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The Connection Between a Blank Canvas and a Child Who Receives Speech-Language Therapy

When is the last time you thought about a blank canvas? Maybe if you’re an avid painter who enjoys dabbling in art projects on your off-time, the chances are quite high that you’ve recently thought about a blank canvas. But if you’re not in the world of art, you probably never think of a blank canvas. Now me though, well, I’m not really that huge into art, per se, but I actually do think about the words blank canvas quite often. And in my mind, those words relate to the world of speech-language pathology and the great work that we do, as clinicians.

Something clean and something fresh.

When I think about a blank canvas, what usually comes to my mind is emptiness or a lack of color. A blank canvas hasn’t been drawn or painted on yet. It’s clean and fresh. Unmarked. And when I think about my students, especially those that are brand-new to receiving services from me, I always try to keep the words blank canvas in the back of my mind.

Blank canvas.

You see, in my experience, sometimes when we have new students on our caseload, we can’t help but hear about that particular student’s backstory. We can’t help but sometimes hear the potential “gossip” that might be attached to the student. Maybe a teacher might say to you, “Oh, did you hear? So-and-so is coming to our school next year. You have to watch out for so-and-so because of his behaviors.” Or maybe maybe something like, “Oh, she’s a tough one to handle – good luck!”

In my opinion, that’s pretty unfair.

Whether we realize it or not, we’re taking in that type of “gossipy” information and in doing so, we’re creating a real bias in our minds. The way that I view situations like that is we take a blank canvas and we automatically start to paint a picture of who the child is WAY BEFORE we’ve actually ever interacted with the child. And what a shame that is, ya know? Who are we to start to paint the picture of a brand new child without actually meeting that child? Why would we use OUR OWN paint to create the child’s portrait when we could actually wait and use the paint that the child actually has and is always more than willing to SHARE with us? I want to use the child’s paint, not my own.

What’s the rush to paint the portrait of a new student?

Why don’t we truly get to know the child first before we start painting our portraits? In my heart of hearts, that makes the most sense, but I can’t help but notice that sometimes we don’t do that. For example, maybe a new child moves into your school district, and along with that child, he or she might have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The IEP might have some progress notes in there or some sort of narrative that walks the reader through who that child is, as a communicator, who that child is, as a student, and everything in-between. With instances like that, I believe that it’s wise for us to remember that those different pieces of writings, they’re written through the eyes of a certain person – the writer. And here’s the honest truth, sometimes people write things that are actually inaccurate.

Wait. Before you freak about about the word inaccurate.

By no means am I saying that the assessment scores are incorrect, nor am I saying that anyone is intentionally lying when they are adding their piece to the IEP. What I’m saying is that, in my experience on more than one occasion, I’ve read IEP reports that, for example, might have an informal observation paragraph in there and the narrative reads a certain way. And of course, I read that informal observation and I start to imagine how this child might be, either behaviorally or in regards to communication abilities. But then, once I actually meet the child, it seems like what the initial educator saw during that informal observation is WAY different than what I see now that I’ve met and interacted with the child.


Sometimes educators might write things that don’t truly reflect who that child is. They aren’t doing this with malicious intent. No. No way. When things like this happen, I believe it’s because of subjectivity. When we view the behaviors of a child and we report on those behaviors, our reporting (or style of reporting) is based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, and/or opinions. And sometimes, those things can get in the way of what’s really there.

Blank canvas.

So, when I think of the words blank canvas, I’m always reminding myself to not think too long about who that child is, in regards to the given document that I might read or in regards to the “gossipy” information that I might hear. The words blank canvas reminds me to think about seeing the child for who he or she is once I get the opportunity to actually meet him or her. I feel like that’s something that we should consistently be reminding ourselves, as caring speech-language pathologists.

And trust me – I’m no saint.

My friends, we’ve all been there before – myself included. I’ve painted a portrait of a child prior to meeting that individual because I’ve read or heard things. But lately, I’ve been stopping that because I’m keeping in the back of my mind the words blank canvas. Every single child is fantastic, and every single child deserves the words blank canvas attached to them when they’re newly placed on our caseload or they’re new additions to our therapy world.

In closing . . .

Do me a favor and try this out. Think about the words blank canvas for a few days and connect that process to your particular work setting. Do you feel like consistently saying the words blank canvas to yourself might be a much more effective way to view the new students that you don’t yet know? I think so!

The Connection Between a Blank Canvas and a Child Who Receives Speech-Language Therapy

Did You Know That Speech-Language Pathologists Are Also Chameleons?

