The art of going with the flow – Working in disability
Speech Therapy (a phenomenon: repeated, deliberate practice of target behaviours)
As a Speech Pathology student at James Cook University from 2012-2015, I recall wondering about what kind of ‘speech therapy’ I’d end up practicing. I never had a clear plan in my head. I didn’t know if I wanted to work in the medical setting (quite the opposite), I didn’t have a feeling I’d spend my time with the oldies in a nursing home, and I certainly didn’t feel a push to work in schools. I did know however that whatever happened and presented itself, I’d give it my best shot. I can say now that I have done just that. I fell into private practice in my home town which was a pleasant opportunity. After some time, I felt the pull to go back to the disability company I was working for as a support worker prior to this. It was at this time that the stars aligned, and a position was created for me to become a speech pathologist there. The rest is history. Only my close friends and confidants will know that that sentence doesn’t really sum up the journey (just for you Rach) that brought me to where I am today, but that’s a story for probably never. At present I work with people with disabilities from ages 2 to 63 and everything in between. The disabilities range just as much as the age group. As we navigate the world of NDIS, which I am sure every person who is not a hermit has heard of by now, I have experienced more than I ever thought I would as a speech pathologist. I am afraid to say my training didn’t prepare me for this role, most of what I use day to day has come after the fact, learning from supervisors and mentors, or from PODD training. God Bless the PODD training, and the queen herself Gayle Porter.
The rest is history.
I’ve learnt from many people over the 3 years in this role that the greatest quality of a good therapist is flexibility. Flexibility not only with your time, your energy, your ideas, your approaches, and the way to connect with people, but the way you see the world through the eyes of your clients and families. I call this “world view” or “life knowledge”. Step one of a good/decent therapist – work out what your family or client understands about the world. The rest is white noise and I frankly don’t care about it. If you, as a therapist, can truly understand their wants and needs through the kaleidoscope of their experiences, you’re halfway there. The other half is following the quote I have placed at the top of this piece. At the end of the day, that’s the crux (YES) of what we do as therapists. We can have the best of intentions, lovely therapy plans and materials, but if we don’t understand that the parents work full time, have never heard of speech pathology, think the whole thing is a bit bogus, then I don’t think you’ve hit the nail on the head, or will ever hit said nail.
I want to share with you what my days and therefore therapy looks like. Rachael said I could include a game I like, or a picture of something interesting, so I’m including a picture of myself and hopefully those two criteria are met (a joke). What I want to share instead, is my goal, my drive, and my passion for why I do the work that I do. See points below and strap in.
The goals I work towards that MATTER:
Confidence in communicating
Knowing you have a voice that can be used to make changes in your life
Knowing that the people around you understand your needs and can support you to communicate in the best way you can
Feeling like a real, genuine, and important part of a community
Knowing how to speak out against abuse or neglect
Knowing that you matter, and your existence does not just take up space
Understanding that your life can be as full, rich, beautiful and meaningful as anyone else’s with the right support
Using your communication to exercise autonomy over your life (it doesn’t get more “reasonable and necessary” than that!)
If you think it is impossible, or achievable, either way you are right, or something like that!
My tips for practitioners
When Rachael kindly asked me to write something for her blog (a dream realised) I was immediately distraught at the thought of picking just one topic. I had no idea how I would possibly narrow down the thoughts that are a constant babble in my head. The sole practitioners will understand this! There aren’t other therapists around you to bounce ideas off, to share the brilliance of our work, and of course, the most important, to commiserate with. There isn’t a professional close by who shares your ‘why did I choose this career path’ crisis. So, this lead me to decide quite firmly that I would write about my work specifically, as I have done above, because I truly believe it is the most special and honouring work I could ever have the privilege of doing. And secondly (yes I started a sentence with and) I would give my best tips on how to stay sane, connected, inspired, and full as a therapist who is in a constant state of giving out energy.
So, my top tips are as follows:
Get yourself a group chat and invite your most trusted, loved, and down to earth (a must) colleges or peers. Post in if often – the good, the bad, the ugly. A problem shared is a problem halved.
Find an outlet that lets you feel like you, and not just a therapist. If you neglect this step, when things go wrong in your therapy life, it will feel like a tonne of bricks and a rude shock!
Just accept the fact you will never know everything. There will also be a professional who knows more about that topic, is trained in the latest strategy, reads all the latest research in their spare time (critical, but YAWN), and is a walking speech pathology encyclopedia.
Invest in materials that can see you through at least half of our case load. I recommend anything by Orchard Toys. Don’t waste time reinventing the wheel each session. Spend that time and energy building a connection instead. That means using a fart generating app on the iPad and developing vocabulary – ew, gross, disgusting, wet, stinky!
On the note above, you won’t be able to build the connection you want with every family or service user. You are not donuts, you can’t please everyone. Take it from me, I’ve had to learn this one the hard way. This one is key.
Exercise and don’t eat too much chocolate (optional).
Practice finding the ‘good’ in every situation and person that you come across. You’ll feel far more energised, optimistic and confident that you can make a difference in someone’s life.
Get yourself some lavender essential oils to diffuse at bed time – trust me, it will dull down the constant dreams (or nightmares) about work. The opposite can be said for cedarwood, a fair warning!
Get your whole office on board with your vision. Take them kicking and screaming if you must. Never lose that enthusiasm that you had in the beginning. The never-ending paperwork can make you feel like a professional typist rather than a therapist, but that is NOT WHO YOU ARE FRIEND. On that note, I could not be luckier with my bunch of colleges, who hear the passion in my voice, and who understand me and what I’m trying to achieve. Frankly I don’t think there could be a better team to work with (don’t get any ideas, they’re mine).
P.S. dot points are my love language.
P.P.S (it’s a thing). I can’t thank you enough Rachael for existing. Your drive, determination, passion and pure talent for this job blows my mind.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the inner ramblings of this Speechie.
I’m quite partial to an inspirational quote, so I’ll leave you with this one – If you think it is impossible, or achievable, either way you are right, or something like that!