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SLP

Real talk.

Some people thrive on being nonstop at work. That’s how I am. Sure, I like having enough time to get things done, and no, I don’t like the feeling of stress – but I do, and always have, love the feeling of a ton going on, moving nonstop, being constantly challenged and stimulated. Extroverts gain energy in social situations; it’s helpful and necessary for them. I’m no extrovert, but that’s what it’s like for me at work. I thrive off of more more more. It’s like a high, quite honestly.

So the beginning of the year, in the field of education, has always been perfect for someone like me.

Until I had a baby.

Turns out, when you have a 3-month-old and the chaos of the year is beginning, you can’t give 10000%  to work. You can’t stay up late scheduling. You can’t have hour-long phone calls with colleagues trying to problem-solve things each day. You can’t answer every email immediately. You can’t stay at work until 6pm if you need to and you can’t get to work at 6am to get everything done.

Instead, you run around like crazy – crazier than ever – all day long. You desperately try to fit everything in, both job responsibilities and mommy ones. You expend every single possible ounce of energy, answering multiple emails while listening to voicemails and planning for sessions and answering colleague questions. You leave work so depleted you could collapse on the ground, because you are so exhausted, and the amount of energy output has already far surpassed what you started with.

And for a split second you think, Thank heavens the day is over; I am going to pass out on the couch. But then you remember that instead of napping, or running errands, or cooking, or cleaning, or doing more work at home, you need to be 10000% on, because now it’s time to be a mom. You panic a little, because you’re so drained you can’t see straight, and how are you supposed to stay awake until she goes to bed at 8:00, let alone be a good mother in the meantime?

You halfheartedly play and bounce and sing and soothe while trying to do dishes and pack lunches for tomorrow and put away laundry and wash her pooped-all-over clothes. You feel guilty that the kitties are meowing for attention and you literally do not have time or energy to pet them. You question if you’re being a good-enough mother, paying enough attention, giving enough love. You remember you have to eat dinner so you have a bowl of cereal. You try to answer work emails and texts from colleagues. Your husband finally comes home and all you want to do is spend time with him, but now it’s 8pm and she needs to nurse and go to bed, and by the time she’s done you contemplate not even brushing your teeth and instead just passing out. And she wakes up three times in the middle of the night because she’s the best baby ever but not the best sleeper, and then it’s 5am and time to do it all over again.

And nothing feels complete, even when you check it off your to-do list, because for every question you answer there are more and every problem solved there are more and every session planned for there are more.

So you text a friend who is like you in every way possible and you say, “I’m drowning. Tell me it gets easier.”

She says it does. You bitterly smile, and then your eyes well up, because you know she must be right but you just can’t see it.

Blind faith leap of faith drop the rope trust hope breathe.

And it did get better. It’s still hard. It’s hard every single day. Some days I call my mom and panic, “I’m so tired I can’t see straight – how am I supposed to get through the day?” But routines have begun to emerge, and every so often she sleeps better. And most days I enjoy half-caf coffee, and I shower at night instead of in the morning, and the little things help. And my husband is so supportive and my family is so supportive and some people Get It and those are the ones I lean on. And some days I am not fully planned for sessions but I’m a skilled SLP and fully capable of putting a great session together last minute. And that’s okay. And I’ve learned to be even more efficient in the tiny little bit of free time I get throughout the day and somehow, I get done what needs to get done. And I catch up to my life on the weekends and I learn to be okay with the laundry not getting put away until then or the dishwasher not getting emptied until then. And each day I somehow find more energy just when I thought I had none left. Somehow I do become a superwoman and do it all. And my baby is a healthy, and happy, and thriving 4-month-old and really that’s all that matters.

So, real talk:

It’s hard, it’s so hard, and I think I wish I had known how hard it would be. But it gets better. 

I believe the children are our future

The world has felt scary and unsafe lately. While that used to be a “Jen-thing” for a good chunk of my life (i.e., let’s work on this in therapy, why does the world feel so scary for no reason?) it’s currently….not. I’m not even slightly alone in this feeling, and honestly, rather than that being comforting, I only wish it was a Jen-thing rather than our reality.

