The warnings about summer semester were all true – incredibly busy and incredibly fast. I can’t believe how much class and clinic was crammed into about 10 weeks. But hey, I survived! And I had an awesome experience at my offsite. I spent two days a week at a developmental center that provides OT, PT, SLP, and mental health services for kids aged birth to six. They have a day treatment program that allows the kiddos to gain invaluable social interaction with peers in a classroom setting while receiving pull-out therapy services. I was mostly involved with treatment, which was generally a thirty minute individual session. All of these children were diagnosed as developmentally delayed or with autism spectrum disorders. Some were complicated cases with very limited means of communication and absolutely no verbal output. Others were strictly working on articulation. Some of my clients made incredible progress during those 10 weeks. The first time I saw one little boy, not quite 2 yet, he barely made a sound while playing with me. During the last session I had with him, he said a complete sentence (“I get it!”). Many of my other kids will probably continue to need services as they get older, but this particular little boy seemed well on his way to catching up with his peers. This was an incredible opportunity to see a wide range of abilities and work closely with other therapists to determine the best way to treat these little ones. I really loved this placement, and it was awesome when my supervisor stated that I was CF-ready regarding kids by the end of it. I miss the kids there, but I’m excited to see what my fall clinic placements will teach me.
Now that I’ve had about a week off from school, I can safely say that I survived the spring semester. This was by far the most emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting semester of my life, and I’m pretty sure it’s only going to get more chaotic. Thankfully, I had fantastic clinic placements. Like I mentioned before I was in an elementary school twice a week. After Spring Break, I took on the full caseload on those two days and did therapy with about 20 kids. This was seriously the most fun ever. The preschoolers were probably my favorite simply because I love that age group. I had a three year old who came in first thing in the morning for individual therapy (which sometimes turned into group). He was perfectly behaved and started talking to me SO MUCH by the end of the semester. My supervisor said that she noticed improvement from session to session and that he really seemed to enjoy coming to speech. I absolutely LOVED working with this little dude. His speech problem was definitely phonologically based, so we mostly worked on initial consonants and built in some medial and final consonants that should be emerging as well.
My most challenging group had four first grade boys. One in particular had emotion regulation difficulties, so getting him to participate was sometimes a challenge. They liked to compete, and some even got mean about it. I mean seriously, who cheats at Candy Land? But these were also my sweetest kids. One told every day, “I love you with all my heart, Miss Lindsay.” When I gave them their end of the year gifts (just pencils with a gripper and a note saying “You’re SHARP!”), he said, “This means I’ll never forget you!” I just about broke down and cried right there. Another of the boys in the group told me that he liked coming to speech class more than his regular class. I really miss my boys. They probably made a bigger impact on me than I did on them. It was so awesome seeing them meet their goals and make such progress in their understanding.
I also learned a lot from two of my nonverbal clients. My happiest moment with them was when one of the kiddos used his PECS sentence strip to request a toy accurately four times in a row. You could see he knew exactly what he was doing, and he was so excited that he was able to ask me for that panda bear. It absolutely made my day to see him make that small bit of progress. And on my last day at the school, the same kiddo saw me leaving. He stopped in the hallway and turned around to give me a hug. He had never done that before, so, once again, the waterworks just about started right then and there.
One of my preschool groups included a little boy who was just working on articulation. He’s quite shy and quiet, and he hates to be wrong. He takes everything very seriously, and he’s super polite and sweet. The first few weeks I worked with him, he barely spoke to me. His little face was so serious. On my last day, I told him and the other little one that someone else would be working with them next. He hugged my arm as we walked back to his teacher and said, “I’m gonna miss you.”
All the kids I had the pleasure of working with taught me so much. I loved listening to their stories, hearing about their birthday parties and field trips, and helping them make progress on their /th/ sounds and grammar structure. I also had a fantastic supervisor who provided me with specific feedback and trusted me with her kids. This placement once again confirmed that I’m going into the right field.
I’m definitely still in the adjustment phase for this semester. My internal clock likes to think nothing should function before noon, so 8 a.m. days have been a rude awakening. I’m currently at an elementary school two days a week, and I’m doing Head Start and private school hearing, speech, and language screenings one morning a week. I absolutely love the school. The kids are fantastic, and I really like the group aspect of therapy. Most of the kids could use some pragmatics help in addition to their other speech and language goals, so making them cooperate with other children is useful.
Unfortunately, I mess up. A lot. I just have a few of the groups to myself right now (and of course I took the easier ones), but I’m still having trouble keeping them engaged. I’m used to specifically targeting goals throughout the entire session, where every activity is super planned out. Their routine is more 15 minutes of drill, 15 minutes of a game where they have to use their speech sounds/language skills in a “real” context. I’m hoping I catch on soon. I’m strongly considering doing school speech as my career, so hopefully this semester goes well. I haven’t had much experience with other settings, however, so I may easily change my mind.
