As a school-based speech-language pathologist, I’m constantly attempting to evaluate and re-evaluate how I’m doing as a clinician. Are my current therapy strategies helping my students meet their goals in a timely manner? Am I collaborating enough with teachers that also work together with my students? How am I doing with touching base to discuss student progress with parents and caregivers? These are just a few things that I make sure to consistently ponder to gauge if I’m being the best possible clinician that I can be. And ya know what? For the most part, I’m doing pretty alright.
But there’s one thing I want to get better at.
God knows I ain’t perfect, so I’m all about sharing with you something professionally I want to get better at. I want to get better at “setting the speech-language therapy stage”for all the new students that join my caseload. What I mean by that is, when I start to work with a new child, I want to make sure that the student and I are on the same page with WHY the student is coming to me and WHAT that student hopes to gain by coming to me.
Here’s how I’ve started to “set the speech-language therapy stage.”
I’ve gotten into the habit of asking any and all new students these two questions:
1. Can you tell me why you’re coming to speech-language therapy?
With articulation students, a response to that question is pretty simple. They usually know they are starting to see me because they need to work on a certain sound. But your typical elementary or middle school-aged students who have language difficulties, they usually don’t know why they are now seeing the “speech teacher.” They might say, “I don’t know why I’m here.” Or they might say, “Um, like, I guess I need help with stuff.” So the most important thing that we, as clinicians, can do is spell it out, word for word, WHY they are now on our caseload. Don’t be afraid to share with the new student any evaluation results you might have. Did he/she score very low on an auditory comprehension or reasoning subtest? Share that. Did he/she score very low on an expressive or receptive language diagnostic? Share that. Sharing information like this helps everyone because it establishes a clear WHY. If the assessments reveal very low auditory comprehension or reasoning abilities, that’s WHY you’re here and that’s what we will work to improve. If the assessments reveal very low expressive or receptive language abilities, that’s WHY you’re here and that’s what we will work to improve. It’s really that simple. That’s the WHY.
2. What do you hope to gain from speech-language therapy?
This is the WHAT you’re trying to uncover. Now sure, this question might be tricky for younger students to answer, especially if the students have obvious communication difficulties. But I bet you’d be surprised at the responses you’d get, every now and again, if you gave this WHAT question a shot. I’ve had a 2nd grader tell me, “I want to sound like everyone else” and I’ve had a 7th grader tell me, “I want to get better at organizing my thoughts.” Statements like these are wonderful, personal confessions that can help you and your new students see eye-to-eye. Once you know WHAT your students want, you can do everything in your power to help them. You can share with them your current goals and objectives and easily show them that what you have planned will, absolutely, get him/her closer to what he/she wants. (Oh, and this WHAT question also helps with building the client/clinician rapport because it communicates to your student that you honestly value them and their wants/needs.)
In closing . . .
What do you think? Can all of the students on your caseload tell you WHY they come to speech and WHAT they hope to gain from therapy? Wouldn’t everything be so much easier if you and your students were on the same page with the WHY and the WHAT? Give my two questions a test drive to see if they’re able to better help you with “setting the speech-language therapy stage” for all the new students on your caseload. And as always, let me know how it goes!