|About the presenter: Dale F. Williams, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is a Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at Florida Atlantic University, where he serves as Director of the Fluency Clinic. He is also a consultant with Language Learning Intervention and Professional Speech Services, Inc. A board-recognized fluency specialist and mentor, Dr. Williams is the co-founder and coordinator of the Boca Raton chapter of the National Stuttering Association. His new book is entitled Stuttering Recovery: Personal and Empirical Perspectives (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.- www.leaonline.com).|
I worked with surly people. Lots of them.
The offices surrounding the private practice were seemingly packed with young drones dressed in their Saturday worst doing jobs that apparently required a lot of sneering and grunting, not to mention endless smoke breaks. Most of the time, this didn't bother me much, as I was secluded within a treatment setting. The problem was that sometimes therapy takes one out of the clinic and, in this case, among the non-communicative.
Let me point out a couple of things here. One is that what I'm referring to--transfer activities (i.e., tasks designed to expand skills to new locations and listeners)--can get dull in any private practice setting. Because people in office complexes are busy and only see each other infrequently, forced conversations tend to be short, repetitive, and, quite often, uninteresting. How many times can your clients ask for directions or the correct time? Still, this setting was worse. Not only, as I mentioned, were people not particularly friendly, but many of their conversations featured vocabulary that was not all that appropriate for the kids I was seeing, e.g.:
Person 2 (laughing): "[all purpose expletive]!"
Adding to all that, the clients were mostly middle school males who would not have been at all intrigued by the topics of these conversations. Mind you, I was never really able to discern what these topics actually were; I just knew they weren't sports. And sports were what these kids were interested in, almost to the exclusion of everything else. In fact, their speech was quite controlled when talking about school, family, and pretty much anything else. Sports presented bigger challenges, however, because they are important and thus involve streams of thoughts that must be expressed rapidly.
It occurred to me that what I needed were not grunting strangers, but, rather, people who could talk about sports and get my clients talking as well. That was when I came up with the idea of calling athletes.
It seemed like a good idea the moment it hit me.
All I needed were some athletes.
I started asking around and was surprised by what I found. A friend played college baseball. A friend of a friend played professionally. A colleague directed me to a football coach. Tennis pros said they'd lend a hand (they never turned me into much of a player, so I guess they felt like they owed me this) (just kidding; they and everyone else I contacted were willing to help with no reservations whatsoever).
It worked like this. I called the jock and explained what I wanted to do. When the session began, I told the client that we were calling a baseball/tennis/whatever player and to write down some questions or topics to discuss with him or her. Then I labeled the questions/topics according to what techniques I wanted the client to use. I dialed the number and asked for Joe (or Jo) Jock. This afforded me an opportunity to model the targets, usually in an exaggerated fashion (e.g., if I asked for Dwyane Wade, I could use, say, preparatory sets and say, "Mmmmy name is D-D-D-Dale Williams and I'm ssssitting here with K-K-Kyle who has sssssome questions. Do you have a few moments?") (no, he wasn't one of the ones we called, but I figured some people just skim these essays and one of them might come away thinking that I know Dwyane Wade). Anyway, it was at that point that I passed the phone to my client.
I have to tell you that the kids were impressive. Employing their techniques, they asked their questions and made their comments without intimidation or avoidance. Furthermore, they loved the activity, even asking to make more calls. So we expanded the list to include sportswriters, peers, and support group members, among others.
During one session, the client got off the phone with a baseball player and said, "That was the coolest thing! Can we stop now so I can tell my mom what I did?"
"We'll be done soon."
"Can I have his (the player's) number?"
"Uh, no," I answered. "Why would you even ask me that?"
"I know my brother won't believe me, so I want to be able to call and verify."
Another time a client called a favorite author and I couldn't get him off the phone. They discussed my client's school, career aspirations, vacation plans, and I think they were getting into favorite snack foods ("Pretzels? No way!") when I finally told him it was time to go.
As with all transfer activities, this task was a step toward the finish line, but was not the line itself. For one thing, I was there listening, which by itself affected the clients' speech. Still, the fact that they were able to handle this situation said volumes about their progress. It also visibly improved their confidence.
Looking back, I'm now thankful for those surly people.
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