasure to work with her and I know she will go on to be a great speech language pathologist. In a few short weeks she will be graduating and looking for her clinical fellowship position. I remember these days, and how nerve wracking the job interview process can be. Luckily for me, a fellow speech language pathologist – TJ Ragan from “The Gladdest Thing Under the Sun” wrote this AMAZING blog post with job interview questions to practice. Click HERE to find the link to those questions.

This was my bible when I was interviewing, so I asked if I could share this on my blog. I hope others find it as useful as I did. Good luck!

Does anyone else have any interesting job interview questions to share?