These are three things that I talk about before putting anyone in the CRP chair.
- Presuming Competence is critical! I’ve never seen a speller do well with someone who didn’t believe in their student, and it goes beyond merely presuming competence in their minds – though that is necessary. Because we know that speech is motor and language is cognitive, and these are two different things in two different areas of the brain, we know that they understand us, and we know that expressive language is intact. Believing that your student can and wants to learn is number one, but beyond that, presume competence in their bodies as well. Treating things as “behaviors” when in reality what we are seeing are impulses that are beyond a spellers control will affect your practice – communication that you understand they are trying, that you understand that their impulsive motor actions are not intentional will go a long way towards establishing trust that will allow your CRP/student relationship to flourish!
- Confidence – Fake it until you make it, as hard as that is! Let’s face it; no one is confident in something until they, too, have practiced and made that purposeful motor automatic. What I love about this process is that, as a CRP, you are going through the same thing your speller is. You are sitting down, learning something new that is very purposeful at first (and, let’s face it, may feel clunky and awkward), but that will become automatic and second nature with practice. Remember that with apraxia, it is significantly harder – it’s a chance to put ourselves in our speller’s shoes and experience what it’s like to learn to do something new! As you practice, your confidence will increase, but try to fake it until you make it!
- Don’t forget to coregulate! Coregulation on the boards is also so important. There can be a tendency to want to get over or on top of something to bring it down; however, when we counter the arousal level of our students, we can help them with regulation. Try whispering, lowering your volume and your energy if you want to bring your speller down to a regulated state. Should they be falling asleep and you need to add some energy – then try bringing it up! I’m always thinking about what my speller needs from me when it comes to regulation throughout the session and countering their arousal level to help keep them regulated. This is something we can do on or off the board. One of the things I look for when I’m coaching or mentoring is your voice and what you’re doing to co-regulate changes throughout the session. My speller’s state of regulation VERY rarely stays the same throughout the entire session, and UNLESS IT DOES – you should be reacting to those changes and changing your volume, energy, speed, and rhythm. Change it up and see what works!
Things to Avoid as a Nonspeaker’s CRP
There are some things I frequently see, so now, when I coach parents, I actually go through this list before I coach them! I’ve figured out it’s much less awkward for me, knowing how common they are, to tell people before, then to tell them NOT to do something after. This is just a gentle reminder since we’ve talked about it already. So if you do one of these things…trust me, you’re not alone! Everyone needs constructive feedback when they start something new, and one goal as a coach is to instill confidence and point out all the things you’re doing really well, so I’m always hesitant to overwhelm someone with too much correction when they are just getting started. I always start conversations with these things before getting on the boards because they are common mistakes.
The first one is mostly for the parents. Like me, you might be really good at saying “no” to your kids. I am able to avoid saying no ALL DAY LONG at work, and I’ve said it three times in five minutes when I get home and I’m with my daughter. I’m not saying you should never say no to your kid…that would obviously cross the line. However, I am saying don’t say no when they are on the letterboard. No is not a helpful response, and when we say no we aren’t presuming competence. Saying “no,” “nope,” and “not that one” to them on the board when they misspoke is like you calling me to tell me you’re lost and can’t find my house, and then when I ask where you are, and you tell me, hoping for helpful directions, I say “NOPE, not there!” They know it’s not there, you know it’s not there, and they need your support and prompts at this point.
On to what I like to call the good job loop! This is a common one I see. Frequently my clients have been “good-jobbed” to death. All language has to be processed, so I want to keep my prompts meaningful and helpful – and let’s face it, it’s going to be exhausting down the road when your speller is writing their master’s level thesis. You’re in the habit of saying “good job” every time they get a letter, and you can’t stop yourself. Of course, we are being supportive, communicating how hard they are working and how amazing they are doing, but we want to avoid continuous good jobs on the boards. Let’s be honest; it would annoy ANY of us!