Do you like getting compliments from people? Sure you do! So with that in mind, I’d like to take this moment to give you a compliment, right here and right now. Are you ready? My compliment to you is this – you are a chameleon.

A chameleon?! What?! Do you think I look like an iguana? How rude!

Sorry, sorry. Hold on. Let me back up. Ya see, when I tell you that you’re a chameleon, it’s actually not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a fantastic compliment!

Oh, it’s fantastic?! All right. Well, tell me more, then.

In my opinion, all speech-language pathologists are similar to chameleons and that’s a good thing because chameleons are a very unique animal. Ya see, chameleons, they have a spectacular ability to adapt. Think about it – their skin – it can blend in and match along with it’s surroundings. So if chameleons are standing next to, say, a bunch of grass, their skin color turns a shade of green because they’re able to acclimate to their surroundings. The same goes for chameleons that are standing next to desert sand. In that situation, presumably, their skin turns a sort of tan color. Why? Because they are able to adapt with no problems, at all. How cool is that?

Chameleons are the kings and queens of adaptability.

And SLPs, we are kings and queens of adaptability, too. In my honest opinion, adaptability and SLPs – the two really go hand in hand. We, as clinicians, are so fortunate to be a part of a field that allows us to work together with so many different people in so many different settings. And, the fact that you’re able to mentally do that so effortlessly, I believe that’s what separates you from so many other educators and healthcare professions. You have a unique gift that’s hard to come by. Your ability to adapt to so many different environments is something that should be celebrated.

Hooray for adaptability!

Here’s a scenario that you might have experienced within your work-place environment. First thing in the morning, you might be working with a child who has some articulation difficulties. Then, maybe the next hour you might be working with a child who has some expressive and/or receptive language difficulties. Then, maybe in yet another hour you might be working with a child who stutters. Can you see how often you have to “change your skin” to “match your new surroundings?” You’re adapting your clinical knowledge to sync up with what your given client is struggling with, all in an effort to help. And you’re able to do all of that in the blink of an eye. Wow. You’re magical! You make it look so easy! Go you!

Fantastic creatures, for sure!

So, that’s what I mean. When I called you a chameleon, it’s a good thing. Not a bad thing. Chameleons are fantastic creatures and SLPs, we’re also fantastic creatures.

In closing . . .

Do me a favor. Share this blog post with one of your colleagues that you admire. And let that person know that he or she is a chameleon. I believe that it’s a compliment worth giving and worth spreading because it reminds us just how good we are at what we do. So, hold that chameleon head up high. You rock!

Did You Know That Speech-Language Pathologists Are Also Chameleons?

The Diagnosis Doesn’t Define the Person, the Person Defines the Diagnosis

As a speech-language pathologist, there’s a saying that I say to myself on a daily basis and it just might be my most favorite saying in the history of all sayings. The saying is the diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis. I’ve been hearing that saying for years. It first started to wiggle its way into my world when I was in graduate school and ever since then, the saying has resonated with me a TON!

But I’ll be honest with you, sometimes I forget about the saying.

For example, not too long ago I was working with a student who had a difficult time properly articulating the /R/ sound. We all know that the /R/ sound can be quite tricky for some children. And to make matters trickier, this child had a rather unique way of attempting to make his /R/ sound. So there was a lot that I needed to think about when figuring out a plan of action to help this motivated youngster with his articulation, as it related to perfecting his /R/ sound.

Invisible speech therapy toolbox to the rescue!

So here’s what I did; I busted out my invisible speech therapy toolbox and I tried all of my usual articulation tips, tricks, and strategies.

And what happened?

Well, not much happened. With everything that I was throwing his way from my invisible speech therapy toolbox, NONE of it was working. I was both confused and frustrated (and so was the child). But here’s the real kicker – I actually caught myself thinking, “How is all of this stuff not working? This is an /R/ student. You know /R/ students. /R/ sound, /R/ student – you’ve been there, you’ve done that. Get yourself together! Come on, Raj! Get in the game!”

Shame on me for saying things like that to myself!

When I was saying that stuff to myself, it hit me, I was making a VERY real mistake. I was forgetting about my most favorite saying in the history of all sayings – which is the diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis! What I was doing was automatically categorizing that child as an “/R/ student.” (Big mistake!) I was actually looking at the diagnosis and was like, “Oh yeah, the diagnosis, clearly that’s defining the child.” (Again, big mistake!) When in reality, THE CHILD defines the diagnosis, not the other way around. I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten about the saying of the diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis. (How embarrassing!)

It’s all about the individualized approach!

