Better Speech and Hearing Month · The Human Connection

If Only You Would Listen: Hearing Health

As a school-based speech pathologist, most of my job focuses on articulation, fluency, language expression and comprehension and pragmatic skills. There is a key component to Better Speech and Hearing Month, and it’s healthy hearing practices. Speech pathologists can be just as involved as audiologists in this area. I personally find audiology and hearing fascinating. Here are a few tips to protect your hearing that you can implement on a regular basis.

Plug In.

No, not your headphones–we’ll get to those shortly. Earplugs. Earplugs are your friend in loud spaces. This could be a sporting event, concert, or even your job. Most professional performers have custom-made earplugs to protect their hearing, as well as people who work in contruction, but any earplugs will do. Can’t stand the feeling of earplugs? Try noise-cancelling headphones to muffle the loud surroundings.

Turn it down!

Most people turn the volume up on all devices far louder than they need to be. Televisions, cell phones, earbuds–turn it down! Your neighbors will probably appreciate this too. If you’re using earbuds with the volume up, you can damage your inner ear fairly quickly. For television, turn the volume down. If you find you can’t understand what’s going on, try watching with subtitles. I do this regularly and pick up on more details in the show this way!

Say no to cotton swabs!

Cotton swabs are not meant for ears! Please do not use these to clean your ears. If used incorrectly, you can actually puncture your eardrum. Check the box and allow your ears to clean themselves. The wax inside them is designed to protect and keep the inner ear clean. Removing it can be harmful to your auditory health.

Face the music.

Having trouble understanding what’s being said? Face the music, or the person you’re speaking with! Watching your conversational partner’s face helps you to understand what’s being said. Really hear what’s being said, and your conversational skills could improve too. Take time to process what you’re hearing so you can really process everything being shared with you.

These are just a few tips I teach my students and have picked up through my ongoing education. Feel free to ask questions or share your own tips in comments. My challenge is for you to apply one of these tips to your daily activities and let me know how they impact your day-to-day life.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP

Better Speech and Hearing Month · The Human Connection

Do You Hear The People Sing: Better Speech and Hearing Month

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month, a topic near and dear to my heart. As this is a blog related to education and theatre, I thought I’d share some singing and vocal hygiene tips. Every year I find creative ways to share these with my staff and students. I understand not all of these tips are feasible all of the time, but these are best practices in my field.

  • Stay Hydrated

This one is fairly simple. We all spend a good portion of our day talking, occasionally at louder volumes than are healthy. The best way to protect your voice and throat is to drink water. It keeps your vocal folds in better shape for continuous use. This also helps vocal sound while singing. Tea is great, and we all run on some sort of caffeine, but we all know water is best. And on that note, anything with caffeine or acid can be drying or irritating to the voice, creating less than healthy speaking and singing conditions.

  • Breathe

Every acting and vocal coach will express the importance of breathing and breath control. This is also extremely important in everyday speaking. In order to sustain longer amounts of speech (i.e. presentations, performing, teaching, speaking over music in a dance class) you have to breathe from your diaphragm. Your abdomen should expand, not your chest or shoulders. You also want to inhale before you begin and use your exhale to sing or speak.

  • Give It a Rest

Don’t have to talk? Take a break. Vocal rest is your friend. I spend most of my day speaking to staff, students, and parents. I am more than happy to come home to my apartment and text everyone the rest of the day to give my voice a break.

  • Sleep

Sleep recharges everything, including your vocal tract and respiratory system. A good night’s sleep is always a good idea when it comes to your voice.

Those are just a few of my tips to keep your voice healthy. Please add yours in comments. I challenge you to try a new vocal health technique this week.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Better Speech and Hearing Month · Pragmatics and Social Skills

The Things I Never Said: Nonverbal Communication

In the field of communication, it’s easy to suppose that my job is to get someone to use their words, or understand the words of another. This is actually a pretty large portion of my job, but truly there’s so much more. Have you ever thought about what you are communicating when you’re silent? When you’re leaning forward? When you’re drumming your fingers on the table as you’re listening? All of that is communication–and you haven’t spoken a single word. This is why “see what I’m saying?” works as an expression–so much of communication is seen but not heard. Here are some examples:

When all you have to do is give your friend a look.
And they know exactly what you want to say. How does that work? More likely than not, the expression is on your face and in your eyes. Your eyes widen in excitement, maybe you roll them in annoyance, but the other person has received your intended message.

