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Ernie goes to university

Ernie in his LENA gear

Ernie in his LENA gear

Wednesday evening and I’m boarding a bus carrying a child sized Ernie doll. I get surprisingly few weird looks. I did try to stuff him in my bag but he didn’t fit. I’m not sure what’s a worse look… openly carrying around an orange limpy doll or a head emerging from a bag looking like he’s close to suffocation.

I’m doing part of a university lecture tomorrow. I approached my colleague who who will be doing most of the lecture, carrying Ernie under my arm.

‘Is it ok, if I bring him?’ She of course said yes but gave me that strange look.

It’s all a bit crazy really. I’m going to lecture a bunch of Speech Pathology Masters Students with a woman who has over 35 years of experience and a PhD and I have no qualification relevant to my working life and a stuffed toy.

For the doll I must give credit to a former colleague. She gifted him to me when she left. ‘Use him for training’ she said. It’s all her fault.

Of course staring at the back of his head on the way home I realised that Ernie has an issue. He doesn’t have a hearing aid or a Cochlear Implant. Unlike some of the other ‘props’ at work, Ernie is unaided. The bus turns the corner into Marrickville and I’m silently cursing my former colleague for Ernie’s poor device compliance. Maybe I can craft one up? Someone at work made a Baha (a type of hearing aid if you like), using an egg carton and some velcro. Then again… maybe not.

Tomorrow I’m going to talk about what I know about LENA devices (the thing in Ernie’s lap). This device I once heard described as a language pedometer. They can be used with children to capture a ‘language sample’ over the period of a day or so and then, once plugged in to some whizz bang software, have that language sample analysed to give indications of how much meaningful speech the child may have heard (speech that was loud enough and without significant background noise); how much distant speech, how much noise and how much electronic sound (such as TV). It tells you how many adult words were said and how many times there were conversations between Ernie and his carer. The technology still does my head in. It’s a tool which has the capacity to show parents of children who have a hearing loss that their child how many words each day their child is hearing and saying and how they – the parents – have the capacity to grow their child’s listening, language and speech by increasing how much they speak to their child during everyday activities and how much of that is in close proximity so the child can access the sound.

It got me thinking about my childhood. The device counts ‘adult words’. I’m not sure how it does it – some mathmatical algorithm I expect. I wonder what it would have made of some of the books my mum and dad liked to read me. Books with words such as ‘scroobious pip’, ‘moppisikin floppsikin bears’, ‘pobbles’ and ‘jabberwockies’. No wonder as a grown up I do slightly offbeat presentations inclusive of ridiculous props. Let’s hope the uni students have a sense of humour. Wish me luck.


Conference Frogs and Princes

frog prince Does this sound at all familiar? You go to work conference: fundraising, Listening and Spoken Language, Disability, Microbiology… (doesn’t matter what field!) and you come home with copious notes and ideas – FROGS. You arrive home – probably exhausted – but also full of enthusiasm. And then you have to go back to work.

In my case I’ve just spent a few days in Los Angeles at the A G Bell Listening and Language Symposium with some incredible inspiring and knowledge Auditory Verbal Therapists. However, I remember returning from fundraising conferences with a similar amount of head buzzing ideas and notes – usually paper; but in more recent times now electronic.

And here are all these little frogs which could be destined to become princes, and what happens to them? NOTHING.

No one kisses them.

Sometimes it may be months before I even read them again – if ever. My frog kissing ability is scuttled by the long list of emails in my inbox; the queue of people wanting something from you who have been waiting a week because you’ve been away; and by fighting my way back to my desk through the toys my colleague has re-arranged while I was away. (Actually, what I’m fighting my way through is the ever increasing chaos of my desk – I just prefer to blame my colleague for stretching out all the lego blocks because it’s so much nicer if it’s not about my messiness… and if you are wondering why a data monkey has toys on her desk then that’s a question for another day!)

Well, I’m not leaving without a prince this time. I’m determined to pucker up and kiss some frogs and get me some princes! In the spirit of Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog, I am going to achieve something. (If nothing else I will achieve callouses on my fingertips from writing out my mantra – kiss a frog!) But where do I start?

Well, I’m going to start by lowering my expectations. There are only so many times I can kiss frogs before I’m going to have sore lips, too many princes than I can truly handle and perhaps a reputation for being the office tramp.

So here’s my lowered expectations:

  1. All those people from the conference I said I would keep in touch with – focus on 1 or 2. I could try writing to all of them but chances are they are juggling piles of emails as well. If I come out of this conference having made 1 great connection rather than 5 weak ones, then I’m happy. (Not that I’m trying to cast aspersions on the muscle power of any of the people I met). (And by the way, I’ve already done this – I’ve written to 2, and 1 has written back already!)
  2. Write a list of ‘sound bytes’ from the papers I saw and send them to my colleagues. They aren’t going to read lengthy notes I’ve written out to share with them. If I send them small bite size pieces, then something may stick. For example this paraphrased one from Betsy Moog Brooks: ‘Even if what you are doing has been effective with 100 clients before, if it’s not effective for this family, then you need to change what you are doing.’
  3. Pick 3 things I’m going to make happen / change as a result.

I thought about the last one long and hard. What 3 frogs would I pick to turn into princes – there are so many. Then I realised that while I so want to turn the embedded coaching frog into a prince, this isn’t my frog to kiss. I’m a data monkey. I can pass on that frog and the clinical guys can kiss him if they want.

So instead of 3, I’m picking 1. The data one. A big one. LENA. We have such a rich data resource at our fingertips and we haven’t kissed him. We haven’t even got past the first date!

So I warn you. Look out LENA. It’s time you became a prince. I can start now. It may take me ’til Christmas to give you a crown, but I’m going to do it.

What frog will you kiss?