Motivation, humor, and ideas that every speech-language pathologist who works with children will love!

Category Archives: Speech Therapy Motivation

My 2017 Commencement Speech at Wayne State University

On Thursday, May 4th, 2017, I had the opportunity to deliver the commencement speech at Wayne State University’s Graduation Ceremony for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology in Detroit, Michigan. As a proud Wayne State University alumnus, when I was given the invitation, I was beyond pumped! To be able to speak directly to the 2017 graduating class of a university that means the world to me, it was a pleasure. And to be able to share the stage with Derek Daniels (my close mentor and very good friend), it was surreal, to say the least.

Interested in what I said?

If the answer is yes, then you’re in luck because my commencement speech was captured on video. So, if you have 15-minutes to spare, feel free to check it out.

I have a transcript, too.

If reading is more your thing, below you will see a transcript of my commencement speech. Give it a peep, buddy.

Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Dr. Daniels, and a huge thank you to every single Wayne State University community member that is sitting right behind me on this stage. Each one of you has positively impacted me as a speech-language pathologist, and each one of you on this stage has also positively impacted each and every one of our students. Also, a big thank you to the parents, family members, and close friends here today with the students. They, too, have helped to mold these students to who we see right now. And what a fine bunch of students we have in this auditorium today. You women and men are the future leaders of the fields of audiology and speech-language pathology. Seriously, the future. Let’s clap it up for that one.

Let’s take a moment to do something. For our students right now, what I would love for you to try is to turn around and look at each other, and what I’d like for you guys to do is verbalize these simple words. I’d like for you to say, we are the future. I’ll wait. Give it a go. I know it might feel awkward, but we need to say this. All right, all right. And now, I’m going to push you a little bit out of your comfort zone, because that’s what we’re all about as clinicians. Pushing people gently out of their comfort zones. What I’m going to ask you to do is on three, I want you to try to shout loud and proud, we are the future. All right, guys? Just our students. Ready? One, two, three. We are the future. Now, how did that feel? I bet you, it felt really good, and it should feel good because the truth is, that is the truth. You are the future, and I am honored and privileged to have this invitation to speak to you guys today. This is truly a privilege to be able to be a part of this celebration for all of the hard work that you’ve put in here at Wayne State University.

All of you audiology students, you’ve looked inside a lot of ears over these years. You’ve probably seen your fair share of earwax that might have made you scream at times, but it comes with the territory if you want to become an audiologist. You pushed through for the greater good. And let’s not forget about you speech-language pathology students. You’ve done your fair share of oral mech examinations, and in those experiences, you probably have seen some icky things at times or maybe even you’ve gotten bitten a couple times. Kiddos these days, they have very sharp teeth. I know I’ve gotten my fair share of battle wounds, but it comes with the territory if you want to become a speech language pathologist. You push through for the greater good. Well, congratulations, because today is your greater good. You’re finally here. In a few moments, you’re going to be walking across this stage and you’re going to get that great diploma and you’re going to have that opportunity to become that great audiologist or that great speech-language pathologist that you know you were destined to be.

Life is going to be great, but here’s the honest truth. You’re still going to see some ear wax and you’re still going to get bit after graduation. There’s no getting away from that, but the good news is this. You’re finally going to get paid in the process, which means you can now start paying off your college loans. Or, if you’re feeling a little crazy, you can take a trip on down to Greek Town Casino and maybe try your luck at some slots, but we should probably not do that. Just pay off those college loans.

In all seriousness, here’s what really excites me. Here’s what gets me jazzed, what gets me pumped to be standing up here speaking to you. You are entering a field that needs you. Somewhere, someone is experiencing swallowing difficulties. That someone is embarrassed because every single time she sits down to eat a meal with her friends, she starts to cough uncontrollably. She doesn’t know what’s going on, but you as a speech-language pathologist, you do know what’s going on and you can help that person. That person needs your expertise. You are entering a field that needs you.

Or, how about this? Somewhere, someone is experiencing hearing difficulties. That someone is frustrated because he can’t seem to hear the baseball announcer as good as he used to when he goes to see the Detroit Tigers play at Comerica Park. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but you as an audiologist, you do, and you can help. That person needs your expertise. You are entering a field that needs you.

And somewhere, someone has a young son, maybe three years old, and that young son is not talking. That someone is confused because it seems like everyone else’s child is talking, and that someone can’t help but wonder if she did something wrong as a mother to cause her son to not talk. She doesn’t know what’s going on, but you as a speech-language pathologist, you do, and you can help that person. That person needs your expertise. You are entering a field that needs you.

