Motivation, humor, and ideas that every school-based
speech-language pathologist will love!

A Speech-Language Pathologist's Thoughts on Digital Zombies and Semantics

posted on August 27th, 2015 by Erik X. Raj, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
A Speech-Language Pathologist's Thoughts on Digital Zombies and Semantics

My buddy and I were out to dinner a few evenings ago. As we were sitting at our table enjoying some delicious cheeseburgers (I love Five Guys Burgers, just in case you were wondering), we couldn't help but notice this one table across the restaurant - the one with the father and his presumably 8 or 9 year old son. What drew our attention to that table was the fact that they were both zombies. And no, they weren’t eating brains. Not THAT kind of zombie. They were, what I like to say, digital zombies.

Digital zombies?

My definition of a digital zombie is a person who is just so obsessed with his or her digital device that he or she doesn't even seem alive! The individual just mindlessly looks at the digital device. As glassy eyes stare deep into the screen, that person isn't talking to anyone. He or she would rather look at the device than engage in communication with whoever else is also in the room. It's crazy! It's bananas! It's such a shame.


So here we have two people out to dinner and no communication is being exchanged. Dad is tap tapping away on his iPhone and his son is swipe swiping away on his iPad (I think the son was playing one of those Fruit Ninja games?). They both fit the digital zombie criteria to a T: mindlessly looking at the device, glassy eyes, neither one of them talking.

"Jeez dad, put your phone away and talk to your son."

My buddy mentioned to me how he believed that the father should put away the phone and talk to his son. I wholeheartedly agreed. But there was something about my buddy's statement that I kept thinking about. "Talk to your son." I couldn't put my finger on it, but something about the "talk to your son" statement sounded off to me.

It wasn't until a few days later that it hit me.

Warning: this is going to sound like a bit of a semantics game, but bare with me. You know how we both said that the father should, "talk TO his son?" Well, what about if instead we said that the father should talk WITH his son?

Talk to children VS. Talk with children

Don't you just love discussions about the meaning and interpretation of words? I sure do! So this is the reason I wanted to dig deep into the words TO and WITH. Here's why I think saying, "we need to talk WITH our children" is better than saying, "we need to talk TO our children." Take this example: let's mix it up a bit and look at the following pair of sentences that doesn't mention talking, but mentions playing:

I'm going to play TO my child.

I'm going to play WITH my child.

To me, the first example with the TO sounds like a musical performance. Like, if I had a guitar (and I do have a guitar) and I was actively playing a song while my child was passively listening to my song. That would be me playing TO my child. To me, that scenario seems one-sided. I would be doing all of the playing and my child would be doing all the listening. Or in other words, I would be doing all the "talking" and my child would be doing all the listening. There's little opportunity for a true back-and-forth to occur between the two of us with that play TO example.

Now, let's think about the second sentence.

If we wanted to keep the same music and guitar scenario going, that WITH sentence seems to imply that my child and I both have guitars and the two of us are jamming out together. To me, that scenario seems like there's give-and-take. I might do some louder strums for a bit while my child does some softer strums. Then, my louder strums might temporarily decrease in volume to make room for my child's louder strums. Can you see (or hear) the back-and-forth in that WITH sentence? In my opinion, since I am playing WITH my child, it seems like we are BOTH "talking" to each other, not just myself "talking." This illustrates how the WITH sentence seems far from one-sided. It's two-way, all the way.

So, what's the purpose of this blog post?

First off, this blog post was a lot of me thinking out loud. I suppose I wanted to type out the reasoning why I plan on choosing to be a bit more careful with the words that I use when encouraging people to engage in active communication. I think WITH works better than TO. Plain and simple. We need to talk WITH our children, not TO our children. We need to communicate WITH each other, not TO each other. Ya feel me? So in the future, that's what I'm going to do, use WITH instead of TO.

Secondly, I suppose I'm using this blog post as a way for me to check myself, with regards to digital etiquette. Because here's the thing: you know how I mentioned the whole "digital zombie" thing at the beginning? And you know how I was all like, "they weren't talkin' at all because they were just too interested in their digital devices and it was crazy and yada yada?" Well, I'm no saint. I've also been a digital zombie before. Many, many times before. So I need to make sure that I practice what I preach. Therefore, in the future I'm going to remind myself to not be a digital zombie. I'm going to remind myself that whatever it is that is on my phone, it can wait. When I'm with someone else, especially at a restaurant, I'm going to talk WITH him or her and not mindlessly look at my device, all glassy eyed. We will be in the moment WITH each other. We will talk WITH each other.

