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Listening and Spoken Language Symposium: Impressions from an ‘outsider’

This data monkey is finally back home in Australia following the A G Bell Listening and Spoken Language Symposium 2013. What a week – inspiring, exhausting, uplifting, eye-opening, mind-boggling and exciting.

I’m not sure how many data monkeys over the years have been to a Listening and Language Symposium – I get the impression very few. It’s probably not what naturally leaps to mind. Listening and Spoken Language Symposium? Oh, yes, we’ll send the data monkey. I almost didn’t make it as at first our abstract wasn’t selected – maybe someone had told them that I did things like bring purple bunny rabbits and possums to presentations. Thankfully (for me), someone pulled out and we were offered a place on the agenda.

I am sure that there are many people either enjoying a few extra days in the states right now, or heading home with a wealth of information, excitement and jetlag. What I’ve taken home is probably different to most because, quite frankly, what I brought was different to most. I don’t have the clinician’s lens, I just have my very visual but data driven brain.

I learnt many, many things. For instance:

Embedded Coaching is not just a buzz word for guiding parents. To a data person, words like ’embedded coaching’ can spark off that extremely cynical part of their brain which says – ALERT, MARKETING AT PLAY! Thankfully, my cynical radar remained packed away as I learnt from Betsy Moog Brooks, that there are clear, definable steps and actions and – I believe – measurable skills and outcomes. Betsy outlined the Moog Center’s approach to embedded coaching so clearly and with great passion. She said she was nervous people paid $85 extra to see her presentation – it was well worth the $85. It’s sometimes a little hard for a data person to promote clinical change, but since it was the data person they sent – and specifically one who can be like a dog with a bone – I’m thinking that embedding coaching will be well and truly on our radar. To be honest, I’m actually looking forward to some of the data challenges that may come with that! (Sick, I know).

I’ve also heard the best explanation yet of what ANSD actually is and why it’s so complicated thanks to Karen McIverLux. Over the past 2 years, I’ve often asked questions about ANSD and received very few concrete answers. There’s a look I get which roughly translates as in the too hard basket to explain to a data monkey. Karen gave me great insight into why it’s hard to be concrete and has set off in my brain a host of ideas and questions. (I hadn’t divided any of the data I brought to the Symposium by sensorineural hearing loss vs ANSD but now that’s definitely on my radar.)

I had a delectable experience finding out how I could go beyond the pre-loaded LENA reports and look at the raw data, export and link back to my database. Translated, that’s like – have your cake and eat it too!

It’s been such a big week that this blog post doesn’t seem to do it justice, but this is all I have… along with a bit of jetlag and a possum who has returned home safely and will be reunited with his loving Listening and Spoken Language Specialist before the week is out!

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Why I gave back some of my pay

My text message conversation went something like this:

Me: “I refused some of my pay today.”

Andrew: “What??? Have you gone soft in the head?”

Me: “No. I’ve just seen the end of year forecast for work. We are facing a massive shortfall. We have over 300 deaf kids to help and I’ve just seen a letter from the state government saying we are only funded for 45.”

Andrew: “Oh. Got it now. Not soft in the head at all. As you were.”

This news comes around the same time that Andrew and I finally get to drop off the car to have the wheelchair lifter fitted. 6 months ago, I rang charities asking for help to fundraise for this vital equipment. One charity said if we could prove Andrew had his neuro-muscular condition before he was 18 then they could help… but there was a 2 year waiting list. Another told me how hard it was to get funding and then sent me information about a government scheme. The scheme was only for  families and even if we had been eligible, it was a drop in the ocean compared to the real cost. I rang another charity – yes, we help with making vehicles accessible for wheelchairs – but only for children!

Despairing that our need didn’t seem to fit into anyone’s criteria, I didn’t know where to turn. I told my boss and my colleagues what was happening. They didn’t blink.

‘We’ll help.’

In the coming weeks, friends, colleagues and people who were brand new to the Organisation, and didn’t know me from a bar of soap rallied around. People gave up time after work and on the weekend. Some donated goods for the garage sale; others came to the fundraising dinner; a group of ‘cake bakers’ sprung into action; a sausage sizzle was organised along with a cheese stand. Many gave private donations. I was absolutely blown away.

Today, someone asked me how the Shepherd Centre was different to other services. It’s hard to answer – not being an employee, a recipient, or an observer of those other services. But I felt I could say one thing with confidence: it’s not in the Shepherd Centre spirit to turn people away. If help is desperately needed, help is given. The things people did for Andrew and I – on their own time – was consistent with what they do for our families. I admire their passion and dedication and think myself lucky to work with such a fantastic group of people.