As a speech-language pathologist who has worked in both school settings as well as hospital settings, I figured this could be a great opportunity for me to share some advice with you so that you could hit the ground running day one when you take your first job. You can take some of this advice or you can leave, but I hope that you would take it, because I feel like it’s some pretty good stuff. Without further ado, let the advice giving commence.

I’m going to give you five pieces of advice, and the first one is this. Never ask a client to do something that you’re not willing to do, and the best example that I can share with you from my experience as an SLP is when I was working in a hospital setting. A couple times of week, I would have to do MBSs. Those are modified barium swallow tests. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a fancy-schmancy x-ray machine that allows us to see the swallowing in real time of a person. So the way that we can see the swallow happen in real time is, there’s different bits of food, and on the different bit of food we put either barium gel or barium powder, and that allows us to see on the x-ray where the food is going down. Is it going down the right pipe or is it going down the wrong pipe?

In this particular situation, I had an older gentleman who looked at me and he was communicating to me with his eyes that he did not want to see me. He did not want to go forth and do that MBS experience with me. I tried to let him know that this is very important. This is going to help us help you so that you can be able to eat. You can get your nutrition back. But he was just not having it. What he said to me next was something that really stuck with me. He looked at the graham cracker that I had in front of him, and there’s a little bit of white paste on the graham cracker, and he said to me, “Hey kid. Did you ever eat that crap before?” In that moment, I couldn’t lie to him and I said to him, no sir. I have not. He proceeded to tell me, “You know what? I’ll eat that crap right after you eat that.” Without thinking, guys, I grabbed that graham cracker and I threw it right in mouth and I chomped and I swallowed. You know what? It wasn’t really that bad. The next sound that happened after my swallow is a sound I’ll never forget. This gentleman starting laughing. Laughing so hard. Pure, joyous laughter. Not maniac laughter. He really enjoyed what just happened, and he said to me, “Kid, I didn’t know you’d do that.” I said to him, “Sir, I didn’t think I would either.”

That’s the perfect example that brought me back to the clinician that I wanted to be. I want to make sure that I’m never putting my clients in a state where they feel I’ve not also walked in those shoes. Now, sometimes it’s impossible, but we as clinicians, we’re very creative. We can find ways to at least attempt to put ourselves in the shoes of our clients. If I could leave you with one piece of advice, it’s simply just to never ask your client to do something that you have not attempted to do in some fashion.

Number two – we’ve got five. We’re up to two. I want you guys to be careful where you throw things out. This is a little bit along the lines of the school setting, but check out this quick story. Every Tuesday and Thursday when I first started at this particular school, this is about 10 years ago now, I had a wonderful second-grader who was working on his speech sound disorders. He was obsessed with dinosaurs, and every single Tuesday and Thursday, he would draw me a beautiful picture of a dinosaur.

So, when you start in September, you have a couple dinosaurs. When, you get into December, you’ve got a couple more dinosaurs, and then come June, you’ve got a mountain of dinosaur pictures. We were ending the school year, and I was cleaning up my area, and what I did was, I decided to recycle these wonderful dinosaur pictures. I put them in the garbage. Then, there was a little knock on the door – it’s my buddy. He has a coffee gift card that he wants to give me to because he thought I was a great speech teacher. He walks into my room, and his eyes find the garbage can. He looks down at the garbage can. He sees all of his artwork in the trash. I still think about this day in and day out. That was a massive mistake that I made. I need to be more mindful of where I throw things out. And really, what this brings us back to is the power of communication. This particular student was communicating to me his real love for our learning experience by consistently drawing pictures of dinosaurs and giving them to me.

I need to respect that so much more, and I need to be just so much more mindful as to where I am recycling some of these particular pictures. So guys, don’t ever be in the same situation as me. Make sure you put it in your book bag, and if you’re going to recycle drawings, bring them to your home setting. That’s the second bit of advice that I hope that you’ll never have to experience.

Number three, I just want you to be more mindful of technology. We as a 21st century community, we’re lucky. We’re living in a very exciting time where technology is really at our fingertips, and we as clinicians, we can use technology to do a lot of really great things. I want you just to not become too obsessed with technology. Now, I’m a software developer on the part-time, and I have developed a number of specific applications for children who have speech sound disorders. I don’t say that to brag, but I say it to just emphasize how I love technology. Well, one time, I was working with a student and I said to myself, this is the best app. I’m going to use this app with student, because it’s going to blow his mind. It was a basketball app. Together, we could slide our finger across the screen to shoot the basketball. He looked at me and he said, “Mr. Raj, instead of playing in this basketball app, can we actually just go to the gym and shoot real basketball?”

