It’s funny how we go to work, thinking we are teaching our students or clients something we planned in order to help them understand concepts and functionally express themselves. Yet, the longer I do this for a living, the more I realize my students and clients are teaching me to understand and express myself. Here is a typical day of what I am learning:
1. Go with the flow: Although I go in to a session with every intention of teaching a specific lesson, for example reading Danny and the Dinosaur, my client expresses that this is too difficult. He doesn’t necessarily say so in so many words but his actions show me this when he is reluctant to work. So, clinically speaking, I decide to forego a power struggle and move to a book called “Max’s Words” where my client becomes VERY interested in the idea of “collecting” words. Did I still meet the goal of responding to WH-Questions, and identifying the characters, setting, and plot? Yes! Just not the way I originally planned. When I stepped back, I realized that this defines all of life. We go into a situation with definite ideas and ideals. But, when we let go, and go with the flow, we find that the situation turns out even better than we expected. And life takes us down a path we belong on, with a lot less struggling.
2. Begin where you are: My client happens to love monster trucks. This is what motivates him. On a day he may be feeling unwilling to perform, I can simply utilize what he loves most…monster trucks. So, while we were collecting words, we utilized the free app called Pic-Collage. My client had the opportunity to choose whichever monster trucks he desired. We then described each and every one using adjectives. We discussed the actions of of the monster trucks, which provided us with verbs, and we named each truck which incorporated the nouns. I became the monster truck and gave my client a ride. On this journey, he was required to find the hidden words we collected. He thoroughly enjoyed this…and so did I. Again, I reflected. All we can ever do in life is begin where we are. We can then slowly move in the direction of our desires, when we just accept where we are today.
3. Stay present: When I first go into any therapy session, I like to provide a visual schedule for the session so my clients will know what to expect. This is an extremely helpful tool, but I must admit, sometimes, for some clients it can be distracting…and so I adjust accordingly. This client in particular was so enjoying his monster truck journey, yet he was focusing on what was to come next. Although, I redirected him back to the activity at hand, he continued to list the items that were expected of him for the remainder of the session. Once I explained to him that we needed to enjoy this moment, and not focus on any other activities, it struck a chord for me personally. Each moment is precious! Why focus on the next activity? That moment is not yet here, and all it does is robs us of the enjoyment of this very moment.
4. Have fun: A wise teacher who I hold near and dear to my heart lives by his famous words, “if it’s not fun, stop doing it!” To me, it is the most extraordinary advice anyone can receive. Life is abundant and is extraordinary. So, we must take advantage of this while we are here, and truly enjoy all the pleasures life has to offer. My clients remind me of this every day. When the session is fun, results are mastered. We all have something called the reticular activating system (RAS). This tells us what to filter in or out. Many kids filter out things that are challenging because…well…it’s just easier. But, there is one thing that overrides the RAS. Emotion! When I child is having fun, and feeling happy emotions, they can learn! And monster trucks are fun!
5. Be responsible for the energy you bring to any situation: Simply put, when I’m having a bad day, you can bet my therapy session is not living up to its potential. When I’m having a good day, I can usually manage to have an impactful session, even if my client is having a difficult day. The energy that I show up with usually determines the entirety of the session. Interestingly, when we all wake up to begin our day, I find that when we start our day positive and grateful in hopeful anticipation, we tend to have a good day. On the contrary, when we begin our day cranky and miserable, it’s a sure sign our day will spiral down into many unpleasantries. So, I have learned that I alone am solely responsible for the energy I enter each and every situation. I choose a positive energy! My client notices!
6. Choose well: When a client has difficulty responding to the targeted goal, we as clinicians give several choices. My clients tend to respond to the final choice given. It is my job to encourage attending to ALL the choices and reasoning which would be the best answer. We all have a choice in every moment. Each choice determines our consequences for a desired outcome or an undesirable outcome. So I encourage all of us to notice ALL the choices we can make and reason which would truly be best for us. We all ultimately want what is good…so choose well!
7. When you know better, you do better: As the amazing author and poet Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better!” As therapists, we call this ‘shaping’. It’s where we set a goal for a child, and once he reaches that goal, we no longer accept that level. We push to the next level so we can shape his skills to reach functional communication. While utilizing monster trucks for language therapy, I continue to encourage the speech/articulation therapy. My client works on the sound of /l/ in all positions of the word. He knows that our lizard sound requires his tongue tip to elevate to the alveolar ridge. He can achieve this in a structured setting, yet needs reminders to achieve success in an unstructured setting. I remind him to monitor himself because he knows what to do. Or does he? I can’t help but think about life. Do we sometimes know something may not be working for us, yet we go down the same path? We know the results will be the same, yet we have to convince ourselves to do differently…make a better choice for the better outcome. Perhaps, we really didn’t learn our lesson. So, I want to remind all of us that when you know better, you do better! So know it, learn it well…and then you will do better!
8. If you don’t achieve your goal this way, then you will that way: My beautiful grandmother, may she rest in peace used to always talk to me about the trees. If the wind doesn’t blow them this way, then it will blow them that way! I get it! Thank you Abuela! My client was having difficulty sounding out the word as a whole. So, I found another way. We separated each sound on a separate pieces of paper, jumped on each sound as he said them, (as we were still monster trucks) and then brought the sounds closer to each other (which meant I had to “drive” faster. He got it! He just had to do it differently than others. And that’s OK! We are all individuals and we all do things in our own way, in our own time. So, I think about the process I’ve been through trying to create a book. Years of work, and no book. But, I remember my grandmother’s words…and now, I am creating an app which is so much more fun! When something is “right” for you and you work hard at it, you don’t know the package it’s going to come in…but it will come!
9. Patience: Patience truly is a virtue. Sometimes, our clients can be willful or unresponsive to what you may be teaching, in as many ways as you are teaching them. But, everything in time. There is a time for everything. It may not be OUR defined time, but the time will come. When a child is ready to learn, the teacher and the teaching will appear. So long as I stay dedicated to my clients, and I certainly am, the way he needs to learn will ind itself in us. Together, my client and I are a team…and with cooperation, hard work, and dedication, we will figure out what works best. I always tell my client to be patient with himself. He can get frustrated if he doesn’t know something. This leads to reluctance to perform. I explain that task avoidance doesn’t solve anything, but being patient with yourself, and accepting of yourself will open your mind up to be free to learn in a new way. And so, when my therapy sessions are not quite living up to my expectations, I remind myself to be patient with myself as well. I can only do my best. It’s all any of us can ever do!
10. Perseverance: Through the reluctance, we found a way to make reading lots of fun. We didn’t quit. We just found another way to teach and learn. Tomorrow, we may need to come up with more new ideas to learn…and that’s just fine. I know it will be fun and inspiring, whatever it is. So long as we stay focused, on track, and pay attention to what we want, we can continue to learn, continue to persevere, and become the functional communicator my client deserves to be. And so I continue to pay attention to my life. As Oprah Winfrey says, “Life whispers to us!” I choose to pay attention to the whispers, pay attention to life, knowing that my client reflects all that I need to learn, and together we persevere!