SLP Weaknesses Made Strength

Weaknesses- We All Have Them!
Jen at SLPRunner came up with this wonderful idea for a blog linky and I’m delighted to join in!  Each and every one of us has both strengths and weaknesses, including our students, and rarely do we like to face our weaknesses head on! So, thank you, Jen, for giving us this opportunity to place ourselves in the position that our students must face daily. When I started my studies to become an SLP, I remember being surprised at how many people in our field were dealing with speech issues themselves. “How could you help someone improve their skills when you were not able to provide a correct model yourself?” went my thoughts. Now that I am a seasoned SLP, I can clearly see where the opposite can be so true.
My particular difficulty is with word retrieval, a problem shared by many of our students.  Over the years, I have seen the relief in many students’ faces when I have been able to sincerely tell them that I know just what that feels like, and that I have some ideas for them to try that worked for me. After all, if your speech-language therapist has that problem and can cope with it, maybe you can, as well! My students know that I am telling the truth, because I have to tell them straight away that sometimes I may call them by their partner’s name, but not to worry, I actually do know their name and who I am addressing! We laugh or smile when this happens, acknowledging a shared difficulty, and the session goes on.

Now, I share the typical word retrieval difficulties, too, so I know many strategies for it, but somehow having problems retrieving a word or a fact never hits home the same way that having the wrong name pop out of your mouth does!
Word retrieval problems don’t actually go away, or so I believe, but there are strategies that can be learned which help lessen the impact on the flow of communication and on getting your message across. Sometimes, I have found that the best strategy is to just own up to your weakness, say you will give the listener the exact name as soon as it comes to you, and just continue with the conversation. Other times, I joke that it is making my students (and family members) practice active listening to figure out my message, as well as requesting clarification when the word that pops out doesn’t make sense in the context or makes the message unclear. Most often, it is important to provide the listener with enough information that they can fill in the gaps and understand what you are trying to say. Often, they will supply the word for you!

Therapy strategies for word retrieval problems consist mainly of activities that build the associations between words, providing many paths to aid retrieval of words and much information to use in place of the word when retrieval fails, so that the communication flow can continue.
It is important to be careful not to work on continually practicing new vocabulary until the student demonstrates a variety of connections to the word. Typically, this would involve being able to define the word, provide synonyms and antonyms, name other items that belong in the same category, and perform rapid naming tasks in a reasonable period of time.

Describing activities are another way to build associations between words, especially if you provide a framework for students to begin thinking about and saying the most important information to provide their listener. For example, substituting “the special dessert you eat on Thanksgiving” keeps the flow going and helps the listener fill in the gaps much more easily than saying “um, that thing, it’s orange, you eat it, you know, on Thanksgiving.”  When we teach our students skills without giving them a way to pull it all together in a functional situation, we are leaving some of them without a way to apply what they have learned.
I absolutely love using visuals for just that reason! After thinking about why learning the skill is important and how it can be used in varied situations, I love making and using visuals to help my students pull it all together without verbal help from me. It helps them to have a visual image of what to do, so they can process and formulate a response more independently.

Take a peek at these organizers in my new freebie to celebrate reaching 1,000 followers at my store. I usually provide materials at differing levels, because who is lucky enough to have groups that are that cohesive?
They support the activities in my product Describing and Inferring:Places, which is chock full of activities to build both skills. You can use them in any describing or inferring activity to help your students think and organize their responses, however.

Don’t be afraid to share your weaknesses with your students, just do so in an appropriate way that supports them and lets them know that everyone has them! Thanks again to Jen at SLPRunner for getting us sharing ours! Check back at her blog to find more SLPs who are sharing.
What is your weakness? Did you share with your students? How did they respond?
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