The Virtual Blog Tour Award

tour-through-blogland1

I would like to thank Edwina from Edwina’s Episodes for the compliment of having been nominated to participate in a “Tour Through Blogland,” also recognized as “The Virtual Blog Tour Award.”  I am happy to accept and appreciate the consideration.  It is a privilege to be counted amongst such a distinctive group of nominees.  Edwina’s Episodes is one of my favorite blogs, because she is able to find the humor in everyday life–which isn’t always an easy thing to do.   Edwina’s poetry is creative and fun; and, while her posts are witty and hilarious, they are also at times very moving.  Please take a few minutes to visit her blog.

Here are the rules:

  1. Answer four questions about your creative process which lets other bloggers and visitors know what inspires you to do what you do.
  2. Write a one-time article which is to be posted on a Monday (the date supplied by your nominator).  This article can be in the same post in which you answered the four questions.
  3. Pass the tour on to up to four other bloggers. Give them the rules and a specific Monday to post.

What am I working on at the moment?

At the moment, I am working on finding a distributor for a children’s book that I wrote and self-published last summer.  I am a speech and language pathologist and work with children who are on the autism spectrum.  Children who have autism spectrum disorders often have difficulty with nonverbal language (e.g., tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, body language) and social interaction. My book, Clementine:  The Communi-CAT, A Guide for Teaching Social Communication Skills uses research that indicates that “animals encourage social interaction.”   It features a beautiful tricolor cat as well as two young children who demonstrate different facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice (meow) through descriptive text and humorous, colorful photographs.  Clementine:  The Communi-CAT engages children between the ages of four and eight years of age in a manner that creates interest and an increased understanding of social language.  It is also an educational and therapeutic tool that teachers, parents, or therapists can use to generalize social language skills to the classroom, follow-up with therapy goals at home, or use as part of a pragmatic language treatment program.  I have also begun a draft of a second book in a series of children’s books featuring animals and communication themes.

Clementine:  The Communi-CAT is currently available at Givens Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Lynchburg, Virginia or via my website: www.clementinethecommuni-cat.com.  Barnes and Noble Small Press Department has recently shown interest by requesting an order of these books as well.  I understand that it may take several months before the book is listed in their system as I must find a distributor first.  However, Barnes and Noble Booksellers indicated that pre-ordering Clementine: The Communi-CAT may be an option.

*Clementine:  The Communi-CAT  A Guide for Teaching Social Communication Skills is not meant to replace the evaluation and intervention of a licensed and credentialed speech-language pathologist (SLP) or any other medical or education professionals.

How does my work differ to others in my genre?

I think my work is different because it is eclectic.  I have many interests and enjoy writing about different topics and sharing my perspectives on them.

Why do I write/create what I do?

I’ve enjoyed writing since I was a teenager.  In high school, I wrote for the school newspaper and literary publication.  I also chose to attend Hollins College (now Hollins University), a liberal arts college that is known for its writing program.  However, along the way, I became interested in becoming a speech and language pathologist, and most of my writing became technical:  writing evaluation reports, Individual Education Plans, treatment goals, and transcribing language samples.  Although creative writing went by the wayside, I still enjoy being creative in my work as well as in my home and garden.  This past May marked the tenth anniversary of restoring my family’s home place, which has been in my family for over one hundred years.  I wanted to mark the occasion by writing about my experience.  I enjoyed it so much that I continued writing about my memories of growing up on my family’s farm and living next door to my grandparents.  My blog, Fourth Generation Farmgirl, just evolved from there.

How does my writing/creative process work?

I usually write about something that interests or inspires me:  family, a childhood memory, a farm story, a hobby, or something that I think may resonate with or be helpful to others.  Sometimes a thought or idea will just come out of nowhere, and words just seem to flow onto the paper.  I find this happens more if I have a strong emotional connection to my topic.

 

Article:

As a speech and language pathologist, I’ve worked in a number of settings, including hospital, public school, and private clinic.  I’ve also worked with adults as well as children.  Although I enjoy working with people of all ages with varying speech and language issues, I find that working with children is especially enriching and rewarding.  Children who have limited communication skills are typically identified and treated for their speech or language delays between the ages of two and eight; this is usually due to having difficulty expressing themselves effectively and/or having limited understanding of language.  Children who have delayed speech and language skills may also demonstrate challenging behaviors, such as, tantrums, hitting, and biting.

In my opinion, behavior IS communication; and, for many children without effective communication skills, it’s their only method to express themselves.  After all, not being able to tell someone we’re hungry or really need to use the bathroom may just evoke a kicking and screaming fit from us as well.  It is my job to help these students by providing opportunities to learn speech and language in a meaningful way.  This may include instruction on sound, syllable, and word production as well as language treatment, including sign language and other forms of augmentative communication.  This is sometimes easier said than done; as I mentioned earlier, there may be challenging behaviors to overcome.

When I first began working in this profession, I would sometimes feel overwhelmed by the complexity of a child’s needs, including dealing with those behaviors.  I am a conscientious person and a worrier by nature.  So, this meant that I was always over prepared, spending hours planning, preparing, and visualizing a treatment session.  Sometimes, though, it didn’t matter how prepared I was for treatment, because a student may have other ideas– running around the room, rolling on the floor, or playing with a toy.  When this happened, I learned to let go of my plans.  However, I did this while still being mindful of my purpose.  I realized that creating a meaningful context out of an activity that was child-directed was key to gaining joint-attention and ultimately helping a student to communicate.  It didn’t matter how fantastic my treatment plan was if my student’s attention wasn’t on the lesson.  I was most successful when I was able to meet a child where he or she was engaged at the moment, embrace their interests, and give meaning to their activities through interaction, verbal and nonverbal language, and positive reinforcement.  What I learned was this:  By generating a genuine affection and respect for my students and their interests as well as an empathy and compassion for their challenges, I was almost always able to address their therapy goals in a way that was productive and enjoyable for both of us.