And one thing I tried to figure out back in January was, what the heck am I going to do/talk about/say to/work on with my students? We’re in a situation where we as educators and therapists can’t share our fears or beliefs with our students (which could be a whole post in and of itself ), but where our students are aware of what’s happening in the world, regardless of their own beliefs about it (which at many of their ages, are just their parents’ beliefs being parroted).

So after a lot of thinking and toying with different ideas, I decided to do a project around “World Issues”. It started about a month ago, with us talking about Martin Luther King Jr., and how we had a day off to celebrate him, and why we celebrate him and what issues he cared about. Then we brainstormed other issues that exist in the world or in our community. You guys – kids KNOW. They hear things and they are aware, and they care. They very quickly rattled off issues and examples that they’ve heard of or witnessed in our world and community. Here’s an example of one group’s brainstorm (excuse the horrible picture quality):

The dialogue that happened was powerful. For each group it meant different things – sometimes simpler and sometimes more in depth, but the point was, they all had reactions and feelings about these topics. I could write for days about each group and the conversations we had, but I’ll just share this one: One student said “war? But that doesn’t happen anymore. There hasn’t really been a war wince World War 2.” And then another student said, “War happens all the time still, like in Syria,” and the first student responded, “That can’t be right. If a war was going on, the United States would do something about it and make it end and not just ignore it.” I know. Powerful.

Politics came up here and there – how could they not? But we kept things factual (“yes, that did happen, yes, that order was signed, yes, some people are upset about it, yes, some people are happy about it”) and moved on.

Then they each chose an issue that they cared a lot about. With two different graphic organizers, they brainstormed and organized information on their issue. The project culminated in them writing a paragraph about the issue of their choosing, and for my students, this is no small feat. All of the steps involved in writing a paragraph when you have significant learning/language disabilities and challenges, maybe with ADHD and anxiety also, can take up to 5 or 6 48-minute sessions. Which is why their end products are so wonderful and move me to tears. (For the record, I also got moved to tears when they wrote a paragraph comparing and contrasting two different types of penguins – they are just such smart kids, such hard workers, and it is not. at. all. easy for them)

So: enjoy. Here’s the final products (with a pretty bulletin board display to come, hopefully next week) of some of my wonderful 6th-8th graders. Read one or two or all of them – because this is the world from the next generation’s perspective. This is the future.

Learning rambles

This is going to be incoherent but I have to write before I lose the thoughts and the concepts deep into the folds of my brain, never to be even partially articulated. 

I’m reading a book. It’s called Your Brain on Childhood, by Gabrielle Principe. I’ve only read about 60 pages so far, but I’m captivated. It’s very research-heavy, citing lots of studies regarding child development, animal development, and ultimately the clear theme is that our kids aren’t being kids. Between phones, ipads, computers (all screens), lack of true “play” time (which is actually a necessity for kids! It’s how they learn – truly learn! Not just memorize what they’ve been taught), and a push to be fastersmarterwisermoredeveloped, we’re causing more problems than we’re solving. In trying to help our kids be smart and brilliant and successful, we’re actually doing the opposite sometimes.

Now, I speak as someone who is NOT a researcher, not an expert in human development, not (yet) a mother. So I can’t speak with fact or certainty. But I can speak intuitively, and I can speak from experience, with about a zillion kiddos, all across the spectrum.

And I can observe. And notice what is hardly a surprise: that the rise in learning disabilities is increasing. That more and more kids are on IEPs. That more and more kids are falling behind in school, and more and more kids are hating school. That anxiety and depression are consuming kids younger and younger. I can’t convince myself that this is random, that there’s no reason behind this. Why is it, well, I can’t state with certainty. But from my observations, of my own students and my friends’ children? I’m observing the amount of homework is increasing. That kids have less and less time to play. That more of an emphasis is placed on MCAS and other state testing. That the “fun” units can’t be taught in school because there’s no time. That kids are taught rules and things to memorize but there’s no time to learn what they want. There’s no more time to learn naturally. 

