Why I Became An SLP

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When I began college at Western Washington University, I had intended to go into education. I knew that I wanted to have an impact on the world in a positive way by helping people. In the spring of my junior year I was faced with a difficult decision. I had been playing football at Western and had suffered injuries that required three separate surgeries (to this day, I am up to five). At that point I had to give up something that had been a part of my life as long as I can remember.  I stopped playing football, and as difficult as that was, it provided me an opportunity to find a path where I could change the world for the better. I sought out a variety of different areas that I thought would be interesting, and in what seemed to be a fateful moment I received a pamphlet in the mail about Speech and Language Pathology at Western Washington University. I decided to take a course in this field and it was a hit for me, with a combination of medical, creativity and helping people. I was instantly hooked on learning about this amazing profession.

After I transferred to Southern Illinois University and began to implement services I was offered an opportunity to help create a rural outreach program for families that did not have access to services in their communities. This was a collaborative effort between speech and language pathology and the behavior analysis program. To create something, to put in the effort and see the children progress and to see the relationship with the parent and child blossom was inspiring. This was one of three moments in my career that have had a lasting effect on me and gave me focus on what my future was to be about. The second moment was when I was providing therapy and playing a bean bag toss game and the child I was working with was laughing and having a good time. I asked him to pronounce the word “finger” (he was working on the “f” sound at the beginning of multi-syllabic words). He looked at me and with all the physical and mental effort he had, he said, “fingawinga.” Although this was not the accurate pronunciation of this word, the point is that it was fun to work hard and achieve something that he was not capable of doing previously. He said his “f” sound for the first time. Another moment that has stayed with me was when I was working with a two year old who was non-verbal. I worked directly with the parent, coaching them on how to interact and promote communication. It was an inspirational moment when the child looked at his mom and said, “mom” for the first time. His mother instantly broke down and gave her child a hug. Of course there have been many other moments with children and families that I have been fortunate to share and I am grateful for all of them.

Posted by: Dan, Speech-Language Pathologist

Why I Became An SLP

I came to the States to pursue my Master’s Degree in Special Education. At that time, I did not know what speech-language pathology was because there was no such a program in China. During my first semester, I took a course on child language development. It was in this class where I analyzed my first language sample. I can still remember my excitement when I figured out the mean length of utterance (MLU) of a language sample. At that moment, I told myself this was what I wanted to do.

As part of the program, I went into an inclusive preschool classroom and worked as a teacher aide. In the classroom, there were typically developing kids as well as kids with autism, ADHD, or other developmental differences. Every week, a speech-language pathologist came in and worked with these kids. I got the opportunity to watch her provide therapy for these kids as well as use conversation or narrative samples to find out what speech or language difficulties these kids had.

I became so interested in analyzing narratives and conversations and wanted to find better ways to use this tool to help kids with language impairments. After graduation, I went to pursue my doctorate in the field of speech-language pathology. This decision opened a whole new world for me.

Posted by: Fei, Speech-Language Pathologist

Vina – Interviewed in the Family Center on Technology and Disability Newsletter

Check out Vina’s interview in the May 2012 newsletter for the Family Center on Technology and Disability – she is kind of a big deal:

http://www.fctd.info/newsletters/301

 

Parent Education… The LCA Way.

I am a Hanen certified speech-language pathologist, which in my case means that I can lead three different Hanen Centre programs.  The Hanen Centre trains speech-language pathologists all over the world to lead parent education programs.  On their website they say:

Since 1975, The Hanen Centre has been an innovator in family-focused early language intervention, supporting parents, speech-language pathologists and educators worldwide in their efforts to develop language and literacy skills in preschool children.

We provide research-based parent programs and resources as well as professional development within four areas of expertise: General Language and Literacy Development, Language Delays, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asperger Syndrome.

The two programs that have the most applicability to our mission at LCA are More Than Words® and TalkAbility™, which are both family-focused programs that give parents of children with ASD and related social communication difficulties practical tools to help their children communicate.

