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Jaime Openden, M.S., CCC-SLP Headshot

The More Things Change

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As a kid, my mom used to take me to work with her whenever I had a short break or vacation. Throughout my childhood, she was an adaptive physical education teacher who worked in numerous schools in New York City. At that time I couldn't possibly have predicted that I would follow a similar career path and go into the field of special education as a speech-language pathologist (I was in it mostly for the chance to hang out with the cute little kids and the promise of a sushi lunch with my mom).

My mother has since retired, but I vividly remember those days, meeting her colleagues, and learning about special education. She worked with a team of passionate and hardworking individuals, most of whom were jammed into small classrooms and converted janitorial closets. Everyone made due and everyone wore a smile.

I originally entitled this article "The Modern Speech Language Pathologist." But the more I began to think about our profession and special education on the whole, the more I came to realize the importance of what has held steadfast and true over the years, rather than what is shiny and new. iPads, SMART Boards, touch screen computers -- I am a huge fan! I believe these tools are revolutionizing special education.

Yet in the face of ever-advancing technology and seemingly endless budget constraints, all special needs professionals must adhere to our core tenets.

  1. Embrace Collaboration -- If you want to be exponentially better, be cooperative. When it comes to special education, the more time and effort professionals take to work with each other and work with parents, the greater likelihood there will be for students' long term success.
  2. Look to New Methods for Achieving Goals -- We are being challenged nearly each and every day to think outside of the box. Do not be afraid to take on that challenge head on. By now, it has become clear that pencil and paper tasks are old hat. Not only are they boring, they don't work. Don't rely on the same old methods to achieve goals. Do better.
  3. Be The Teacher -- For better or worse, speech therapy is no longer just therapy; occupational therapy is no longer just therapy; physical therapy is no longer just therapy. See where I'm going with this? When you work in a school, no matter your official title, you are a teacher. Whether it is group lessons for the students, teaching study skills, or teaching other professionals, it is imperative that you share your skills, your knowledge and your experience with others.
  4. Be Flexible -- There should be a master's level course in professional flexibility. Anyone working in special education can attest -- it is an essential skill. All the preparations, lesson plans, sharpened pencils and highlighters in the world cannot ensure smooth sailing. The nature of special education is an ever-present level of unpredictability.

With changes in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders coming in 2013, continued educational reforms and a struggling economy, it is imperative that we hold on tight -- to our values and to each other -- because it will no doubt continue to be a bumpy ride.