When you cross your arms.
I’m guilty of this actually being my resting posture and am working to stop this one. Crossed arms communicate having some kind of barrier or wall up. You’re protecting yourself from the words your hearing or situation you’re in–you’re literally blocking your torso with your arms in defense-mode. The next time you find yourself in this position for no reason, try dropping them to your sides.

When you lean in.
You are actively engaged in what you’re experiencing. You’re actively listening and genuinely want to know more about what’s being shared with you. More often than not, your communicative partner feels that they’re really being heard, because they are.

When your feet are positioned away from the conversation.
You’ve already checked out. Studies have shown that your attention and focus rely on where your feet are planted. Imagine you’re standing and talking with a group of friends in a circle. If your feet are pointed inward, you’re likely invested and engaged in this conversation. If you have one foot facing outside the circle, you’re likely waiting for your turn to speak or looking for an exit. Think of the student in the classroom at her desk. The one ready to answer all of your questions has her whole body facing you. The one who is ready for recess likely has her feet facing the door.

When you move your eyebrows.
You read that correctly. Your eyebrows communicate more than you realize. When raised, they communicate excitement. When furrowed, they communicate a question or confusion. Eyebrow positioning can actually be crucial in using correct vocabulary in American sign language.

When you’re drumming your fingers.
This action can be a focusing tool, so I wanted to state that first. This action can also indicate boredom or annoyance. To my fidgeters, try this action on the underside of the table, in your desk, or on your knees.

It’s amazing how much we’re saying without speech. My challenge to you is to keep this in mind as you go into your week communicating with your various conversational partners. Let me know what you notice in comments.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Better Speech and Hearing Month · The Human Connection · Wise Words

Mama Will Provide

Happy Mother’s Day! This post is dedicated to all the gifts that mothers give that I’m not certain a child can ever repay. I’m not a parent, so I don’t know if it’s possible. My mother is the most amazing and intelligent and funny woman you’ll ever meet. She’s beautiful and confident and loving. I am fortunate enough to say that she has given me everything I have ever needed and wanted, while teaching me the meaning of the word, “no.” Here are some of the gifts and memories I hold in my heart forever.

  • The gift of gab.
    My mother was never silent around me as a kid. She was always talking. She spoke to me when I was babbling as if it were a true conversation. She took me around our house teaching me the names of everyday objects. As I got older, she taught me how to speak up for myself, and I only asked her for help if I felt I couldn’t handle a situation on my own. Though those instances were present, my mom always taught me to solve my own problems first. She taught me that my words were powerful and so were hers, and for the most part, I always listened to her directions 😉
    I speak for myself now because she taught me to. I speak for a living because she enabled me to do so.
  • The value of a girls’ day.
    There is nothing like a day with your mother to make you happy and feel true joy. Getting her undivided attention during our favorite activities was incredible. Whether we were shopping and getting our nails done or sitting at home with ice cream and a movie, being treated as my mother’s equal was and is the best feeling in the world.
  • The ability to get creative.
    My mother took me to my first show at three years of age. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire show. I was enrolled in dance lessons around the same time, as well as day camps and sleep-away camps where I could dance and act and figure skate. She let me be creative, which I learned from her. How many other moms, in an effort to get children to come in from playing in the snow, actually scoop up snow in metal mixing bowls and tell us to come in so we could decorate them with food coloring? Her kids didn’t miss the chance to play outside OR get sick from being outside for too long–all thanks to her creativity. I hope it carries into my speech therapy activities.
  • Simple comfort.
    I have a very special memory of my mother and I, snuggled together in my twin-size canopy bed. I was around five or six, and we had both had a tough day. In order to make us both feel better, my mom came into my room and slept with me in my bed that night. She sang to me, and read to me, and held me close. Only now can I fully appreciate that night. Now, when I’m upset, I still want those times back when my mom let me crawl into her bed. Nothing mattered beyond the confines of the bed, just the comfort in that space.
  • Life lessons.
    I still tell my mom she “doesn’t get it,” to this day. And I am still wrong. She has lived through this part of her life already and she is always right. She’s taught me so much about so much, and her life lessons always prove true. Trust yourself, do what you know is the right thing, and so many more.
  • Unconditional love.
    My mom loved me through every high and low of my life. She still does. She listens to me cry and stress and laugh and celebrate everything as it happens now. This was just as true when I was under her roof. We fought like all mothers and daughters fight. We’re far from perfect, but we’re perfectly us. And we have always loved each other, and we always will.