In closing . . .

Let's not be digital zombies. Instead, let's be in-the-moment humans who embrace in-the-moment communication. So remember, when we work with the students on our caseload, let's talk WITH them more often, and talk TO them much less. To me, that makes more sense. And I know that at the end of the day, it's all semantics, but I guess that's one of the reasons why I became a school-based speech-language pathologist - my love for having discussions about the meaning and interpretations of words that we used every single day. Fun!

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Giving Awards to Fellow Speech Pathologists is Extremely Fun

posted on August 4th, 2015 by Erik X. Raj, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Giving Awards to Fellow Speech Pathologists is Extremely Fun

It was a Wednesday morning in April. It was raining (April showers bring May flowers). I was almost running late to work because my little dog was being a bit finicky with going to the bathroom during our morning walk (she doesn't like it when it rains). After politely asking Stella to, "Go pee pee please," she finally listened. Phew! "Now I won't be late for work." I confidently said to myself as I smiled.

I took her inside, gave her a treat, and bid her a fond farewell.

Then, out the door I went. Umbrella in hand, I dodged raindrops like a pro. I leaped over the puddles with such precision. All in all, I made it to my car not nearly as wet as I thought I was going to get. I celebrated my dryness victory with a sigh of relief as I lowered my booty onto the driver's seat.

Or maybe I celebrated too soon?

As soon as I sat down behind my steering wheel, my butt got soaked. Why? Ya see, as I was driving home from grocery shopping the evening before, it was uncommonly warm. Something like 50 degrees. So I rolled the one window down on my side of the car to take in the fresh air as I glided down the street. Had I known that I would have forgotten to roll the window up all the way once I was done with the food store, I just might have NOT rolled down the window at all (who needs fresh air anyways? LOL!). Rain water was all over the driver's seat because of my mistake.

It was only a crack, but that's all it needed.

I almost rolled the driver’s window up all the way the evening before. Almost. But there was still a tiny sliver to go and that tiny sliver was enough to drench the driver's seat. I sat right in it and immediately felt the wetness. So I did what any other smarty pants would do to save his pants, I took off my jacket and placed it on the seat as a type of protective layer between my behind and the moist car seat. What a crumby day this was turning out to be.

I finally made it to work, but yeah, I was late.

I was only a couple of minutes late, but late is late. I signed in at the front office of my middle school and there was a teeny tiny red L next to my name on the sign-in sheet. *Sigh.* Maybe the L was for lovely? But probably not. I think it meant late. Ok. Off to the speech therapy room I went.

Can this day get any worse?

I’ve written about terrible, horrible, no good, very bad speech therapy days before on this blog and I was sure that this Wednesday was right on track to taking me straight to Yuckville, USA, population: me.

But it all turned around because someone sent me an email!

As I opened up my laptop to check my email before the morning’s first group session started, I saw a message from a past co-worker. The email was simple, just a couple sentences: “Just thinking about you. Hope all is well. I made you an award. Hehe!” And there was this file attached to the email.

Wow. Just. WOW!

I forgot about all the not-so-wonderful morning stuff that happened to me. All of it. This simple act of kindness, via email, warmed my heart. So I instantly printed out the attachment and proudly tacked it on the corkboard behind my therapy table. A speech award!? YES! I was now an award-winning speech-language pathologist. SCORE!

Let’s spread the love.

I’m not writing this post to brag about the fact that I was recently the recipient of this spectacular SLP award from a buddy of mine. Nope. Not one bit. I’m writing this to encourage YOU to do the same for a colleague or co-worker in YOUR building. You can make the award over at Thousands Under 90. Just visit that website on your computer, type in the awardee's name and job title, then tap ‘Award Me.” From there, you'll see the customized award, in all its glory. At the bottom of the award, you'll see directions on how to save the award by taking a screenshot of it. After you did the screenshot thing, you can totally email the screenshot to the person you made the award for!

In closing . . .

Somtimes life can get rough and tough but with positive thoughts and kindness, we have the ability to woosh away even the biggest amount of rain clouds. So do me a favor, think of your favorite colleague or co-worker and GIVE 'EM AN AWARD. Spread the love and let 'em know how much you appreciate his awesome ways or her spectacular style. The person deserves to know. Am I right? Yes, I'm right. Happy award giving!

