OH-DONT-YOU-CRY-FOR-ME

November 4, 2015

 

When Robert was in his third year of so called “Transition Program” I asked his speech therapist for notes from the therapy sessions. The only page I received was divided by horizontal and vertical lines with a few check-marks in some of the boxes.   None of the column, none of the rows had titles. There was not ONE word written on this page. Just lines and check-marks for something only therapist knew for what.

That event seemed to best express my opinion of the speech therapy provided to my son by most of the therapists. They might had known what they were doing, but nobody else did. And nobody else knew what effect if any the speech therapy had on my son.

They were, however, exceptions.

  1. The first therapist sent to my home from Private School was able in first 15 minutes of her session to make Robert say the first word clearly, “pop” for popsicle. I was in awe for the ease with which she managed to achieve that. She just held a colorful tempting popsicle in her hand and lt Robert licked it every time he tried to say “pop”. she rewarded him for “p” and for “pa” and of course for “pop”.  Sadly, however, she was there only once to do short evaluation and give suggestions to the teacher.  After all, the school espoused so called, consultative model. The therapist came to asses Robert’s needs.  She gave suggestions to the teacher and never saw Robert again. In a few months, she found a better paying job in public schools. So the teacher was stuck with Robert knowing just one word – pop-.  For the next 3-5 months, she was practicing with Robert just this one word – every day, hundred times a day. It caused more damage than good and it made me a huge opponents of the consultative model.
  2. One of the reason, I took Robert out of the very good (because, yes, it was good)  private school was to give Robert an opportunity to work directly with speech therapist. The best things about therapists in two different collaborative program (one for a whole year and one just for three summers ) was that they DID NOT give me blank paper with information.  They shared with me what they were doing in their respective classrooms. One of them gave me a lot of ideas to help Robert retrieve concepts from his own mind.  She showed me how to use words associations to increase the complexity of a language. The other one worked on Robert’s clarity of speech EVERY day Robert was in the summer program. And it made a difference, although a lot was lost when Robert returned to his regular program. The therapist in the Collaborative was also familiar with asisstive technology and showed me how to program and use one helpful device.  Sadly,Robert was asked to leave this program.  He took the device with him, but none of the three speech therapists he encountered in public school was willing to learn how to use it.  I made three copies of the manuals, I came to demonstrate how Robert could use the programs I designed for him, but I don’t believe anybody at school helped Robert to use this device there.  Robert kept taking the Dynavox to school every day and kept bringing it home. We used it at home until, the school asked to keep it only at school.  That didn’t make any sense, but since it was a school property I didn’t protest. Finally, the speech therapist got a training  from assistive technology specialist.  Unfortunately, from the whole day of demonstrating the only thing the speech therapist gained was how to use the device to help Robert write what he tried to say. He could do that with pen and paper, he could do that on his IPAD with $2 APPS.  Just before vacation the Dynavox was returned to me broken beyond repair.
  3. The simplest and the most natural speech intervention was happening on Saturdays during 4 hour long program at Bridge Center.  The speech therapist was there not for therapy sessions, but to demonstrate how verbal tools could be used to work with others. How words could help with group projects – painting the fence, stitching the quilt, cooking, baking and setting the table for the Thanksgiving feast for parents. For Robert just following simple directions, for instance to find something in the top drawer, or on the bottom shelf, was a great language exercise.it was priceless to have Robert ask -even with one word- for something he needed to complete his activity.  It has to be said that this speech therapist was a VOLUNTEER. I suggested to use this model in Robert’s transition classroom. This has never happened. When other children were doing interesting project that would require listening, following directions, and efforts to communicate, Robert and two other boys (who also could greatly benefit from the project) were pulled out and tortured during artificial, senseless speech therapy.
  4. Knowing that the school speech therapy was a little apprehensive of Robert, not being familiar with children with similar needs, I brought a few speech therapist’s workbooks I had been used with Robert. I was glad that the speech therapist accepted them.  It seemed that she started successful work with Robert. I was much less pleased, when almost 6 months later I found out that she was still doing the same exercises with Robert and another student.  That other student although very bright took a long time to answer.  Robert meantime was bored and anxious. With every session he was less and less cooperative and of course he was the one who was blamed for his impatience and lost interest. Meantime, at home we managed to work on a few other curricula – having to do with talking in sentences and asking questions.
  5. The things that I found the most damaging to Robert was the fact that the speech therapists so easily and quickly could reject any new idea by simply stating, “He is not ready for this yet.”  The sad truth is, that they never were ready to explore new approaches.
  6. The second thing that affected Robert’s speech negatively was the fact, that the therapist always tried to group children with completely different needs but similar level of severity together.  That is why, the speech therapy was a torture for everybody. Between the  utterance of one word by one student and another word by another student minutes passed.  The question had been forgotten. It was hard to observe and probably even harder to participate.  It had to be hard for the students and even harder for the speech pathologist.

But it could be as easy and as simple as cooking together, making a poster together or…singing a song.

A few weeks ago, we started singing together. At first, Robert was reluctant. He kept saying/singing only some of the words and protested, “No, no, no” every time I reached for another song.  Two songs per evening sufficed.

We started with Are You Sleeping and moved to other songs. Still, every other day we began with Are You Sleeping as that tune helps robert get on track.

Only recently, I realize how important is singing for Robert.  While singing, Robert is practicing spacing syllables, slowing down, and increasing the volume. He is being familiarized with the concept of rhythm and, to some degree, with  higher and lower tunes. He also begins to accentuate some of the notes improving the prosody of his scrambled, squeezed articulation. He often holds the toy phone next to his ear to hear himself better. I have the feeling that he is enjoying himself a lot specially since the day when dad joined us to sing along.

Today, we practiced, For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, Jingle Bell, and Oh, Susanna.

It was such a pleasant family evening.

Still,  I had to wonder why  nobody in Robert’s school days had ever tried singing with Robert. Nobody but one pre-med student at Bridge Center during a few times he was there. He had an open mind and was actively looking for ways to enrich lives of children attending the program. He wasn’t doing that for long, however, as he got into medical school the following season.

I still feel some residual anger and sadness when I think about all lost opportunities.  Nonetheless, today Robert sang, “Oh, Su-sn-na, Oh, don’t you cry for me”  pretty clearly so no more venting or weeping.