My challenge to you is to make a list of your favorite memories with your mother. See what you each remember and value, and take that walk down memory lane. It’s amazing what you’ll unearth as you’re talking.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Better Speech and Hearing Month

Do You Hear The People Sing: Auditory Health and Protection

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, and every year I’m disappointed in the amount of coverage Hearing gets. I have substantial experience with hearing loss, cochlear implants, hearing aids, personal FM systems, and educating people on how these items work. Did you know that hearing loss can be preventable with healthy auditory practices in place?

  • Turn it down!  
    If you’re anything like me, you love your music loud. In your car so you can perform a solo concert, in a studio so you can feel the rhythm you’re dancing to, in your headphones to block out other stimuli. I am completely guilty of all of these, despite being aware that all of this can cause hearing loss. Blasting music in your earbuds is making your tympanic membrane (eardrum) work overtime, as well as all the other bones in your ears. This sets a new standard of normal, causing it to be more difficult to hear in quieter situations. It may also result in you speaking at a louder volume because you don’t believe you’ll be heard.

  • Protect your hearing.
    Depending on your exposure, there are a variety of ways to do this. My friends in bands who perform very loudly tend to pay for custom ear molds to protect their hearing as an occupational hazard. Think of this as a professional-grade earplug. Music isn’t the only sound source of a greater volume. Sporting events are notoriously loud. Consider earplugs or even headphones the next time you go.
  • Self-advocacy.
    Let’s say you have some form of hearing loss. When you’re in loud spaces, advocate for yourself. If you’re at a restaurant, and your table in near someplace noisy, like the kitchen, ask if you can be seated at another table. We all know dining is a communal experience, but it’s hard to take it in if you’re focusing more than usual to take in the conversation.
  • Ask.
    Did you miss something in conversation? Ask your conversational partner to repeat what was said. Some sounds, usually those in higher frequencies (s/th/t/ch/sh) are the easiest to miss and the hardest to see when someone is speaking. I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t remind repeating myself.

  • No more cotton swabs.
    Okay, I know we all use these products. Guess what? Most of us are not using them correctly. Stop and take a look at the packaging, I’ll be right here when you come back. That’s right, the directions state they’re not to be used in your ears! These have caused more injuries than other instruments, simply because we’re not great at reading directions. Believe it or not, the wax in your ears is there to keep germs out and to protect your ears. Removing it may not be the best option for most. If you’re having a hard time with this issue, I recommend consulting with an audiologist.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful and informative. Your hearing is an important part of your communicative experience in all aspects of your life. It’s up to you to do your best to take care of it. My challenge this week is for you to take steps to protect your hearing. Let me know your new habits in comments.

 

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

—Stef the StageSLP

Better Speech and Hearing Month · Interview · The Human Connection · Wise Words

We Can Be Superheroes: A Conversation With Laurie Berkner

The first time I heard Laurie Berkner’s music, I was working at a day camp for children with speech and language needs. I found the tunes getting stuck in my head and shared them with my parents, who wanted to know why their daughter was still singing kids’ songs after hours. The next time I heard her music, I was in graduate school and saw it used as a movement break for children during therapy, or as a reward for completing a task. To this day, I consider Laurie Berkner a speech room staple, and so do my students. I assure you, she has a song for everything and everyone. I was truly honored and flattered when she answered some questions of mine and my students. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.

StageSLP: What got you into singing, and what kept you interested?

L: I first got interested in singing because it made me feel so good when I did it. I felt like I could transport myself to another world through making music. Then I started to notice that it not only made me happy when I sang, but it also seemed to make other people happy too. That made me want to keep doing it and keep giving something that I had – the ability to bring some joy – to other people.