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Stars Wars and Speech Therapy Just Might Be the Perfect Match

posted on July 29th, 2015 by Erik X. Raj, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Stars Wars and Speech Therapy Just Might Be the Perfect Match

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . . came a wonderful app that is out of this world (pun intended, lol!). The app that I'm writing about is none other than Disney's official Star Wars app. Though it's currently summer vacation for many of you wonderful clinicians located in the United States, this break from providing speech therapy services gives all of us school-based speech-language pathologists the perfect opportunity to "test drive" some new apps in anticipation for the upcoming academic school year. And right now, I'm testin' this one.

So let's take some time to chat about Star Wars!

I have to be completely honest with you . . . I'm not the biggest Star Wars fan. And please don't take that the wrong way because I totally respect Star Wars for it's brilliance and excitement. The original movie was absolutely ahead of it's time and it brings me joy to know that the Star Wars saga continues to live on and evolve for new generations to enjoy. But for some reason, it never really did it for me.

So why "test drive" the Star Wars app if you don't love Star Wars?

Simple. Because my students love Star Wars and I love my students. Period. So that alone drives me to give this Star Wars app a go. Here's what I think: providing speech therapy services and educating students to help them as communicators, it should never about the clinician, never ever. It's about the client. It's always about the client. So with that being said, as long as I'm a part of this wonderful field, I will do whatever it takes to discover new ways of motivating my clients so they can grow as communicators. And if that means learning more about Star Wars and incorporating various Star Wars-themed lessons here and there, you can bet that I'm in. I'm all in.

Remember SpongeBob SquarePants?

All of this talk about Star Wars reminds me of SpongeBob SquarePants. Back in, say, 2006-ish, every student I worked with was a massive SpongeBob fan. I didn't see the appeal in that yellow sponge dude. I didn't chuckle much when I randomly caught an episode on television. I didn't think it was funny. But who cares what I thought, my students loved him so I watched the show a bunch to get the jist. I learned about characters (Sandy Cheeks is my favorite, just in case you were wondering). I learned about the setting. I learned about the plot. Long story short, I got the jist and that new information totally helped me to be a better educator to youngsters. I went all in on Bob because my students loved Bob.

From the deep ocean to deep space.

SpongeBob is still big, duh I know that, but at this very moment I would say that Star Wars is bigger. Much bigger. So because I see the trend of my kiddos loving Star Wars, it's my duty as an educator of children to learn the Star Wars language. Han Solo. Chewbacca. The Millennium Falcon. Lightsabers. So on and so forth. Just like how I went all in to know about SpongeBob SquarePants in 2006, I'm happily doing the same thing almost a decade later with Star Wars. And my first foray into Star Wars territory is this perfectly polished Star Wars app.

Gosh, this app is beautifully designed.

From front to back, the Star Wars app is superb. In addition to keeping the user in-the-loop with the release of this winter's Episode VII movie, it's packed with lots of interactive features that I believe can be easily intertwined in almost any speech therapy session. And my most favorite aspect of this app is how you can take selfies with Star Wars characters.

Selfies with Yoda? Yes please!

As my buddy Jeremy and I were messing around with this app, the first thing that came to my mind was how perfect the selfies feature could be for my middle school-aged students. With a large amount of my 7th and 8th graders, I work on getting them excited about writing so we can target goals and objectives that focus on improving their written expression. But here's the thing, most of what I've begged them to write about in the past, they didn't particularly care about. And that's a big mistake on my part because if my students aren't excited to write about a certain topic, why would I ever expect them to try their hardest?

The Star Wars app can help.

Here's where I think this Star Wars app could be quite powerful: with the tap of a finger, it can seamlessly create exciting visuals that just might excite even the most unexcitable 7th or 8th grader. I mean, check out this picture of Jeremy getting ready to do battle with Darth Vader. Or how about this picture of myself chillin' with Yoda? Showing these pictures to students on your caseload and asking them to write about what comes to their minds when they see these personalized photos, it's gonna be big! I predict these selfies to be the trampolines that can bounce them to higher levels of excitement and an overal greater love for practiing writing.

In closing . . .