That was a game changer for me because here I am just so obsessed with technology, it forced me to maybe forget about the real physical aspect to learning. We want to make sure that we don’t lose sight of that physical aspect. Yes, technology is appropriate at times, but there’s also times where technology is not appropriate. Be more mindful as you explore your particular work setting and how your style of being an audiologist or an SLP meshes with the technology that you choose to use.

Number four transitions perfectly into this bit of advice. Whenever possible, leave your speech therapy room. As a speech-language pathologist, I’m always understanding the importance of leaving the four walls of where we do therapy, because we understand the importance of generalization and really pushing our clients outside their comfort zone to practice their fantastic communication outside of the speech therapy room. We can really help our clients to make so many amazing leaps and bounds in their communication if we carefully put them outside of our speech therapy room. Take that into consideration as you start to figure out your goals and objectives, as you’re working with your particular client to grow. It’s appropriate to leave the speech therapy room, and with some creativity, you can find ways to leave the speech therapy room.

Number five, the last piece of advice I’d love to share with you is a very simple one, and it’s to always remember to smile. A smile really communicates so much. We as communication professionals, we understand pragmatics and we understand how a smile is really sharing with others how we are happy that they’re in our lives and we are blessed that we have the opportunity to interact with them. Sometimes, when we work with our clients, they are in situations that have really thrown them for a loop. There’s a lot of frustration, anxiety, a lot of fear.

What I have found in the years that I’ve had the opportunity to be an SLP is a simple smile can really start to chip away at some of those fears and anxieties. Don’t be afraid to share your pearly whites with the client in front of you, because smiles are contagious and you’ll be surprised how fast that client’s going to smile back at you. That’s really building that client-clinician relationship that we’re always trying to make as solid as possible.

To you, Wayne State University graduates, today is the day you’ve been waiting for. You’ve made it, and in a few short moments, you will have your degree. To the future speech language pathologists in the audience, welcome to the family. And to the future audiologists in the audience, I can’t wait to work with you. Thank you everyone, and congratulations.

My 2017 Commencement Speech at Wayne State University

A Rock and Roll Song About Ninja Speech-Language Pathologists

Would you like to know the one thing that I could never ever live without? I’ll give you a hint – it starts with the letter M. No, it’s not not milkshakes (although I do absolutely adore chocolate milkshakes! Yum!) The answer to the initial question is music! Music is the one thing that I could never ever live without and I think that Prince Ea (one of my favorite YouTubers) said it best in this Instagram post that reads: “With the right music, you either forget everything or you remember everything.” Isn’t that a terrific quote? It perfectly describes why I believe that music is the most important thing on this planet.

Do you listen to speech-language pathology music?

I know what you might be saying right now – “Speech-language pathology music?! There’s no such thing as speech-language pathology music!” And if you are, in fact, saying that, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. There actually IS a such thing as speech-language pathology music. It might not be the most popular genre out there, but hey, maybe I can help the genre to grow?

Here’s my attempt at helping the genre grow!

My song is called Ninjas of Speech and it’s based off of the blog posted I wrote a while back titled 5 Ninja Characteristics All Speech Pathologists Have. Give the song a listen above or feel free to directly download the mp3 file HERE.

Ninjas of Speech (01:48)

I’ve got something to share about speech pathologists
There’s 5 ninja skills they share as characteristics
That help students reach black belt communication
Now here’s the list so please pay attention

Number 1 is speed of word and thought
To compress information in 30 minute blocks

Number 2 is strength and power
To tame the tongue in blocks of half an hour

Number 3 is stamina, our old friend
We don’t give up on clients until they reach the end
We’re patient, calm, and oh so understandings
Devoted, kind, and never demanding

Number 4 is all of our various techniques
We adapt material from week to week

Finally the last ninja trait of all, number 5 is our intelligence
To assess, diagnose, treat, and prevent

SLPs are ninjas of speech
SLPs are ninjas of speech

In closing . . .

Maybe I’ll make some more songs in the future. Would you be into that? Please let me know. 😉

A Rock and Roll Song About Ninja Speech-Language Pathologists

The Scars That We Have on Our Speech-Language Pathology Brains

Today I would like chat about the word scar. S-C-A-R. As human beings going through life and living in this unpredictable world, we accumulate a lot of scars on our bodies. For example, when I was young, like, REALLY young (I was a first grader), I was playing with some firecrackers (dangerous, I know!). Well, this one time, I didn’t throw the firecrackers fast enough after I lite them with matches and on that particular day, a few firecrackers exploded in my hand. And from that, I got a scar on the ring finger of my right hand.