S: How did you choose children’s music over all the other styles out there?

L: I have starred in musicals, I have led my own rock bands, and I have sung in cover bands where we performed popular music. I also spent more than ten years singing in choirs and being a music counselor at a summer camp. But it wasn’t until I took a job as a preschool music teacher that so many of the things that I love about music and about connecting to people came together. I was reminded of all of the things that were important to me as a child and how so many of them are things I still love or think about today. I loved seeing that the people I was making music for allowed themselves to enjoy it fully without worrying about what other people thought, and how deeply music touched the kids I was working with. I started writing songs for them more than 20 years ago and I still love doing it.

S: We Are The Dinosaurs is a speech room staple, how did it become a book? What made you choose this song?

L: I had been looking for a publisher who would be interested in making one of my lullabies into a book because I thought they would work well in picture book form. When I met with Simon and Schuster, they suggested doing a series of three books and actually starting with “We are The Dinosaurs.”  (In fact, more than one publisher that I met with said to me, “You mean, ‘We Are The Dinosaurs’ ISN’T a book?”) I loved the idea, especially because the release of the book would coincide with the 20th anniversary of the original song’s release. Plus I thought it would make a fun picture book!

S: When you’re performing, or when you’re preparing, how do you take care of your voice?

L: I try to vocalize every day. It’s essentially the same as going to the gym every day for me, except I’m exercising my voice instead of the muscles you can see. I also work with a voice teacher regularly, and she helps guide me in what I need to be practicing. She’s like my personal trainer. On top of that I try to get enough sleep (this is often the hardest thing for me to do because I like to stay up late), eat well, meditate, and go to the actual gym – or find another way to exercise – every day.

S: You’re so well-known across children’s music, what does that feel like? Is it ever overwhelming?

L: Hmm, I don’t think I find it overwhelming to be well-known. Mostly I like it and I feel grateful for it. There used to be times when I would go to places with my daughter Lucy when she was a pre-schooler, like the Children’s Museum of Manhattan or other family destinations, where it was hard.  So many people would stop me to ask for a picture or to have me say hi to their kids that my time with Lucy was continually interrupted. I loved that other families wanted to connect with me – but I really didn’t like turning my attention away from Lucy when we were out trying to have mother/daughter time together.

S: Do you ever get frustrated with music? Have you ever wanted to give up?

L: Oh yes!  Sometimes it just feels like I’ll never find the right sound or the right words. Luckily, I have found that if I just keep at it, or take a break and come back, even when I feel TOTALLY like giving up, I’ll find my way to what I want to create

S: Did you know this was what you wanted to be when you were in elementary school?

L: It’s funny, I didn’t really ever imagine making music for kids when I was a kid, but I did imagine performing in musicals on Broadway. That was a dream for a very long time, and I organized and performed in many shows with my friends for our neighborhood families.  I also had other ideas along the way, though. I wanted to run a bed-and-breakfast, be a helicopter pilot or a doctor, AND I wanted to work at a gas station.

S: What advice would you give to your elementary school self?

L: Keep on making music in any way that inspires you, and don’t be afraid to share whatever it is you create. Sharing your songs and your ideas (anything you come up with!) with other people is what makes those things real, and allows them to grow into something bigger than what you can imagine on your own. One of the greatest gifts you can give is to share what’s inside you with someone else

S: Who inspires you to make music, and what song makes you happy?

L: Lots of people inspire me to make music – really any time I hear something in a song that I like I feel inspired to want to create that feeling in someone else.  Kids also really inspire me.  I think as kids we are all natural-born songwriters.  So many of my songs come from phrases that I’ve heard kids say, like “I’ve got a song in my tummy and it wants to come out,” or “Doity Doit Doit – shakin’ down the sugar” or “moon moon moon.” One song that makes me really happy is Dennis Kamakahi’s version of the traditional Hawaiian song “‘Ohana.”  It’s about a little sandpiper-type of bird and the music just makes me smile and smile.

S: Every week I challenge my students to do something new. What would you challenge my kids and readers to do or try?