My friends and colleagues at The Shepherd Centre supported Andrew and I in ways for which I can never thank them enough. Giving up a little of my pay was the least I could do right now.

If you are thinking about giving a donation to a charity this Christmas, please consider The Shepherd Centre. For more information see the following article:

Government funding cut despite record number of children at The Shepherd Centre

Disclaimer: the above is my own personal opinion. I would also like to stress that all assistance provided to Andrew and myself was on people’s own time and independent of the Organisation.

A is for apple and f is for phoneme

You know that you’ve been hanging around Auditory Verbal Therapists too much when you start to think the start up sound your Apple Mac makes is the Ling sound oo.

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about – don’t be alarmed. Six months ago I’d never heard of a the 6 Ling sounds and the word phoneme brought very hazy memories of something someone may have said when I was at school. Now word counts, grammatical features and phonological processing are invading my dreams. As one colleague said to me recently, ‘you mean nightmares don’t you?’

It’s the age old question. How much about a topic do you need to understand to build a data solution for it?

I remember going on an SPSS course years ago and there were participants concerned they didn’t understand enough stats. The lecturer replied with a comparison to watches – you don’t need to know how all the parts inside work in order to tell the time.

As far as subject knowledge goes, I tend to be a person who seems to need more rather than less, in order to come up with a data solution. However I draw the line at vowel formants. To start with, it sounds like cake icing. Not just any icing either. That hideous hard white stuff that coats fruit cakes – fondant. Secondly, the drawn diagram of 1st and 2nd vowel formants reminds me of ‘how to play the recorder’ diagrams for some reason… and we all know how scarred most people are from childhood recorder lessons!

While I seem to have some obsession with turning speech pathology ‘lingo’ into food related items (fricative to fricassee and formant to fondant), it amazes me how people who are talking about the English language, can sound like they are talking another language entirely! This is probably because I am in that missing generation who didn’t learn grammar formally while at school. I’m not sure whether this was just a NSW thing, or Australia-wide but my generation seems to have missed out on the thrill of being able to correctly name grammatical features – irregular past tense, negatives, prepositions, possessives and so on. What we did learn, it turns out, is wrong. All my life I’ve been under the impression there are 5 vowels in the English language when there are really 12. Actually, don’t quote me on that. It may have been 12 formants… or fondants. Yes, 12 fruit cakes. Hmmm… fruit cake = me at the end of this project.

Would you like preformatives with that?

I had a conversation with my dad last night which went something like this.

Dad: ‘How’s work?’

Me: ‘Busy. Tiring. Interesting. I went to watch a language assessment for a child; I’m going to a preschool on Friday and next week I’m observing some more auditory-verbal therapy sessions to understand audition better.’

Dad: ‘What’s that got to do with databases?’

Me: ‘Good question!’

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At the moment I’m in ‘sponge mode’, soaking up information left, right and centre regarding services in order to understand how best people may be supported by a clinical database. There are days I’m sure that I’ve been teleported to another universe. In this land, people use words like ‘phonemes’, ‘suprasegmentals’ and ‘spondees’ in everyday language. They seem obsessed with auditory hierarchies, feedback loops and access to sound. This is all before they start with their speechie language re: fronting and gliding. (If I didn’t know better, I’d think that sounded very suspicious indeed!)

All these terms resulted in a funny exchange between myself and two very experienced auditory verbal therapists today. It went something like this…

Me: ‘I learnt that stuff yesterday – manner, place and voice… yes it’s easier to hear the difference between two words where they are differ in all three… maximally different…’

AVT1 to AVT2: ‘See, she’s getting it. And we talked about bilabial sounds…’

Me: [making sounds] – ‘p, p, p, b, b, b…’

AVT2: ‘Well I think the students coming today are well past manner, place and voice.’

Me: ‘I learnt some other terms too! 4 item auditory memory… and fricassees…’

AVT1: [Confused look].

[Pause]

AVT1: ‘I think that’s something you cook.’

Humpfh… minor technicality! Apparently, the word I was looking for was fricative, which, AVT2 promptly explained could be put together with bilabial to make a ‘fricative bilabial’… or at least that’s what I think she said… followed by a breathy demonstration.

Oh for a fundraising database. Donation. GST applicable. Gift in Kind. Merchandise. Hmmm…. understandable!