The SLP Hierarchy of Making Mistakes

Do you remember the first time it happened? You were filing away a report and then you saw it plain as day. Straight away. Glaring right at you. So obvious that it could have been in bold, italics and underlined. A mistake. You wrote the wrong kids name on a report that had already been sent to families, the GP and everyone involved in their life. I remember my first time. I felt a mixture of horror and embarrassment and it really knocked my confidence.

You probably learned what I learned. And that is to create a report template and just label everything ‘Client’ or ‘Student’ so that you don’t insert the wrong name. But then it happens again. You leave ‘Client’ in the report and it sounds so medical and uncaring that you kick yourself for not looking over the report more thoroughly. You then Google search and find the magical ‘find’ and ‘replace’ button in Word. And what do you know… you forgot about the he/she pronouns.

This this happened to you, right?

I feel like I’ve done them all. Scored an assessment incorrectly. Didn’t achieve the basal or ceiling. Forgot to complete a subtest. Wrote a different date of birth. Computed the age incorrectly. Made a spelling mistake. I can most confidently say that I have moved on from these ‘rookie’ administrative type of mistakes. I’ve upped the anti, have you?

The progression from administrative mistakes are student or client-based mistakes. You make a kid cry. Actually, let’s give that a plural. You make kids cry. In my first year out I made three kids cry in a week. Okay, ‘made’ might be a strong word, but, hey, they cried for various reasons and I felt awful. You also mispronounce or entirely forget your student’s names. The worst is when you forget what they look like. Yes, this has happened. You are writing a report and have that sinking I cannot recall what Jayden looks like feeling. Thrown in with this are all the broken promises and things that you forget that they don’t and it ALWAYS starts with “But last week you said…” and you think, did I really say that, or are you just messing with me because you see three coffee cups on my desk and assume that I am overwhelmed in my job? And don’t get me started on how many times I’ve accidentally facilitated a sensory meltdown.

The next level on the hierarchy are parent mistakes. I was recently talking to a fellow SLP who had taken on a new position and she had her first parent ring up and complain about her and withdraw services. The first thing I said was ‘that sucks, but it will happen again’. Parent mistakes are tough. You may not have clearly communicated something and it was taken the wrong way. Your personality and the child’s personality may just not click and the parents see this as you not being ‘good’ at your job. A comment or observation in a report might be misunderstood and taken offence too. Sometimes you don’t make any mistake at all, but you, dear SLP, are the perfect scapegoat. And that’s the worst, because there is no chance to explain, discuss or clarify the issue. A complaint is made against you and it’s your word against theirs.

While most of us move up and down these first three levels, your aim is to never reach the top of the hierarchy. This is not a hierarchy that you want to master. I’m talking about the unethical and illegal mistakes. Keep strong, know your scope and ethical practices and if in doubt, ask for help or get some advice.

We all make mistakes, sure, but some people take the act of making a mistake more personally than others. I get it, because that’s me too. But hey, you just have to learn from them and accept, reluctantly, that you will always make mistakes, big or small in your career. Just don’t let it take away from all the powerful, life-changing work that you do.

*NOTE my biggest blogging mistake was misspelling my website. Yes, for six whole months when I first started I didn’t know that I was missing the second ‘o’ in ‘pathology’ and was Adventures in Speech Patholgy.

It’s the Australian-Italian mix in me that means I write things honestly if a little dramatically (respectively ☺). Read my most popular post: Confessions of an SLP who didn’t like working in schools and subscribe via email to my blog – I also love ‘to the point’ resources with an emphasis on functional and year-round, so check out Sentence Scaffolds: A tool for every student.


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