10 ways to get UNSTUCK in speech therapy

What to do when your student is stuck in speech therapy

I couldn’t pin down exactly when it registered, but I distinctly remember the clarity of when it hit me.

This sudden revelation only got me so far because I didn’t know what to do with it. I was halfway through a session when suddenly I had this overwhelming thought, what am I actually doing? I’ve been seeing you for like, eons and umm… why are we working on this goal again? Where are we supposed to be going with this and ahem, how will we know when we get there?

It was a thought that came after working with a kid for a long time. And I’m sure you have experienced this before.

Now I’m talking to you, SLP. You who have perhaps lost your way with a student. So come with me and step back. Get the big picture because your lens might have been on macro zoom for too long.

#1 Complete an assessment

Do an assessment and see how they are progressing. Assessments shouldn’t only be completed when you first see a student or every three years. You can and should do them whenever you need to (rules permitting). With severe speech disorders, I usually assess every 6-8 weeks to check that I am making system-wide changes, and my approach is working. I might revisit a subtest after hitting it particularly hard in therapy or take language samples in play every two months for calculating MLU. I’m a checklist addict because I love saying ‘done.’

ACTION: Can you do any formal or formal assessments to get a baseline?

#2 Do an observation

Conduct an observation to see the child in a different setting. Kids can act completely differently depending on where you see them, who you see them with, and even what time of day you see them. Can you see them in the classroom or playground? During a particular subject or when there is a transition. Can you see them at home or their preschool? Students can get so familiar with you, that you are their routine, so this can shake things up and really help you see them in a different light.

ACTION: What setting can you arrange to see the in – or WHO can you see them with?

#3 Consider a new SLP

Swap Therapists if this is possible. We all know that there are just some kids that you don’t gel with, as well as others. It’s all about personality. And you shouldn’t take it personally. Sometimes that sweet, calm-natured SLP is a much better fit than your exuberant, bubbly personality. Sometimes just a change in a therapist can make all of the difference. Just you, you, and only you? Think about whether parts of your personality need to be toned down or up. I personally have had to be less loud and enthusiastic for some of my kids and then and over-the-top motivator for others!

ACTION: Is a therapist swap possible in your setting – or – do you need to change aspects of your personality to adapt to theirs?

#4 Set goals

Write down goals… even if you don’t have to! Goal writing has either scarred you for life, or it is just plain ingrained into your everyday practice. Or learn a new way to write goals. SMART goals, GAS goals and, rubrics can give you therapy direction, so you know where you’re going.

ACTION: Be brave – research and implement a new type of goal setting.

# 5 Take a conversational sample

Have a conversation because sometimes we are so zoomed in on the work that we need to do that we don’t step back and take the time to have a conversation and see how functional our kids are. Are their speech sounds generalizing? Can they answer ‘wh’ questions appropriately? Can they tell a succinct story? It’s little things like this that help you see the big picture for your clients.

ACTION: Have some great open-ended questions prepped and start that conversation.

#6 Get inspiration from social media

Get social and find some new inspiration. Even if you’re not that into Pinterest, give it a go, and use their search function. Instagram is a favorite because there are hundreds of SLPs posting daily. You can search for specific hashtags such as #speechtherapy #slpbloggers #slpeeps, to name a few, and see what pops up. I get tons of simple ideas from creative SLPs. Facebook is great for the groups that you can join related to your niche and interests. I’m in an SLP app group and love that people can ask and share what they are using.

ACTION: Explore your social media options – optimize the SEARCH function and learn how to save what you see

#7 Learn and implement something new!

Change your therapy style and try out a new program or approach. Not every approach suits every student, and sometimes you can get tunnel vision doing the same type of therapy all of the time. Trying something new can be scary, but it can make you so much more well-rounded and continues to add to your ‘bag’ of tricks.

ACTION: Think of an area that you like or would be useful to your caseload and be active in doing some PD.

#8 Ask a teacher

Talk to the teachers because they see the kid A LOT and can compare them to the rest of the class. It’s great to know the student’s strengths, areas to develop, their ability to work independently, in a group, etc. You can get real with a teacher, and they won’t be afraid to hurt your feelings because you are not the parent. Teachers think about our kids differently too, they think ‘teacher-y’ stuff, things you didn’t know to ask, things you didn’t know they needed support with.

ACTION: Prep a short Q&A for the teacher to complete and analyze the results.

#9 Talk to parents

Talk to the parents because kids can act like angels for teachers and you, but there can be a whole other child lurking there. Or vice versa. Parents know what motivates their kids; they know their personalities and can give you a lot of information to help you find your way. Have you ever asked a parent to describe their child? It’s interesting and revealing. Don’t be afraid to admit to parents that you need some help figuring out what to target next or for some more specific direction in therapy.

ACTION: Prep a short Q&A for parents to complete and incorporate your new-found knowledge into therapy.

#10 Take a break

Take a break from therapy altogether. We all need a brain break. A time to recoup and consolidate what we know. Some kids really need this, and it’s not a bad thing at all. It’s a time to say we’ve worked hard, let’s have a little off-season until we start back up again. Not only can taking a break for speech allow sounds to generalise, but it puts into perspective their language and communication goals. Just because a student has a delay or disorder, doesn’t mean that they need to be in therapy 24/7. And when they come back, WOW! can you see their growth or what they really need to work on!

ACTION: Think about how to have this conversation with parents in a positive way.

Well, there you have it. A little spritz to get you thinking differently about those munchkins you’ve worked with for a while. If you have any more ideas to reinvigorate your therapy, I’d love to hear. We are all in this together 🙂

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One Comment

  • I like that you mentioned how parents will be able to determine how to motivate their children based on their personalities. My son has been making a habit of pointing at things that he needs in order to avoid explaining them, and I am worried that he may have trouble communicating with other children if he avoids talking when he attends school next year. I should find a professional that can help my son improve his speech skills.

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Hi, I'm Rebecca.
I encourage SLPs to feel more confident treating speech sound disorders, and make faster progress with their students.

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