Writing assignments can frustrate and bore students, but I have this funny feeling that this Star Wars app will inspire and thrill all the kiddos that I work with. I'm looking forward to trying this app out with my students and I invite you to try it, too. So, give it a go once your academic school year starts back up again. May the (speech therapy) force be with you. ;-)

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3 Podcasts That All Speech-Language Pathologists Should Check Out ASAP

posted on June 10th, 2015 by Erik X. Raj, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
3 Podcasts That All Speech-Language Pathologists Should Check Out ASAP

Thanks to the Internet, there's an endless amount of ways that we, as speech-language pathologists, can digitally share and connect with one another. For instance, take this personal blog that you're reading right now (by the way, thank you for reading!). Each week or so, I pop the lid off of my brain to pour out some gooey speech therapy thoughts and ideas all over this digital canvas. Why do I do this? I do this because there's really nothing I adore more than sharing and connecting with other clinicians. Long story short, I love to blog.

And I'm not the only SLP that loves to blog.

Far from it. I mean, have you seen the newest website by Meredith Avren called Speech Blogs? This directory bills itself as "your source for the world's best speech-language pathology blogs." This website would never have been created if there wasn't a fantastic amount of fantastic SLPs willing to share their fantastic ideas online. Also, it would never have been created if there wasn't a very real desire for us to connect with other professionals in our field to discover some delicious speech therapy content. So I guess it's safe to say that SLP blogs are here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future).

But I want to introduce you to another way to share and connect. Podcasts!

Podcasts?! Yes, sweet podcasts. For those of you who aren't familiar with podcasts, let me take a moment to educate you on the subject. A podcast is usually an audio file (though sometimes a video file) that a person creates and upon creation, that person makes the file available for download on the Internet. So if I really had to boil it down, it's sort of like talk radio? Only not really. I think the best way to really describe it is that yes, it's talking, but it's purposeful talking about a specific subject that's usually both entertaining AND educational.

Why do I love podcasts so much?

Aside from the obvious facts that podcasts both entertain me AND educate me, there's more to it. Because of podcasts, commuting isn't nearly as bad because I can listen in my car while I drive down the road. Because of podcasts, working out isn't nearly as dreadful because I can listen at the gym while I run on the treadmill. I've also found myself taking my dog out on more walks lately because of podcasts (because I listen while I walk). So I'm sure if my pooch could speak human, she'd also sing a joyous tune about how she loves podcasts, too.

In your opinion, what are the best SLP podcasts?

That's a good question. Right now, there aren't too many SLP-related podcasts to choose from. That's a total bummer, but I'm willing to bet that's going to change as we creep into 2016 and beyond. Quote me on this, there will be many SLP podcasts in the future. But for now, let me introduce you to my three favorites. You MUST listen to these podcasts ASAP.

1. Conversations in Speech Pathology (PODCAST LINK)

Jeff Stepen has seriously set the bar VERY high for any SLPs thinking about getting into the podcasting game. Yes, he is just THAT good and I've been a fan of his podcast for months! This SLP takes time out of his busy schedule to interview some of the coolest SLPs out there. So far, the podcast has 20 episodes and the topics range from AAC to autism to everything in-between. Oh, and just so you know, I was JUST a guest on his podcast (episode #20, woo hoo!). If you're interested in hearing me chit chat about SLP technology, apps, YouTube, and more, LISTEN RIGHT HERE!

2. StutterTalk (PODCAST LINK)

Peter Reitzes and his team have been doing this stuttering-focused podcast since 2007. With over 500 episodes (yes, over 500!), this podcast is the first and longest running podcast on stuttering. StutterTalk is dedicated to supporting people who stutter, their families, professionals, students, and the general public by talking openly about stuttering and by providing information about stuttering. If you're an SLP, you need to listen to this podcast. I highly recommend it.

3. Stuttering is Cool (PODCAST LINK)

Not only is Daniele Rossi the author and illustrator of one of my most favorite books ever, he's also the producer and host of one heck of a podcast. The Stuttering is Cool podcast currently has 180 episodes and let me tell you, I've learned so much from his wonderful audio files (Thanks Daniele!). He's a gem and let me tell you, he's JUST getting started. Do yourself a favor and listen to this podcast. Do it, do it!

In closing . . .

The three podcasts that I mentioned in this blog post, they're a triple threat of phenomenal SLP knowledge. Give 'em a taste, I know you're gonna like 'em. Every audio file from the aforementioned podcasts will absolutely help you to grow and get better at the art, discipline, and profession known as speech-language pathology. Three cheers for growth. Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!

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