Spontaneity isn’t my thing. I like lists, organization, and itineraries. I like to know where I’m going, how I’m going there, who else is going, and what I should wear. Rules are my friends, and the more specific, the better.
On the first day of clinic, I panicked.
I was going into this hour-long session without a real plan. I had read the chart, grabbed some possible activities from my supervisor’s office, and wrote down a generic “session plan” for myself. Then I went out and met the parent and my client and pretended to know what I was doing. Then we went back in the therapy room. And nobody died. I didn’t faint. In fact, I actually did some therapy. With the help of my supervisor, I got a reserved, quiet preschooler to talk to me. And I started to figure out some of his goals. Each session after that, I felt a little more comfortable. I could have a general plan, but I could adapt to days when he just didn’t feel like doing what I had planned.
What I’ve learned from this first semester of clinic:
1. Prevention work is important. I absolutely loved my Hope House placement. These kids are considered “at risk” due to circumstances beyond their control, so it’s awesome that we can have a part in evening the odds for them.
2. Supervisors are your BFFs. Seriously. They are so full of experience and information. Although it would sometimes throw me off to have my therapy session taken over, I would learn something new each time my supervisor interacted with my client. They also genuinely care about you as a person and as a professional. They want to help, so ask questions and take advantage of their expertise.
3. Academics are important, but they aren’t everything. I’m having to prioritize a lot. I found myself working on therapy materials more often than studying. You have to find a happy balance because you can pull from academic knowledge in the clinic (and you have to keep a certain GPA to stay in the program!), and you need to be prepared for your clients.
4. Be spontaneous. I don’t mean be crazy. I mean that you have to be able to adapt and change and accept when things don’t go just as planned. It’s more about being able to respond to changes and being able to make your own changes when necessary. Life doesn’t follow a script, and neither does therapy.
I may have more reflections after final grades are posted. 😉
Graduate school is draining.
While I haven’t lost my mind yet, I’ve been almost completely preoccupied with clinic, exams, and projects. I’m also trying to plan out my next four semesters (because there are only four left!) as well as possible clinic assignments for next semester. So while I’m taking a break from studying for my test tomorrow on laryngeal anatomy and physiology, I figured I’d give you a blog post (since I haven’t for nearly a month).
I’m currently in Fluency, a class that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of stuttering. To be honest, I never had much experience with stuttering. When I introduce myself to someone new and explain that I’m in school for speech-language pathology, they typically say “oh, so you work with people who stutter,” if they have any idea at all. Half the people just give me blank stares or say they have no idea what speech-language pathology is.
While a lot of people seem to associate speech therapy with stuttering, I feel like a lot of clinicians don’t feel super comfortable with stuttering therapy. It’s not a required class for many graduate programs, and it’s often not even offered. This means that many newly-graduated clinician will have no classroom experience with fluency disorders and may have never even had a client who stutters.
A major part of this fluency class involves voluntary stuttering in phone conversations and in person. This is to desensitize us to the stuttering (because if you’re not used to it, just hearing someone stutter can make you really uncomfortable) as well as to give us a chance to experience a little bit of the challenges a person who stutters may face in day-to-day life.
I’ll be honest and say I’m nowhere near finished with this project. Confession time: I’m terrified of phone calls. It takes a whole lot of effort for me to dial a phone number. Listening to the ringing builds up the uncomfortable anticipation: my heartbeat gets louder and faster, my face feels hot, and my stomach drops. It’s practically a phobia.
Anyway, when I’m finished with this project, hopefully I’ll have some interesting revelations to share. If you’ve done similar projects, let me know about them in a comment!
One of my clinic placements this semester is at Hope House. We do prevention work with the preschool, focusing on language and pre-literacy skills. I absolutely love this placement. Hope House is special in that it assists HIV-impacted children. The children either have a parent with HIV or are HIV positive themselves.
Hope House was founded in 1994, and it’s the only daycare in the state that’s exclusively dedicated to helping HIV-impacted children and their families. Sadly, Memphis has the 3rd highest rate of AIDS among all metropolitan areas. This city has the fastest growing rate of HIV infection in adolescents in the entire country.
There is so much stigma and discrimination associated with HIV. Many of these affected people are forced to keep their condition a secret from friends, family members, and employers. Part of Hope House’s mission is to educate the public on HIV, including how it’s spread (and how it’s not) and how it affects the lives of those infected.
These very special children deserve to have every opportunity in the world. If you’d like to learn more about Hope House, you can check it out here. I’ve absolutely loved reading books, singing songs, and making crafts with these kids.