Over the years, I’ve worked with many students who have autism, but one in particular comes to mind; I’ll call him Matthew (not his real name).  Matthew was about six years old and nonverbal, except for using some sign language.  He was not able to vocalize and sequence sounds to produce speech.  Although Matthew had difficulty with speech production, he appeared to understand everything.  Because of this difficulty expressing himself, he was very frustrated.  We often heard Matthew coming before we saw him, and it wasn’t unusual to spend the first few minutes of therapy getting him up from the floor and onto a chair or otherwise engaged in a task.  Our treatment goals, among other things, included working on producing and sequencing vowel and consonant sounds and combinations.  This was challenging for Matthew as he had a disorder that caused the signal from his brain to his articulators (e.g. tongue, teeth, lips) to get jumbled en route.  This meant that he would grope at trying to put his tongue, teeth, and lips in the right place at the right time to produce a sound or word.

Making a sound or saying a word seems like a fairly straight-forward thing to do, but it’s actually an extremely complex fine motor skill.  Articulating a word happens in a split second, but there’s a lot going on in the background. Take the word “Twinkle” for example:  Our tongues start on the alveolar ridge or bone behind our front teeth to articulate /t/, while our lips are simultaneously rounding for the bilabial /w/.  Then our tongues begin to retract for the vowel /i/ in the middle of our mouths and then continue retracting all the way back for a velar /k/. Finally, the tongue shoots forward and upward to form the liquid /l/.  That’s just the articulatory aspect of speech production.  And, I haven’t even discussed the phonatory part, yet:  voiced sounds, voiceless sounds, and how the vocal cords vibrate for /w, i, l/ but not for /t, k/.  The brain coordinates the articulatory, phonatory, and respiratory systems in order to produce speech in a fraction of a second.  If there is any problem in the area of the brain that’s in charge of all of this, then it can be quite difficult and frustrating for a child like Matthew to speak with ease.

Matthew’s challenging behaviors had become much worse.  He was extremely frustrated and angry and not very interested in my agenda.  But he WAS interested in toy cars and airplanes as well as a little, stuffed worm from The Very Hungry Caterpillar book.   I incorporated these toys into our treatment plan; one of his favorite activities was moving the toy airplane in rhythm with his vocalizations.  He was also allowed to play with these toys after a few good-hearted attempts at a particular treatment objective.  This worked most of the time, but there were times when it didn’t.  Occasionally, Matthew would slide out of his chair onto the floor, vocalizing loudly, crying, and shaking his head “no.”  At these moments, I would sit quietly until he was mostly finished expressing himself.  And, then I would say:  “Matthew, I know this is really hard, and you feel mad.  I’m sorry this is so hard for you, but I know that you can do this.”  I said these words deliberately and sincerely.  Most of the time, after sitting there for a few minutes, he’d blink his watery eyes and then hand me the toy airplane that we had been using to practice his vocalizations.  These moments were always an inspiration, and we kept on going.

While we continued to address Matthew’s overall communication goals, we also worked to improve his speech production.  We worked on producing vowels and consonants, and then we worked to sequence vowel-consonant, consonant-vowel, and consonant-vowel-consonant combinations.  We used melody and movement to support these endeavors and a whole lot of positive reinforcement.  And, after days and months of hard work, Matthew finally said his name…. for the first time.  While it wasn’t a perfect production, it was a very close approximation.  As he finished saying his name, we looked at one another and smiled–jubilation!  “You did it!” I exclaimed.  And he cracked a rarely seen smile back at me.  “You did it,” I quietly said.

Here’s the thing:   I realized that when I looked past the complexity of a child’s communication disorder as well as any challenging behaviors they may be exhibiting at the moment, what I always saw was their humanity.  It was this sense of compassion that encouraged patience and perseverance for both of us.  I came to understand that when I looked from another’s perspective, not only did I become a more effective therapist, but I clearly saw the person before me.

Below is my list of nominees.  Both of these blogs are delightful!  The date for your post is February 16th.

  1. Homesick and Heatstruck
  2. Catterel

I would like to thank Edwina’s Episodes, again, for so kindly thinking of me.  Please take time to visit her blog.

13 Comments »

  1. Congratulations AGAIN!!! I did visit Edwina’s page, as  you suggested, and I highly agreed with her about the dancing sharks!! Good lord….have a great week, Love Lynn

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations. Your article was wonderful. I have a credential in Special Education and can relate to all that you said, except some of technical things about ST. I too feel it is important to engage with the child and meet them where they are and take into consideration their special interests. You are a wonderful ST. I believe behavior is a form of communication as well. Even though your writing skills are always in evidence I think the dedication, intelligence, empathy, creativity and compassion you bring to your ST practice is such a gift to all your students and their families. And good luck on the marketing of your book!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tonya, that was a wonderful post. It was fascinating finding out so much more about you. My niece is also a Speech and Language Therapist so I have some idea of what is involved. I was so moved by your story of ‘Matthew’. What a beautiful moment when he managed to say his name. I love the idea of your book as well, what a great idea.I am so grateful that there are people like you that want to take the time to understand and to help kids with Autism. I am sure your book will do well. Thanks again for a wonderful and insightful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. One of my best friends is a teacher for special kids, my grade school/high school friend’s son is autistic, and my cousin’s sons are both autistic. My cousin is very active in raising awareness for autism in the Philippines. In the USA, autism is widely recognized but in developing countries, the people still need to be educated in this cause. Thanks for doing what you do.

    Liked by 1 person

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