Taking Chances

For a couple of years now, I've been talking about wanting to develop continuing education workshops. I have loose sketches of ideas in various places, but little in the way of something cohesive. Early this year, I saw a call for proposals for the ASHA Connect conference. I attended this conference for the first time last year under its former moniker, the ASHA Healthcare and Business Institute, and found it be one of my favorite conferences I've attended to date. It's more intimate and less overwhelming than the large convention (which I also love, to be sure), and there's time to really get to know fellow attendees.

Having never submitted a proposal before, I was excited to learn the process and give it a try. I was also very nervous. In the past, I've found that quite often I'm great at visualizing things, but less great at making those things then happen. As a result, having a deadline for submission, as well as a template to help provide an outline, proved to be very helpful. Instead of just letting ideas buzz around my head as I often do, I had something that helped me make sense of the many ideas which have been bouncing around for so long.

I designed my proposal to be a two-hour presentation. One of my current goals is to develop and present day-long workshops, but having to think about a smaller scope was a helpful way to get more focused. I also wanted to be flexible, so when I submitted everything, I offered to have my proposal considered for other formats (in this case, a poster presentation). I did this for two reasons: (1) I thought additional perspectives would be beneficial, and (2) I wanted to have the opportunity to present, and have appreciated how posters offer immediate interaction and discussion.

In late February, I learned that my proposal had not been selected for a presentation. While no feedback is provided regarding what kinds of improvements can be made, I reviewed my proposal and found a few things I felt could improve it. I reworked it and submitted it for the ASHA Convention in November, so am excited to see where it goes.

Then, about two weeks ago, I got word that my proposal was selected as a poster for the ASHA Connect conference in July. I am looking forward to presenting my ideas at one of my favorite conferences, and even more than that, I am eager to see how it resonates with my colleagues there. I couldn't be more honored and excited to take this next step.

My poster will be about making the most of working with interpreters in clinical settings. I'm excited to be discussing two things so dear to me, and which are an everyday part of my work. If you're heading to the conference this summer, come say hello! I have a lot of work to do in the interim, but can't wait to get started.

Show Me a Sign

This story about a Starbucks barista learning some signs for a Deaf customer got a lot of attention last week. A few things that come to mind:

  1. This story is a better story about quality cusomter service than it is about compassion. The Deaf man is excited about feeling included in a small yet meaningful way, while hearing culture with a medical model'of hearing loss view it not as a hearing person "helping" someone.

  2. This story has the chance to tell the Deaf customer's story, but instead it's all about the hearing person. Her efforts are worth commending, to be sure, but this is hearing people's story about a hearing person.

  3. When I was studying to become an interpreter, I lost count of the number of times people told me how wonderful it was that I was learning ASL. Ask Deaf people how often they're told the same, and the numbers may come as a surprise.

In the meantime, consider taking a moment to get more acquainted with Deaf culture.

Pragmatically Blind

A few months ago I listened to an episode of a podcast called Invisibilia and the topic was expectations. They recounted how expectations can have both positive and negative results, and talked to a blind man named Daniel Kish who has a remarkable sense of his environment.

What struck me most about the discussion was not the discourse surrounding sight or the lack thereof, but on the arguments in favor of or against the use of 'clicking' for blind people to navigate their world (referred to as echolocation). Many blind people are discouraged from clicking, it seems, as they are told that it is not socially appropriate. By whose standards is it not appropriate? By sighted people.

I find it appalling that individuals out there "helping" people are limiting functional behaviors which can foster independence because people with sight may not understand it or somehow find it uncomfortable. In this case, it's not blind people who need to adjust, but everybody else.

◆ Looking back and moving forward.

2015 started out as a year of uncertainty for me: I was leaving my job of over three years to venture out into the unknown. I was stressed out, exhausted, and not sure how to proceed. I had tied much of my professional identity to being an acute care SLP, and the thought of changing was incredibly daunting. Would I be able to jump into the world of rehab and know what to do? Would I like it? Would I be able to make ends meet?

In the midst of this large professional shift, my family was having its own challenges. My mom was in the middle of chemo and radiation treatment for cancer, and making sure I was present for my parents was very important to me.

This blue bear served as a frequent reference point for me when trying to navigate the Denver convention center at #ASHA15.

This blue bear served as a frequent reference point for me when trying to navigate the Denver convention center at #ASHA15.

When I first wrote about this change I had no idea what all these changes would look like. As these things so often seem to go, nothing goes according to plan. Because the credentialing process for insurance takes a very long time, and because I was the very first SLP at the private practice, I had to find other work while waiting to be approved to provide services in that setting.

To sustain myself in the meantime, I picked up a PRN position in home health. This was (and is) a fascinating and challenging position, and was a wonderful way to rebuild my therapy skills. I also picked up freelance interpreting work. I was a sign language interpreter before becoming an SLP, and have long kept up a small handful of hours on the side. Picking up more hours was a helpful change of pace, and afforded me a nice variety to my work.

