Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Day Job

In which I discuss the importance of motivation

Although I am a wannabe farmer, in my day job I work as a speech-language pathologist in the school system. It's a job I love for many reasons: the obvious and facetious ones of having summers off and getting snow days, and Christmas, and March break; but also the truer, more deeply satisfying ones of being able to help children, and spending most of my time concerned with language and communication, true loves of mine.

When I was a toddler, growing up as a child of German immigrants, my first language was German; I picked up English from the neighbourhood kids as we played. One of the stories of my childhood was how, when I tried to ask my mother for some juice in English, I said, "Can I have some saft?" Now, the German for juice is "saft", pronounced "zuft" - but I asked for "saft" - how the 3-yr-old me knew to transpose the phonology of German "zuft" to English "saft" was pretty damn cool. I kept wondering about it, and when I grew up, I chose a profession that would allow me to indulge in more wondering of the same nature.

Anyway, here I am, an S-LP with 5 schools in my caseload, 3 elementaries, one middle school, and a high school. Lots of kids to take care of - from the lispers and the stutterers, all the way to the kids with autism and the non-verbal kids, and everyone in between. I have mixed success with all my kids - some make enormous progress, others, not so much. I can point the finger at parents, and say, if only they'd practice more with their kids. Or I can say, it's just not in them, they can't do it. (Notice how I'm not saying, it's me? ;) )

But I keep getting example after example that indicates what I really need to do, is make a giant needlepoint wall hanging, that says, "MOTIVATION" in huge and fancy lettering.....and then, of course, I have to figure out ways to motivate them.

Case in point: a 5-yr-old girl with a /t/ for /k/ and /d/ for /g/ substitution - you know the ones, "I saw a titty-tat eat a tootie"....4 weeks of therapy with not a lot of progress, when all of a sudden, she sees the gum in my bag. "Can I have some dum?", she says. "Not till you can say 'gum' properly, and stop calling me dumb", I answer. So she's giggling away, but I swear to god, within 5 minutes, we not only have /g/ established at the sound level, but she's asking me properly for "GUM", and I have to fork some over. Not only that, but by the end of the session, she's got word-initial /g/ all over the place, and I see a whole month of progress in 30 minutes. Motivation.

But my favourite motivation story of all time concerns another kid with a /t/ for /k/ - 2 years of therapy, he can say the /k/ words while in therapy but absolutely no carryover into conversation at all. However, this kid has multiple behavioural issues (not a great family life) and is prone to epic tantrums, requiring numerous adults to hold down a relatively small 6 yr old....One day, I walk into the school, and there he is, in the office, being held down by 3 adults, in full-blown meltdown, and I hear him screaming, "COCKSUCKER!!!! MOTHERFUCKER!!!"

And me? All I can think is, wow. Nice /k/ sounds, dude.

Motivation. It's everything.

1 comment:

  1. I am absolutely sure my girl will be one of those kids whose off-colour remarks will be the delight of her SLPs in years to come. Which is not a bad thing, because if only her SLPs understand her for the first little while, it might postpone the inevitable call before Thanksgiving to conference with her teacher/principal because she's been quoting Eddie Izzard in class again.