L: Try coming up with 4 (or more!) lines of a song about something you find fun or interesting and share it with the rest of the class. (If you can’t think of music to go with it, just treat it like a poem.)

*************************************************************************************

My passion for music runs deep, even if I don’t consider myself a singer. Lyrics have always been the sticking point for me, so I’m intrigued and delighted by Laurie’s challenge and hope you are, too! My students can’t believe the singer of “The Dinosaur Song” answered us. If you’re not familiar with Laurie Berkner’s work, I encourage you to check it out. If you’re anything like me, it will surely brighten your day.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Better Speech and Hearing Month · Language Comprehension

Careful The Things You Say, Children Will Listen

Language comprehension is one of the aspects of my job I find explaining to others the most. I find that anyone who hears my title associates what I do with articulation disorders primarily, followed by working people with limited verbal output, and then working on pragmatic/social language. Language comprehension is relatively straightforward in its definition, but is a large umbrella for what it can entail. It is the understanding of the rules of language in order to effectively participate and express oneself in said language. Where does this breakdown occur? This varies, but most of my students have difficulty with comprehending abstract concepts, like inferencing, predicting, reading body language and social cues, and reasoning. This is my personal breakdown of language comprehension:

  1. Hearing versus Comprehending
    These are two different things. The student did hear everything you said, but they didn’t execute the direction appropriately. Where was the breakdown? For this, consider the following: how was the material presented? Was it new information? Is it a new skill? Most students find new material challenging regardless of comprehension skills. If a student is struggling with comprehending new material, consider breaking it down into smaller pieces, or checking for understanding. The question “What did you think it meant?” will tell you what the student understood, and often provides a great starting point for supporting the student appropriately.
  2. The “why” struggle
    Abstract concepts and reasoning are by far the most challenging for my language comprehension students. Give them a why question, and I get “because that’s what it says.” On the days that isn’t the response, I get “because that’s what happened.” Why is abstract concept. It requires thinking beyond what’s already been seen or discussed, and often with unfamiliar topics. Some of my more rigid students have figured out that “why” questions should be followed with a “because” reply–listen to what comes after the magical word, “because.” Frequently, it is not a reason or an opinion, but a what-doing response disguised as a why response. “How” is very similar in response, which leads into my next point….
  3. Use your words
    Ask the student to use their own words to tell you what you said, what they think they’re supposed to do, or to explain. This allows you to understand their thought process as well as better probe for information they have versus information they need to focus on. The more you understand each other, the better you can accommodate and structure the student’s ability to succeed in the classroom. This is also a great strategy to use when checking for understanding in any subject.
  4. What’s the main idea?
    This is where things get tricky. You’ve just asked them to retell what they understand. In many cases, this includes detailed play-by-plays of everything said and understood. If I’m working on retelling with a student, I ask them to tell me the three most important parts of the assignment, and work from there. From here, I can provide choices, such as “Is that what the whole story was about, or is that just something that happened?” “Oh, you liked that part, but it’s not the point of the story? I liked that part too! That’s what we call a key detail.” From here, I provide examples of main idea and key details, followed by scenarios where the student has to identify whether I’m discussing a detail or the main idea. Have more than one student with you? Let them be the leaders and quiz each other. This gives them ownership over the skill, and will lead to better generalization practices.
  5. Get the picture
    In my speech room, I am all about the visuals. I do not present any information unless it is presented with a picture or object, since my students are all visual learners. This also helps to make the abstract idea more concrete. I can ask you to describe a basketball, or I can bring a basketball into the room and say “Tell me everything you know about this thing.” The same task gets accomplished (describing) but I’ve changed the method of delivery. Working on written language? Graphic organizers are your friend. I like the “Somebody-Wanted-But-So-Then” model for my students. For opinion pieces, I like the hamburger model. For retelling, I always have the source material for the student to refer back to, be it a story, picture, or informational text.

These are just a few strategies that work for my students. Let me know in comments if these work for your students, along with any I may have missed. I challenge you to focus on your own comprehension strategies–do you understand better when you take notes, doodle, associate words with pictures or mnemonics? Everyone’s learning style is different, so we all utilize different strategies within our repertoire.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP