May 22, 2012

My Speech Scientists!!!

For those of you wrapping up the school year, you might be feeling the pressures of PAPERWORK! I am no stranger to this right now, but somehow I have managed to push forward to provide the last bits of intervention that my students can take in and retain. Today, I want to share my proud moment in fluency therapy from this week.

For me, providing fluency therapy has been one of my greatest challenges and I am determined to continue improving in this skill. My own child was a preschool stutterer, and I had the opportunity to work with an AMAZING professor and clinician at the University of Texas clinic. That experience forced me to release my "fears" of fluency disorders, and shape the skills that I already possess. During the course of this year I have sought A LOT of guidance from my fellow colleagues with experience in fluency therapy. I have also done TONS of reading and research, and I am continuing to seek out to more knowledge of stuttering intervention (and eventually, I will be able to watch all of those fluency DVDs that I want to see!)

The best thing that one of my colleagues shared with me this year is this resource:

Find a copy from the Stuttering Foundation of America here.

One of my 3rd grade students really struggled with changes to his fluency this school year. This was my second year providing his treatment and midway through the year he hit a rough patch and started exhibiting some significant secondary features with his disfluency. In addition, he uses a high frequency of blocks and sound repetitions. I changed his treatment and moved him from group to individual therapy because it seemed pretty obvious that something had changed and was affecting his fluency. Using this workbook and with the help and support of his parents, I was able to help him identify emotions related to his stuttering. Then one day, he asked me "how do blocks happen?"

His desire to learn and understand the root of his stuttering inspired me! This child's desire to understand such a complex disorder helped me to become a better therapist in fluency treatment (and I still have so much more to learn!) So, I taught him all about the science of the speech mechanism. I drew a diagram for him and outlined the various parts related to respiration, phonation, and speaking. We found some images on google to represent what he learned. A few weeks later, we invited his mom into therapy, and he TAUGHT her all about the structures and functions of the speech mechanism. I also later learned that in his private therapy session, his private therapist was so impressed with his knowledge that she had him TEACH A YOUNGER child who was stuttering all about the speech mechanism. Soon, we all started noticing positive changes in his speech. The private speech therapist focused heavily on eliminating the secondary characteristics and soon the teacher and parent were commenting on how "calm" he seemed to be when speaking, despite his continued use of disfluencies.

Not long after that, I started working with another child who had a fluency disorder. This new student was in the same grade level and seemed a perfect mate to my current student because they are both quick learners. Soon, my current student taught the new student all of his expertise about the speech mechanism. They were both so interested in the topic and confident in their knowledge, that I encouraged them to teach their class. The next six weeks were spent dividing our sessions between direct fluency practice and developing a PowerPoint presentation for their classmates. They dictated the various aspects of the speech mechanism to me, and I helped them create the presentation. They drew their own diagram of the speech mechanism and labeled it:

I also found a variety of images and youtube videos for them to choose from to share with their classmates.
Here are the links to the videos that they chose from:
A Song Describing Respiration
A Student Created Video of Structures and Functions in Respiration (This is the one they chose to use.)
The Normal Larynx and Voice (I encouraged them to use this one because it had a "slow motion" picture of the vocal cords vibrating.)
Normal Vocal Cords during Phonation
The University of Iowa Phonetics (This link is GREAT for showing "speech helpers" make various sounds.)

Their presentation focused on Respiration, Phonation, and Talking. I couldn't believe how well they explained this to their classmates, and the videos were really intriguing. AND during the Q&A portion of their presentation, they answered ALL questions from their classmates without my help! Their classmates seemed as impressed as me to watch them share the science of speech, and their teachers were beaming (including me!)

So, the greatest lesson that these students have taught me is: never underestimate a student's willingness and desire to truly understand their disorder. Giving them the tools and words to communicate their disorders to others will help them to continue to advocate for themselves, a goal we had set for them. I feel pretty confident that they will soon be able to describe and explain to others how and why they stutter, and they will do this without fear of the reactions of others. AND, I can't wait to check on them in about 15 years. . .my guess is they will be finishing their graduate degrees in Speech/Language Pathology!!!! 

I hope that their story has inspired you the same way it has inspired me. I am so lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of the lives of so many amazing young individuals!


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