Another thing I find very common is that parents often assume that a speller’s dysregulation is resistance to spell. Instead, I want you to assume the opposite if you must assume! I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to communicate with their family members; in fact, I think they want it more with you than with their practitioner! There is a lot of emotion in the parent-child relationship, however, which can cause dysregulation that is easy to assume is resistance. But emotions cause dysregulation, and frustration can cause the same dysregulation as excitement. If you MUST assume (because the truth is we don’t know unless they can tell us), let’s assume the opposite! If they aren’t sitting in the chair, if they are leaving the room, if they are dysregulated in any way, let’s assume that they are so excited and eager to spell with you that they have a hard time controlling their body. Just that simple attitude change may end up helping you more than you imagine!
Influencing – Don’t finish their words before they are over!
This is a big one for me, and one that I think is so important to talk about. We have weekly practitioners in training interning at GKTC, and this is one of the main things I really try to instill in them as they get close to graduation. Unfortunately, this is an easy mistake to make, but we must avoid it at all costs.
If I’m at a level with my spellers when they are spelling sentences, and I get any of the following pokes on the board (and these are a few examples of possibly thousands), I might be tempted to call out the word.
IT – IT’S, I THINK, I THEORIZE, ITEMS
THE – THERE, THEY, THEIR, THEY’RE, THEORETICALLY
WOULD – WOULDN’T
INDIVIDUAL – INDIVIDUALS, INDIVIDUALIZED
WANT – WANTS, WANTED, WANTING, WANTONLY
HAVE – HAVEN’T, HAVERED
TO – TOUGH, TOGETHER, TOMORROW, TONIGHT, TONS
It could be it, the, would, individual, want, have, to, but there are many more things it could be, and if I call out the word, my speller will go with that word, and I have influenced what or how they are saying what they intended.
Again, this is a really easy mistake to make, and it’s one thing I work very hard to get people doing before it’s even necessary, just to get in the habit because it is difficult, but we influence when we don’t keep this in mind. Keep the letters going until you KNOW the next word has started or there is no other possible letter that could be added to make a word. Think of S for plurals or ING, for example.
I’ll say it again – THIS IS HARD. It’s something I’m always thinking about and sometimes accidentally mess up and call the word- but I pause, write down what I have, and come back just saying the letters…they will keep going. Then I’ve taken the opportunity to remind my speller that I’m not perfect either and that that’s okay. I actually love admitting my mistakes to spellers – because I think so many of them have anxiety when they make mistakes. We’re all human, and we are all just doing the best we can!
Slow and steady wins the race!
Good practice, regardless of how much you spell, is better than racing for more answers and making bad habits automatic. I can tell you, I’ve seen spellers disappear for a while, practice poorly, and it is a LOT harder to break old bad habits and create a new good habit so that they can reliably spell with me than it is to just work on creating good habits from the start. That’s the thing about myelination and practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent, so if we want good habits, we HAVE to have good practice. Think about what you want to make permanent, and practice the steps!
Kelly Berg lives in Herndon, Virginia, after spending nearly a decade overseas. In 2017, she was introduced to neighbors with a nonspeaking son and became aware of spelling as communication, as well as a friend of the local spelling community. After her daughter started full-time school, wanting to get back into the workforce and having a background in Communication Sciences and Disorders, she spent merely a few hours at Growing Kids Therapy Center and knew that she had found her home. Kelly is an S2C Practitioner who is not only passionate about helping her clients build their communication skills but also about creating social events outside of scheduled clinic visits in which spellers can enjoy the company of other spellers as well their neurotypical peers. Kelly spent years in the not-for-profit sector and is excited to merge this experience with her clinical expertise in her role as a member of the I-ASC Leadership Cadre. Kelly adds, “Having a daughter, I think the thing that motivates me the most is that I want every parent to truly know their child the way that I know my own. I want to help my nonspeaking clients build their communication skills so that this is possible, but I also want to ensure that every nonspeaker, in every corner of the world, has access to an effective method of communication.”