When we first finish our education and enter the workforce, things don't always go according to plan. No matter what you had expected your work life to look like, it's nearly always different. This weeks guest author: Corinne Zmoos, MS, CCC-SLP has shared with us some of the things that she wishes she had known when she started working in Early Intervention.
Without further delay, let's get to the list!
10 Things I Wish I Had Known About
Early Intervention When I Started
This is about caregivers, not kids. “But I went into this because I love working with children!” I lamented, and sometimes still lament when a session doesn’t go the way I want it to. My job is to build the capacity of caregivers so that they feel empowered when I leave their home or daycare. When I get down on the floor immediately and show off my skills, I create a threshold to be achieved or a barrier between me and the caregiver. I also show them that I am the arbiter of change, not them.
Find out what a caregiver enjoys doing and build capacities around that game, activity, or routine. I will never enjoy working out in a gym, so the strategies I get for fitness have to work for what I’m actually going to do, like walk my dog on a trail or lift cute babies. Ask them about the times of day that they look forward to most and figure out what part speech and language strategies can play in that moment.
Reflect at the start of each session about what felt good the previous week. Start with the good stuff and the challenges will naturally arise. Instead of asking what was challenging that week or how the strategies went, ask “what was the best part of your week?” or “what was successful this week?” and wait. There might be a pull to fill in suggestions or examples from your assumptions, but this practice encourages reflection and gratitude in your families. You’ll find that as the weeks progress, they’ll have to think less and less about what felt good.
Get them to tell you what they know before you tell them what you know. Show them how much you value their knowledge, insight, and perceptions about their child, the diagnosis or delay, and what they’ve already tried. Believe me, they’ve tried. When you understand their breadth and depth of knowledge, you can meet them at their exact level of comprehension and avoid the risk of talking up or down at them.
Visuals, visuals, visuals. Autism Spectrum Disorder? Visuals. Language delay? Visuals. Parent who had a really long day and wants you to take over while they do laundry? Definitely visuals. If you do handouts, make them engaging and supported through relevant pictures and easy-to-digest infographics. There are a ton of these that buzz around on Instagram of milestones, strategies, and definitions. Work with caregivers on how their daily routines could benefit from picture cues, low tech AAC options like a core board, or visual schedules in the home. We are a bagless profession, but don’t be afraid to create things WITH families that stay with them.
It’s so much bigger than speech and language. From day one, connect with OTs, PTs, RBTs, BCBAs, and other related professionals in your company or in your area. Follow their accounts on Instagram and see what related topics are covered in podcasts like First Bite. Your practice will be so much richer and better informed if you know why posture, gastrointestinal health, trauma, sensory processing, and endless other topics play a role in our success as SLPs.
Try these episodes to get started:
Early Childhood and AAC with Speech & Language Songs (.1 ASHA CEU)
Outstanding Orientation to the OT Scope of Practice (.1 ASHA CEU)
To Bag or Not to Bag? True Struggles of a "Bagless" Early Intervention SLP! (.1 ASHA CEU)
Elusive IPP for the EI Clinician (.1 ASHA CEU)
The Balanced Speech-Language Pathologist (.1 ASHA CEU)
Do your notes IMMEDIATELY. A little “ugh” now saves you a lot of “yikes” later. Ride the adrenaline of your awesome (or awful) session and bang that SOAP out before you start the car or get on the bus. If you are in an area where waiting in your car or for the bus isn’t a safe place for an exposed laptop, use voice-to-text to dictate the bulk of your note and edit later.
When you see a bathroom, use it. When you have an empty water bottle, fill it. When you’re unsure if a parking spot is legal, don’t trust it. It’s a rough life out there when you’re between sessions and there’s no coffee shop in sight. Take care of the “you” around your clients and you will be a much better clinician during your sessions.
“That’s a great question. Let me look into it and get back to you on that.” This will save you the verbal rollercoaster of trying to figure out an answer as you talk, the embarrassed silence, or the need to go back and correct yourself next week. When you promise to learn more, the family feels that you are going the extra mile for them and investing your time in them. It’s a sign of strength and relationship, not weakness. You can’t possibly know everything.
It gets easier. Your brain and your heart are amazing. They will fill with so many facts, ideas, and memories that are going to transform the way you look at families, children, and therapy. You can do this, SLP!
About the Author:
Corinne Zmoos, MS, CCC-SLP is a pediatric SLP at an inclusion daycare and pre-K in Washington, DC. She provides enthusiastic and advocacy-centered early intervention and coaching services with specialized interests in language acquisition, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and all levels of AAC. Corinne works closely with daycare teachers from the U.S. Military to train them on approaches to bringing speech and language success to classrooms around the world, including Hawaii, Japan, and Germany. As the founder of Crescendo Communication, she brings the intersection of children's music, songwriting, and child development to families in the DC area through performances, workshops, and consulting at a modern play-space called Nook (@playatnook).
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