Ouch!

Another example of a scar that I got was when I was little bit older, like 18 or 19 years old. Back then, I used to be in a rock and roll band. As I was playing my bass guitar this one time, the music simply took over and an injury was just around the corner! My bandmates and I were in a rehearsal studio and I decided to stand on top of the drum set as I was playing my bass guitar (like I said, the music totally took over!). Well, I lost my balance and I fell down and, long story short, my thigh got cut open by some sharp part of the drum set. I had to get a lot of stitches in that newly formed gash in my leg. It hurt. BIG TIME. But, all that to say, that’s yet another scar that I have.

Scars. Oh those painful events that cause scars.

I know what you might be saying. You’re probably saying to yourself, “Man, that guy Erik Raj, he’s going on and on about scars. And he’s going on and on about firecrackers and being in a rock and roll band. How does that stuff have anything to do with speech therapy?” Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. This is how it has to do with speech therapy. As clinicians, it’s important for us to realize and remember that we obtain scars from some of the things that we do in the speech therapy room. From the mistakes we make.

It’s important for us to learn from those mistakes that gave us scars.

Here’s an example of a scar that I got once within the speech therapy room. When I was a graduate student, I had the perfect opportunity to work with a fantastic child. He had a lot of great energy and one of the ways that we could keep his focus was to have him sit down on a yoga ball. I would be behind him, he would be sitting on his yoga ball, and I would help him to slowly rock back and forth during our session. That gentle rocking would keep him regulated and on task.

But I made a mistake one day that gave me a scar.

One of the things that I did on this particular day is I forgot some speech therapy material. It was on the other side of the room – not within arm’s reach. I was supporting his back as he was on the yoga ball so I took my hands off his back for about a half a second so I could grab that speech therapy material. BAD MOVE ON MY PART. In the blink of an eye, the kiddo somehow stood up on the yoga ball and fell right down.

Oh. My. Gosh!

I felt terrible. How could I let this happen?! I turned my back on this student for only a moment and that caused him to fall. And like I said, I was a graduate student and there were those two-way mirrors and my supervisor ran into the room! The parents ran in, too! The kiddo was crying! I was crying! It was a disaster.

But don’t worry, the kiddo was fine.

My client was just a little spooked. But guess what? This experience gave me a scar. It wasn’t a physical scar, though. It wasn’t one like with the firecrackers thing or the rock and roll thing. There was no physical mark on my skin, but it’s a scar that very much exists on my speech-language pathology brain, if you will. It’s a mistake that I think about. A lot. So with all of that being said, I think it’s important for us to reexamine our speech-language pathology brain. We need to think about it in the sense that you might have some therapy related scars here and there on your mind that have gotten there because of miscellaneous mistakes that you’ve made as a clinician.

Reexamining is what it’s all about.

The good thing about reexamining our speech-language pathology brains and looking for scars, is the fact that you can pinpoint when that scar happened and then you can think about the mistake that caused that scar to be there, and that’s a powerful learning opportunity for you. Because you are growing when you’re reexamining how that scar got there. Ya know what I mean?

Makin’ it physical.

Bringing you back to the physicality of the whole scar thing, that little scar on my finger, every single time I look at it, I always say to myself, “Man, you got that scar from when you were a youngster and you were playing with firecrackers. That was a mistake, you should NOT have been playing with firecrackers, dude.” That’s me learning from the mistake. I don’t play with firecrackers anymore, and that scar consistently reminds me to not do that.

And my leg, too.

Any time that I look down at my leg and I see that scar from when I fell through the drum set, I look down at my leg and I say, “Man, you probably shouldn’t be standing on top of drum sets. It’s not the safest thing to do.” And, ya know what? I haven’t done it since, haha! I learned from that mistake, for sure.

And yoga balls.

Every single time I see a yoga ball, seriously, I think back to that time as a graduate student and I think back to that mistake of turning my back on my client for that one moment. Seeing my client’s sad face because he was so scared that he fell down. That killed me. I think back to that moment and I say to myself, “That was a mistake and you, as a clinician, can learn from that mistake.” With all that being said, I never turn my back on my students. Ever.

In closing . . .

