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It Takes A Team!

Have you ever heard the saying, “It takes a village” when speaking about raising kids? Well, the same goes for working with students on the autism spectrum and students with language disorders. It takes a team. That team can included anyone from the parents to the habilitation workers that see the student on a day-to-day basis. (Which really makes for a stuffy conference room when you pile 15 people around a small table come IEP time) I wanted to share with you how important it is to create a systematic and collaborative approach when we provide services to our students.

Step 1) Provide Effective Interventions.
In order to do this, we need to make sure we are current in our research about evidence based practices and keep in mind what we are capable of doing on our own and knowing when to reach out for help. When a new student comes to me, I work through a “system “and it looks something like this…
Assessment/Evaluation – Goal Planning/IEP – Material Prep – Treatment – Reflect
Once I’ve established a good baseline of where the student is at, I try to figure out what we can do to increase this students’ independence. I try to make goals obtainable, reasonable, and relevant. Working with lower functioning students on the autism spectrum, I try to keep in mind a couple of key things…
1)   Provide some form of communication (whether it be PECS, sign language, or total communication) so that they can effectively communicate their basic wants and needs. 
2)   Decrease behaviors (hopefully, by establishing #1 this will happen naturally)
3)   Increase their quality of life (#1 and #2 are preceding factors to this)

Step 2) Collaborate.
In my whopping 4 years of experience I’ve worked for two different school districts and two private practices. So needless to say, I’ve been the new person a couple of times. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked, “What’s your name?” mid school year by staff members. In those moments, I realize that I haven’t been doing my job.
1)   Introduce yourself.
Build rapport with ALL the staff members at your building, as they will likely be a part of “the team.”
2)   Touch base oftenYou will need their buy-in when implementing new systems with your students. Give them a voice in how/where they feel they would do their best.
3)   Discuss IEP goals with teachers, para-professionals, secretaries, etc. Don’t keep to yourself about a student having a goal for ‘asking for help’ because it won’t generalize into other settings if they can only do it when they come to speech.
4)   Reinforcement.
And I don’t mean to your students; of course you reinforce them. I mean reinforce the adults working with your students. Tell them how great of a job they’re doing, how much you appreciate it, and how thankful you are for them. Adults that don’t get reinforced are less likely to want to do better. I’m sure we’ve all been there!
5)   Train.
Train your staff by holding in-services, modeling, and reviewing techniques you use in therapy. Don’t just tell them to read a packet on how to provide Aided Language Stimulation and expect them to be doing it when you walk in the classroom. Let me tell you from experience…it won’t happen. Teach them the “why” behind the madness. Explain the methodology, model it with the student, let them practice, and give them feedback. 

Step 3) Communicate.
It’s kind of silly to talk to SLPs about communication because…well…we’re experts in it, right? But, sometimes we can get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the everyday routine that we don’t talk with the teacher or the para-professional and that can be devastating to our clients. There are many different modes of communication we can use to keep in touch. If I don’t have time for a 5 minute face to face chat with the students one-on-one or teacher, I sometimes create a daily data sheet. This can be as simple as a checklist or a simple +/- data sheet. This is especially helpful for me since I travel in between placements and can’t be at the school everyday. It helps everyone stay on the same page and can also aid in generalizing goals across all settings.

I know that we do not live in a perfect world, but I do know that most people mean well and want to do a good job. It takes a team. It won’t happen over night. It can be complicated. But, you can do it!

Speech Me Maybe
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