Both programs include parent group sessions and home visits with the overall goal of empowering parents to feel confident and competent in supporting their children’s development.  It is very important to note that although speech-language pathologists have expertise in speech, language, and communication, each parent is an expert regarding their own child.  Being a parent is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences an individual can have, and the right Hanen program can provide parents the tools to build stronger relationships with their children.  Hanen focuses on encouraging strategies parents may already be using, and it provides a framework for practicing those strategies, and building confidence and competence in supporting children to exceed their potential, all while connecting with other parents who are going through similar situations.

I am very excited to announce that LCA is launching our very first More Than Words® program this summer!!! A FREE parent orientation will be held at LCA on Sunday, July 8 at 2 pm.  We will be providing FREE childcare, so please do not hesitate to attend the orientation if you are at all curious about the program and how we will be implementing it here at LCA.  We would love to see parents and other important caregivers such as grandparents, other family members, babysitters and nannies, who spend significant amounts of time with your child.  The More Than Words® program seeks to get everyone on the same page to support your child’s communication development, so the more the merrier!

 
In May, I wrote a blog entry titled Tackling Autism Together that referenced an article in the Seattle Times by Steve Kelley about the Seahawks General Manager, John Schneider, his wife Traci and their son Ben, who has autism.  One of the quotes I was especially drawn to was Mr. Schneider’s call to action, “Autism is an extremely fast-growing epidemic, and we have to help the parents so they can help their kids.”  At LCA, we are working hard to empower parents, and More Than Words® is one way to achieve this goal.

Posted By: Piera, Speech-Language Pathologist

Why I Became An SLP

The experience of growing up as a big brother to a sibling with autism sent me down a path towards wanting to work with people with developmental differences.  At least, that is the direction I took after I learned that the paths to becoming a rock star or a male model were solidly blockaded.  I didn’t always know, though, exactly how I wanted to support people with developmental differences.  I volunteered, I spent some time as a respite care provider working with a young man with autism, and I eventually ended up as a paraprofessional aide in a high school special education classroom. I thought the job was rewarding and fun, but I did have some concerns about having to live paycheck-to-paycheck – which is easy to do when you are making twelve grand a year.  One day, near the end of the year, the assistant superintendent called me into her office, and told me that, despite budget cuts, there would be a job for me next year.  But, if I stayed on, they would have to fire a co-worker who was hired after me.  She then attempted, and succeeded, in steering my life onto a new path.

The assistant superintendent asked, “Have you thought about going back to school? You could, you know, for example, pick a major which would actually be employable for professions besides washing dishes or being a paraprofessional” (I picked English with a Creative Writing emphasis my first time around).

I knew that for my brother, and for many children and adults with autism, the use of language and communication represents a significant challenge.  When I was employed in the school district, I worked directly with a speech-language pathologist, whose job it was to address the children’s ability to communicate their wants, needs, protests, and joys.  Sounded perfect to me, and so I enrolled in the Speech-Language Pathology program at Western Washington University.  Without question, the Master’s level classes were profoundly more difficult than my old English classes – it is much harder to write a 25 page research paper than 5 haikus, for example. But I think of how rewarding my professional life is now, and I know it was worth it.

Posted by: Andy, Speech-Language Pathologist

In Support of Sensory Integration

Dr. Anna Jean Ayres coined the term “sensory integration dysfunction” in the 1960’s, but sensory integration (SI) treatment has only recently gained attention in the medical field.  Research in this area is still in its infancy and substantial work is needed before enough thorough empirical data are available to reach valid conclusions about the effectiveness of this type of intervention. I believe that one of the reasons that the current research does not consistently reflect the efficacy of SI because each child with sensory processing differences is so unique and improvements can be challenging to capture. Also, effectiveness studies administered in natural settings such as a therapy clinic (as contrasted with laboratory settings) are complex and must deal with multiple potential confounds (SPD Foundation, 2004). Well-trained and experienced OTs know that the same SI treatment that works for one child with sensory defensiveness may not work for another child with sensory defensiveness. It is the nature of our jobs to figure out the best approach to use for each child and therefore a strict, regimented protocol (as used in research studies) will not necessarily be the most appropriate mode of treatment for all children with like diagnoses. Skilled OTs know how to adapt the SI intervention to meet the child’s unique and fluctuating sensory system. Effective intervention not only includes skilled OT (and SLP and PT!) services but also follow-through in the home and school environments, as well.

Some researchers question whether a child’s over- or under-responsivity to sensory stimuli may have a behavioral component, rather than a neurological basis. However, current research does suggest children with sensory processing disorder have differences in the way the brain makes sense of sensory input. Recent studies of electrodermal reactivity during a sensory challenge protocol found that children with severe sensory processing dysfunction differ significantly in the reactivity of their sympathetic nervous systems when compared to typically developing children after sensory stimulation (SPD Foundation, 2003). This suggests that children with autism and other diagnoses may in fact have differences in their brain pathways for processing sensory information, and that their reaction to sensory stimulation is not purely a behavior response.

Some people only think of sight, taste, touch and sound as components of the sensory system – leaving out the vestibular and proprioceptive systems completely. These two “hidden” systems typically lay the groundwork for the functioning of the other sensory systems and play a large part in maintaining regulation for participation in daily tasks. It is difficult for children with sensory processing differences to form appropriate responses to visual, gustatory, tactile, and auditory input before first understanding their body’s position in space and in relation to other objects and people.

However beneficial SI may be, it is important not to use SI intervention as a standalone treatment. OTs are trained to look at the child’s whole system – cognitive, behavioral, motor, social, etc – and we would not be doing our job if we were addressing the sensory system in isolation. In an ideal world, all OTs would team with each child’s pediatricians and other therapists to create an environment where each professional is bringing their specialty to the child’s treatment, making it so that all possible diagnoses are being discussed and considered. I am in favor of making SPD an official diagnosis so that healthcare professionals have clear criteria from which to diagnose, refer, and treat.

Research in SI intervention has only recently begun and has a long way to go. It is crucial to promote further research in SI rather than dismiss it as being an unproven therapeutic intervention. I believe that research which examines children with sensory processing differences on a case-by-case basis will reflect what I see at Lakeside Center for Autism every day: the amazing progress that children make in their daily functioning with the proper sensory supports in place. I would like to close my thoughts with a quote from an anonymous OT from New York:

“I have seen children who were terrified to be touched and/or would scream if their bodies came into contact with some sort of tactile input make great gains, being able to play with peers and get messy doing typical kid things. I have so many other examples, too many to name. But when you talk about lack of research, you have to remember that kids with special needs need many different services, working together, to produce great improvement. As a parent, I would not consent to having my child participate in only one type of therapy to test its success. As a therapist, it seems unethical. The best thing is for sensory therapy – if indicated – to be part of an effective treatment team.”

Posted by: Erica, Occupational Therapist

Why I Became An SLP

When I was 8 years old, my mom worked as a caregiver for two boys, brothers, who both were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Since my mom had grown to develop a strong relationship with these boys’ mother, I was allowed to go with her to play with these boys on (special) occasion. One time, I was at their house when their SLP came over for a home visit. I remember that both of these boys seemed to enjoy her company beyond compare, and before her departure, the younger sibling uttered the first word I’d ever heard him speak – “apple.” I asked her what her job was, and she replied, “I’m a speech-language pathologist,” after which I vividly remember thinking to myself in the immediate moments afterward, “That’s what I want to do.”

When I reflect on how this event has helped shape my life, I cannot help but acknowledge that the same observations that inspired me as a child still inspire me today. I’m grateful for the company I am able to keep with colleagues, parents, caregivers, and most importantly, my clients – especially when I am able to help foster the scientific, artistic, emotional, dare I say, magical power of communication.

Posted by: Vina, Speech-Language Pathologist

Why I Became An SLP

My decision to become a speech-language pathologist was supported by two very significant life experiences.  The first was when I was in the third grade.  My amazing teacher taught an entire unit on people with different abilities.  We met individuals who had vision impairments, hearing impairments, paralysis, and a couple of the families in my class shared their experiences with learning disabilities.  We learned their stories and got to experience their differences in creative ways.  We learned some sign language and visited the Tactile Dome in the Exploratorium to experience blindness.  I remember winning the opportunity to have a ride in a completely accessible vehicle, controlled by blowing into a straw.  We also visited a state-of-the-art assistive technology office where children and adults could go to use computers that were designed to support their particular strengths and mitigate their mobility and sensory challenges.  I was very touched by this unit and it has stayed with me throughout my life, but I did not know at the time that I would integrate this early learning experience with my own talents and interests.  It was amazing to me that there were ways for all people to be contributing members of our society, in spite of, or because of, their differences and that there were ingenious ways to make a successful life more accessible.

The second experience happened when I was a junior at UC Davis studying for a degree in linguistics, but I did not yet know what I wanted to do after graduation.  One of my cousins asked me what I loved.  I told her I loved language, working with children, one-on-one interactions, and teaching.  She was an occupational therapist and suggested I look into speech-language pathology.  I immediately signed up for an internship with a speech therapist who worked in early intervention in clients’ homes.  I was blown away.  Not only could I integrate my love and interest in language with working with children, but I could get paid to work with Mr. Potatohead!  Being a speech-language pathologist would enable me to give voices to people who needed specialized help to communicate.  It was kind of perfect.  Soon after, I started working with children with autism, enrolled in graduate school, and the rest is history.

Posted by: Piera, Speech-Language Pathologist

WE DID IT!!!

 

 

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Here we are, still running on adrenaline, after a 54 hour extravaganza to get Kinetix Academy launched!!

 

Wow!! WE DID IT, WE WON!!! What a weekend. Mari and I had a tremendous experience and worked with some amazing people at the Startup Weekend in Seattle. There are so many pieces of this weekend that reminded me of all the efforts that were put into the establishing of Lakeside Center for Autism. The drive, the passion, the late nights, the lack of sleep; It is so tremendous to see the vision come to life of technology specifically supporting individuals with autism. This has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember and it was amazing to see Mari’s game ideas come to reality with the support of Justin and Shashi. We were so fortunate to meet those two over the weekend. There were teams of 8 or more and we were a small but very focused team that meshed very well, created an amazing prototype, and were able to have the Miller menagerie test out the application on Sunday morning. We are forever grateful for their support and for the support from all of our families here at LCA.

As this project progresses we plan on building a more comprehensive team of developers and designers to create a fully functional version of a game with back end data to be able to track the progress of the child that is using it. From there we will work on developing and releasing new games on a periodic basis.

Keep watching us, there are more exciting things to come!!!!

Dan 

Kinetix Academy Begins!

Child enjoying a Kinect game.

Whew! We are more than halfway through the 54 hour Seattle Start-Up Weekend marathon! When Dan & I signed up for this over a month ago I don’t think either of us had any idea what we were getting ourselves into! All we knew was we had this big idea and we needed help to really get it off the ground. When LCA won the “Innovation in Issaquah” award for our use of the Kinect in therapy the speaker mentioned the entrepreneurial spirit in Washington and put up a link to startupweekend.org. I checked it out that day and then kind of forgot about it for a while as Dan and I explored other avenues to try to launch this idea. I feel like we’ve been in this frustrating place where every time we talk about this idea with someone, be it other therapists, Microsoft employees, researchers, developers, or potential investors, we kept hearing “wow, that is a great idea!” but never got quite the traction we needed to really push this idea into anything other than that…a great idea. So, when we heard that there was a start-up weekend scheduled in Seattle we figured we might as well give it a shot.