With all that said, here's some things I've learned in 2015 that I believe will make 2016 an even more exciting year.

The Denver convention center was an easy walk from the hotels and the sunny weather made for a very pleasant convention experience. 

The Denver convention center was an easy walk from the hotels and the sunny weather made for a very pleasant convention experience. 

Trust those instincts.

From figuring out how to proceed in therapy, to knowing what kind of work to accept, pay attention to that little voice especially if it expresses nervousness. In the process of my hiring for both the home health and the outpatient positions, I noticed a fair amount of disorganization that left me nervous, so I accepted only PRN positions to afford me more flexibility in that environment. As a result, I've been able to be flexible with my hours and make sure that my caseload is manageable.

Learn new things.

It's no secret that I enjoy conferences. They are in part a social experience for me, since it's a chance to see colleagues from around the country (and world). Meeting new colleagues is equally important. The interaction with my fellow SLPs and audiologists allows as much opportunity to learn as the workshops themselves.

This year, I stepped out of my comfort zone and attended some sessions in areas which I don't currently treat. For example, I attended a session about transgender voice therapy, and it turned out to be one of my favorite sessions of the entire convention. When thinking about why this was, I realized that it was because I got to think about therapy in a different way for a change. Also, one of the topics emphasized in the talk was principles of motor learning, which is a hot topic in the areas of dysphagia and motor speech. Hearing it discussed in new ways, by SLPs who talk about their work differently than I do, was a fantastic way to really start to get a better grasp of the concept and understand why it is so vital to therapy. On top of that, it helped me learn about an area I have interest in, but not experience or training. It may help open new doors in the future, and in the meantime has already helped make me a better clinician.

The main entryway in the Denver convention center. 

The main entryway in the Denver convention center. 

Do the right thing.

Ethical challenges come in all shapes and sizes. It may be a company that accepts more patients than they have staff to accommodate. It may be an employer with unethical billing practices. It may be pressure to see more patients than you are able to handle.

In the past year, all of these situations have presented themselves to me, in varying degrees of seriousness. It proved to be to my advantage to accept work only on a PRN basis, as it has afforded me more control over my time and my work. I do not accept new patients unless I know I can commit to providing their treatment consistently. Having become all too familiar with burnout, I recognize and honor my limits, and always remind myself that if I don't take care of myself, I'll be a less present, and therefore less effective, clinician for my patients.

I love windows that move up tall buildings, and appreciated all the light they brought to the convention.

I love windows that move up tall buildings, and appreciated all the light they brought to the convention.

Move forward.

For me, 2015 was a chance to reboot. Though I wasn't looking for it at first, change found me and reminded me I needed it. Challenges presented themselves and I found strength I didn't know I had. I re-invented myself in ways I hadn't imagined I could, and in the process of learning about myself, I found myself growing both personally and professionally. My patients were a big part of that growth, and have helped me to identify new goals for myself.I never used to set goals for myself. In my last job, we had an annual performance review, and I always had a hard time thinking about what I wanted to accomplish in the next year. "I just want to do my work and do well at it," I used to say. This year, I find myself having tangible goals I want to accomplish. Among these, I want to more readily identify ways to target and help my patients meet their goals. I want to start a business and learn to establish contract relationships so I can be more flexible and mobile with my services. In this vein, I want to write about what I learn, both so that I can hold myself accountable with my goals, have a way to look back on what I've learned, and also that others may learn from my experience (both the good and the bad).

Cheers to 2016. Let's make this year an awesome one.

◆ En Route to #ASHA15

Traveling is always an interesting way to observe both how we communicate with one another, and how stress can impact communication. It can also remind you just how bizarre it can be to interact in worlds we consider familiar.

After arriving to the airport this morning, I found myself standing in line for security in front of an unusual man wearing sunglasses. He was friendly to a fault, and started talking to me despite my not having made eye contact, or even offering a 'good morning'. He wore dark sunglasses, slicked back hair, and carried a bag containing a suit jacket. Instead of a greeting, he said "I only need to show my boarding pass, right?"

We carried on in silence for a while, in part because when I travel, I like to retreat into my thoughts more than interact. Perhaps it's a means to handle the sheer number of people, though perhaps it's also because I hadn't yet had any coffee, so I wasn't feeling terribly social.

After a few minutes, he broke the silence again. "They don't have dog sniffers in Phoneix, do they?"

Setting aside the unusual turns this conversation took, I found myself thinking about my patients. How doe they handle these situations? Do my patients with aphasia try to talk when they travel, and if so, what sort of reception do they receive? What can I do to maximize their success in such situations, even in the early stages of therapy? It's so easy to take such "simple" communciation for granted.

This is a reminder to me that communication, and indeed language, are not simpley words and turns taken. It's the setting, the body language, the mental state of the people you're trying to interact with. It's the events that lead up to your arrival, and also to everyone else's arrival. It's the lights, the sounds, the smells, the stress.

I am on my way to the annual convention to meet my friends and colleagues, and to learn new things. I always look forward to this, and am excited for the advneture ahead.