How about you take a moment when you have some free time and think about some of the scars that you might have gotten on your speech-language pathology brain over the years. How did you get those scars? But, more importantly, what can you learn from those scars, because that’s what it’s all about, baby. It’s about learning and it’s all about growing. Let’s all reexamine our speech-language pathology brains!

The Scars That We Have on Our Speech-Language Pathology Brains

Tech Is Great in Speech Therapy, but Don’t Become Too Dependent on It

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about technology. We, as speech-language pathologists, we love technology. I mean, a lot of us are utilizing iPads in some of our daily therapeutic practice. A lot of us are utilizing computers, the Internet, and other things along those lines. And why do we do that? It’s all in an effort to better connect with today’s 21st century learners so that we can teach them what they need to know.

Today’s children are all about technology.

Our younger clients, they can’t imagine a world without mobile phones, tablets, etc. So, that’s why it’s so important for us, as practicing clinicians, to be aware of these technologies so that we can weave them into our speech-language therapy, whenever appropriate.

But here’s something to keep in mind . . .

Technology, it’s great, but technology has batteries. And we all know the thing about batteries; batteries run out of juice. Think about it – remember that one time you needed to use the GPS app on your phone? You pulled out your phone and you looked down at it and then all of a sudden it hit you . . . you only had 2% battery left!

On no!

Then you frantically typed in the address and started your drive and you were all like, “Oh. My. God. I’ve got to get to the destination before my phone dies.”  And then . . .  BAMM! The phone dies and you don’t even have the proper cord to charge your phone in your car.

What a drag.

All of these pieces of technology that are a part of our world, yes, they’re useful, but their battery lives are limited. The reason why I bring this whole battery conversation to the table is because I think we need to be much more mindful of the fact that the iPad that we’re using, it very well might run out of juice and what do we do then? On more than one occasion, I’ve been using my iPad with a student and I’m making a lot of great progress – we’re going through the given app, there’s a lot of great conversation that myself and the client are engaged in. But then I look down and the iPad died.

Total buzz kill!

Then, I find myself scrambling. Oh no! Plan B, what’s Plan B? I’m not going to lie to you, sometimes I didn’t have a Plan B. And, I’m willing to bet I’m not the only clinician out there that didn’t have a Plan B once the iPad died. The reason why I didn’t have a Plan B is because I put too much emphasis on the technology. I depended on it too much. I viewed the technology as something that won’t fail. But of course it does. It’s technology, it’s fragile. I mean, batteries run out of juice, right? Or sometimes we might accidentally drop whatever piece of technology we have on the floor and it might break and it won’t be able to turn on again. Those are prime examples of how technology can fail us.

So what should we do, then?

The answer to that question is simple, have a Plan B. When you’re planning your next amazing speech-language therapy session, be sure to have something in the mix that doesn’t have batteries. There are many, many, many things out there that don’t have batteries that sometimes we forget about. Because right now, in this technology driven age that we’re all a part of, we’re very fixated on the tech. And like I said, tech is great, but don’t forget about the other things. Like the pencils. Like the paper. Like the markers. Like the paint. Paint doesn’t have batteries. Markers don’t have batteries. Papers and pencils don’t have batteries. These are the tried and the true. They will forever be there. So, don’t turn your backs on these things. They love you very much and you should love them, too! Hehe!

A challenge for you.

I have a challenge for you – can you go one week within your speech-language therapy world without using some form of digital technology. Is it possible? Hmm. That’s a good question. I think the answer is yes. Or at least it should be something that we explore because we never want to become too dependent on technology.

But wait . . .

I’m not saying don’t use email during that week, because I think we have to use email. I mean, I’m constantly sending emails to different colleagues and sometimes I’m sending emails to parents, so that’s not what I’m speaking about when I bring up this non-tech challenge. What I’m really speaking about is the optional technology that you might use, face-to-face, with your client. Maybe it’s a computer? Or a laptop? Maybe it’s an iPad?

iPads are great.

Trust me, I love iPads but I want to remind you that iPads are not the end-all be-all. We need to not be so dependent on technology. We need to remember the other, very valid, non-digital speech therapy materials that exist in our world and we need to make sure that we utilize those as much as the other digital therapy materials that we are all so accustomed to using nowadays.

In closing . . .

As always, I love having these conversations with you. So, after you go a week without using technology, please feel free to reach out to me and let me know how it went. Was it hard? Was it easy? Was it easier than you expected it to be? These are great conversations for you and I to have because through our reflective discussions, we can grow and we can learn from one another. Cool? Cool!

Tech Is Great in Speech Therapy, but Don’t Become Too Dependent on It

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