We, as SLPs, really do understand the power behind individualized approach and the idea that we should always view the person in front of us as an individual, not as just a diagnosis. So, in my temporary moment of insanity, when I was actually looking at that child as an “/R/ kid,” I took a step back and I said to myself, “Yo, Mr. Raj, get your head where it needs to be.” I collected my thoughts and looked at that child as an individual, free from that “/R/ kid” label. Then, I re-tried some of the stuff that I pulled from my invisible speech therapy toolbox because I knew I was in a much better headspace, at that moment in time. And low and behold, within a few minutes, he was actually able to make a bit of progress! He wasn’t cured, but he sure was showing me much more of what I was hoping for. His /R/ sound was moving in the right direction!

How did you get closer to having him show you a more improved /R/ sound?

Here’s what I think: it wasn’t necessarily because of the tips, tricks, or strategies – for me, I believe I got him there because I reminded myself that the diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis. That was THE foundation that needed to be in place for any of my tips, tricks, or strategies to actually work. Reminding myself that the diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis, was HUGE for me and I want it to be HUGE for you, too. So, say it with me so you can continue to memorize it. The diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis.

In closing . . .

The saying of the diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis, can be applied to so many aspects of our field. And that’s why I love it so much. It’s a saying that rings true for every single person that we have on our caseload. Whether you work with preschool-aged students or senior citizens, or anything in-between, the saying of the diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis, will always place you on the correct path. Always.

The Diagnosis Doesn’t Define the Person, the Person Defines the Diagnosis

Speech-Language Pathologists Should Thank Parents More Often

As we inch ever closer to a brand new year, it’s quite common for us speech-language pathologists to get into a mode of reflection. I believe that when we reflect on the past year of our professional careers, it helps us to better understand how things went and it also allows us to better see the changes that we might want to make in the coming year. So, I’ve been taking the past few weeks of this holiday season to think about what I could do differently next year,

Next year, I want to give more thanks.

Don’t get me wrong, I share words of thanks to lots of wonderful individuals throughout my day as an SLP. I thank the children I work with for consistently giving it their all. I thank my colleagues for consistently brainstorming with me. I thank various physical and occupational therapists, and other professionals, for consistently sharing new knowledge with me. The list goes on and on, but do you know who I don’t thank nearly as much as I should? Parents.

Trust from parents.

The idea of giving thanks to parents is a very broad notion; where do I even start with giving thanks to them? Well, first and foremost, it’s all about trust. I want to thank them more often for trusting in me to help their son or daughter to grow as a communicator. Trust is the foundation of all successful therapy relationships – without trust, not many gains are going be made within the therapy room. So, I want to thank them for entrusting in me to provide therapy services to their children.

Assistance from parents.

I want to thank them more often for helping their children with the homework that I give. Their assistance paves the way for true success. We SLPs know how important carryover is. When homework is done at home, it helps children to grow that much faster as communicators. So, I want to thank parents for taking time out of their busy schedules to work alongside their children during various carryover assignments.

Motivation from parents.

I want to thank them more often for the motivation that they give to their children. I see their children all the time and those youngsters are always smiling. They legitimately want to try within the therapy room. And that honest WANT to try, where does that come from? It comes from their parents’ motivation. So, I want to thank parents for building up their children with intentional positivity.

Try not to forget about parents.

Here’s what I think, sometimes we, as clinicians, we forget about parents. And, I get it – if you’re a school-based SLP, sometimes you don’t actually get to see the parents all too often. But, it’s important for us to realize that parents are absolutely a part of this therapy puzzle. Without the parents being on the same page with us, we’re not going to get nearly as far as we want to go. And we want to go as far as we can because we know our clients are destined for great things. All those great things, they start to fall into play when everyone knows that they are appreciated for their contributions. And parents, they make SO MANY contributions so we need to do everything we can to communicate our appreciation.

In closing . . .

I just wanted to thank you, the parents. You’re a member of this team and all of us SLPs, we couldn’t do it without you. Starting today, I’m going to thank you more often. And next year, I’m going to thank you more often. Why? Because you deserve it. Big time. So, here’s the deal – I’ll promise to thank you more if you promise to do the following for me: I want you to look at yourself in the mirror right now and I want you to say, “I’m a good parent.” Then, I want you to look at yourself in the mirror again and I want you to say, “I’m a great parent.” Lastly, I want you to look in the mirror, one last time, and I want you to say, “I’m an awesome parent.” Because, my gosh, in my heart of hearts, believe me, you are an awesome parent. Here’s to one heck of a new year!

Speech-Language Pathologists Should Thank Parents More Often

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