I know what you're thinking: "Why would anyone ever need help in working with someone as capable as me?" They don't. You're fantastic. You're competent, astute, systematic, analytical, committed, analytical, sensitive - did I mention analytical?
OK, you see where I'm coming from. Speech-language pathologists are wonderful - in a class by themselves among professionals. But it would make life easier for all concerned if people realized they shouldn't try to change the speech-language pathologists in their lives, they just need to understand them.
Having spent the last 20 years as the business partner of a speech-language pathologist and the last 52 years living in close contact with her (since she is also my sister), I feel qualified to share my thoughts on life with a speech-language pathologist. While not all speech-language pathologists are alike, I have worked with hundreds throughout my career. Although you are a beautiful tapestry of individuals, there are indeed some colors that seem to appear quite frequently in the artwork.
I'd like to offer my tongue-in-cheek suggestions on how to understand and work well with the elite individuals whom I lovingly refer to as "speech paths." Here are my "10 Tips for the SLP-Blessed":
- Don't even bother to ask, "Do you know what you're going to do today?" Of course she knows what she's going to do. She's a speech-language pathologist! She made her mental list the night before and has been rehearsing it ever since, unless she's written it down on a small piece of paper, which she'll copy neatly onto another, larger piece of paper right after she has her first cup of coffee.
- If there's any verbal confusion, it's your fault. She's a speech-language pathologist and knows how to express her thoughts - all of them, all of the time.
- Nobody takes more notes than a speech-language pathologist. They may not be legible or organized, but the thoughts are on paper! (Without being conspicuous, continue to take your own notes at meetings so you can read and understand the important facts!)
- Nothing is simple. A statement like "He has a sore throat" will surely be followed by, "What time exactly did this start? What was he eating at the time? Did you take his temperature? What do you mean by normal? Is it his normal or everyone's normal? Are you sure he didn't have ice cream right before you took his temperature? Does he have a rash? Maybe we should X-ray his throat to make sure there is no bone sliver in it. Did you feel his neck? Were his glands swollen?" I know what you're thinking: "These are actually all very good questions to ask." That's my point! Of course it all sounds reasonable to you - you're a speech pathologist!
- SLPs are like elephants in that they never, ever forget anything that happens. Not only do they make mental notes that seem to last forever but, when asked, can pull these facts and figures out of thin air. Sometimes their memories are just a wee bit too vivid and detailed to be believable, but how can you argue that something isn't true if you've already admitted your ignorance by asking the question?
- Don't try to compete with their work ethic. They can, and will, stay up all night to finish an important project, an evaluation, a paper or a speech. Just say, "I don't know how you do it!" as you wave to them and drag your weary body out of the room.
- Be prepared for long emails. In the spirit of thoroughness, speech pathologists include every detail of every thought to explain a point. I'd like to implement two rules: emails can only be three sentences, and no sentences can have more than four clauses. It's not that I don't need and appreciate the information, but my brain can only hold on to three details. (I know what you're thinking: "Hmmm, poor short-term memory for linguistic information. This woman clearly needs some intervention!")
- Expect them to find flaws. Don't take it personally; they have been trained to look for imperfections. Looking for something to fix comes naturally to them, and the skill transfers much too easily to other areas of life. On a day you're planning to address an audience of 100 people, you may be standing there minutes before the presentation starts - confident in your tailored slacks and jacket - and an SLP comes up to you and whispers, "You have something white in your hair; I'll get it," or, "There's a string hanging here; let me pull it." It's a wonderful esteem booster.
- Enjoy the fullness of life with a speech path. Because of all the details they notice and report to you, you'll live more richly, see more fully, step more securely, and, if you're with a speech path like mine, laugh more heartily. They are truly involved in all they come in contact with, and that vitality and commitment to make things better is not only endearing, but commendable. The world is a better place because of speech paths.
And for those of you who are disturbed because I had promised 10 tips, I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. I knew you would be - you're speech-language pathologists!
Penny Castagnozzi is co-director with Nancy Telian, MS, CCC-SLP, of Reading with TLC. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.