You have your basic education (whether it be at the Bachelor's level or Master's level), now comes the time for the "real" education. Don't get me wrong, your academic education is vital. But, as we all know, the real learning comes in the application of the knowledge and transforming the knowledge into a real skill.
Here are some very basic suggestions that I give to new SLPs who work for me. These suggestions are from the perspective of an SLP working with children but most are applicable across settings and clients.
Attitude with child/client & parents - attitude is important; try to be...
• Cheerful – Always look happy to see the kids and parents: People want to feel you are personally interested and invested in them. If you looked bored, uninterested, or distracted, they will not develop much confidence in you as their therapist.
• Animated – With kids you need to use animated expressions to hold their interests and have Fun! Even if you feel horrible, you have to act happy. This may not always be possible, but you should do your best to breathe life into your therapy sessions. On the flip side, don't go over the top and appear fake or contrived. Also, animated does not mean "loud". Some children respond better to a calm therapist (especially hypersensitive kids). You can be animated and calm at the same time by using facial expressions that show excitement about what the child is doing.
• Positive and encouraging – This suggestion can be applied in several ways:
- Condition/Diagnosis: Even if you suspect something is really wrong, choose your words carefully. Bad news is best broken sensitively and giving parents time to process the information. If I suspect a child has Autism, I will mention "red flags for a developmental disorder" and recommend the parent goes to see a specialist who can diagnosis what is going on with the child. This gives them time to digest the information, often coming up with the suspected diagnosis on their own. The only thing worse than "dropping a bomb" on a parent ("I think your child is Autistic.") is giving them the wrong information. Developmental delays in young children can be something other than what we initially think they are.
- Corrections: When a child makes errors, do not be overly critical. If they miss something, you say “Great try. Let’s do it again.” Do not say, “No, that was wrong. Do it again.” Don't focus solely on taking data and marking errors. Remember that the goal is to make them successful and it is your job to get them there.
- Behavior: Often you will see kids who have behavioral problems or who act out for a variety of reasons. (see blog post: Behavior) When you visit with the parents, don't stand there and report every negative behavior their child committed. When that child is with you, it is your job to figure out how to achieve cooperation; that is a big part of our job. If you must enlist the help of the parent, do it in a constructive way, not a destructive way. Parents of difficult children already know their child is a "handful". They will be highly appreciative of a therapist who can see their child's positive qualities (every child has some, you just may have to look extra hard to find them). Be sure to point out the good things the child does. When you speak of the behavioral problems, address them in terms of "how we can help the child" versus just complaining about the child. (Think in terms of "informing vs. tattling").