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that my most successful speech/language therapy sessions are the ones in which we veer off course and have a completely child-directed, randomly-flowing, session. It can’t be a coincidence that my students seem to learn more when we’re talking about something that they brought up or noticed. It can’t be coincidental that what they seem to retain most comes from natural learning opportunities, and often ones they have brought upon themselves.

I don’t know what else to say. There are clearly a lot of thoughts in my head and I realize this is anything but coherent, and probably full of vast accusations and gross generalizations. But I gave you the disclaimer that this is based on absolutely no fact, nothing but my own brain, my life, my experiences. I’m sure they’ll be more to come, more to say, and maybe some cohesiveness eventually. But in the meantime?

Does anyone else, whether you’re a student, a professional, a parent, get this? Feel the same way? Totally disagree? Tell me your thoughts. It’s okay if they’re not based on anything other than the neurons firing in your head. 

My place on the spectrum

I am not autistic. That’s a statement that would never be questioned by anyone. I simply, would not qualify for a diagnosis of autism.

However.

I firmly, truly, in my core, believe in what so many of us think and know: that autism is a spectrum. And it includes neurotypicals. NTs and autistics are not fundamentally different – they just fall on different parts of the spectrum. 

So, if it’s a spectrum – that means that at some point there’s a midline, right? A midline where one thing becomes the other. Where Neutorypical meets Autistic. And that’s near where I fall. I am not autistic. But I am close enough to that midline to GET that other side of the spectrum. 

I believe that’s why I love working with autistic kids. I believe that’s why I understand them. I believe that’s why they understand me. I believe that’s why sometimes I intuitively just KNOW why they do or say something. 

I believe that I’m lucky to land on the spectrum where I do. I believe that I get the benefits of both the NT and the autistic aspects. I believe that despite not being autistic, I can firmly consider myself an understander, and an ally, because I Get It.

I believe that I’m lucky.

I believe in Autism Awesomeness.

Slaberty

I can’t stop thinking about an encounter I had with one of my students last week. In the spirit of extreme anonymity and privacy, all I will tell you is that he’s an adorable little elementary schooler, with a sensitive soul and wisdom beyond his years.

He walked into my office and announced, “You know what I was thinking about?”

“What?” I asked.

“My old school was like slaberty.”

“Slavery?” I questioned.

“Yeah.” 

“What do you mean?”

“Well. You know how the blacks and the whites were all people but they were still treated differently cuz people didn’t realize that they should be treated equally? Well my school was like that. Like, I was a student! Just like everyone else! But since I was in the [name of special ed program] program, other kids didn’t realize that! They treated me differently. Like at recess? They wouldn’t play with me! They ran away from me because I was in the [special ed] program. Just like the whites felt about the blacks! It wasn’t fair! It made me feel stupid and dumb. I was a student just like them!” He was animated, pacing around my tiny office as he talked.

“Wow. I like that comparison. I don’t like how you were treated, but I like how you are thinking about it.” I told him.

He smiled. “Yeah. You know what? Teachers care about me here. I never, EVER thought that teachers could care about kids!”

And then I fought back tears.

Using curriculum in S/L Therapy

The year is getting started, and I’m thinking about how to approach my caseload and my kiddos. My kids all have language-based learning disabilities, and many of them have other things going on too — Asperger’s, ADHD, etc. So, it’s hard enough for them to pay attention, and when they are able to, for those brief spurts of time, it’s hard for them to internalize what’s being said, and even more difficult to connect anything I work on to the rest of their day.

So my goal: make speech/language therapy more functional, instead of teaching concepts with random sentences and worksheets and examples, connect it to their curriculum — teach parts of speech with their science vocabulary, work on inferencing with their history books, etc.

I’m just putting out a feeler for thoughts — what have other SLPs done to streamline this process, get curriculum info from content teachers, implement it into what you do, etc?

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