So here I am, at almost midnight on a Saturday night, having worked on this pretty much straight through since about 9am and although I am physically exhausted I can’t seem to find the off switch for my brain! I don’t know if it is the caffeine (I haven’t had regular coffee in over 6 months and had 3 grande Americanos today!) or the sheer adrenaline of seeing our ideas actually become a reality, but I really need to find that off switch so I can sleep and be ready to rock and roll again bright and early tomorrow morning!

What is our great idea you might ask? Well, it is to create a comprehensive curriculum of educational and therapeutic games specifically designed for children with autism to support their development of motor, speech and language, cognitive, academic, and social skills….and it’s called Kinetix Academy. Ever since I caught wind of the Kinect (back when it was still called Project Natal) I’ve been dreaming about how we could use this technology to support kid’s gross motor skills. Over the past six months or so I’ve slowly put some of those ideas down on paper and started to think through the developmental sequences, feedback and reinforcement schedules, and opportunities to target other areas of development. I think I kind of off-handedly mentioned this idea to Dan one day and he took that idea and ran with it and started outlining a curriculum targeting all sorts of different areas of development and thinking about how we could harness the ever-improving speech recognition technology to help kids with their speech and language goals. So my big idea suddenly got much bigger!

And the first thing we had to do to prepare for start-up weekend was to distill that BIG idea into a 60 second pitch to convince people that our idea is worth making a reality. That was quite the task and Dan and I finally whittled it down and practiced our pitch about a zillion times Friday afternoon on any poor LCA staff member or family member we could catch! All that practice paid off and although we were both super nervous I think our pitch went really well and generated a little bit of buzz. Trouble was there were about 40 other people pitching ideas and some of them were pretty cool ideas. Once everyone had a chance to pitch there ideas it was time for the voting and frantic team building/recruiting to begin. Now mind you, Dan & I are both complete rookies at this and had no idea what to expect. We thought once people voted that the top ideas would be announced and people would choose one of those 5 or so teams. In actuality it was complete chaos with over 100 people jammed into a small-ish space trying to expand their 60 second pitches, recruit key team members, and generally not get lost in the shuffle.

For a little while I thought, “oh no, here we go again” as I had one person after another say “Oh, wow, your pitch was so great! That is such an awesome idea” or “I totally voted for you, love your idea!” as they then went on to recruit for their own idea or followed with “but I don’t really have any skills that can help you.” But we got Shashi and he helped champion our idea and pointed us to Justin who had experience developing for Kinect. It was just the four of us and we knew we desperately needed a designer to help with the graphics, but as people settled into their teams and started staking out table space it became clear that designers were in short supply so we decided to give it a go with our mini-team. And ya know what, our mini team is doing just fine! We’ve had a few mentors and others stop by to pitch in here and there but mostly it’s just been the four of us. It’s Saturday night and we have a functioning Kinect application with some cute kid-friendly graphics that hopefully shows that this idea is possible; that we can target gross motor skills, following directions, and color concepts all in one simple little game.

We still have a lot of work ahead of us before the final presentations begin at 6pm tomorrow! But I actually think we’ll be okay. Tomorrow morning at 8am we’re meeting the amazing Miller family for some user testing and validation and making any final changes to the game. Then it’s full throttle on perfecting our final pitch. This time we get five whole minutes…which of course seems like nothing when we have so much great information to share about Kinetix Academy! If you read this before 6pm tomorrow, follow all the action on our twitter feed @KinetixAcademy or on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/kinetixacademy and when it’s all said and done we’ll try to post our final pitch video here so you can decide for yourself if this idea is worth investing in! Now it’s time for bed…wish me luck finding that off switch!

Posted by: Mari, Physical Therapist