Language is not just a bunch of words put together. Sure, that’s the way we analyze language but there’s so much more to it than that!. Language is about formulating ideas and formatting them into words in ways other’s can understand. There’s a lot of practice needed to build those early neural pathways for reaching full cognitive and linguistic potential.
Lessons from Beebe…
This post is one of a series of early lessons I learned in my career from the most wonderful thinker of all, Helen Hulick Beebe. You can read other posts here (not needing fancy toys), here (creating independence) and here (high expectations).
There were many lessons to learn back in the days of internship with Helen Beebe. Very early on in my days with Beebe, SHE asked ME my advice for a specific child. Ha Ha Ha, this was basically my first few days in the field of speech-language pathology outside of the university clinic. How was I supposed to know anything and what would be worthy to say to this great woman with 50-60 year’s of experience under her belt? I replied “I’m just an intern, I don’t have enough strategies in my tool belt yet.” Her response back to me was…..
“You do have a brain….my poor child, hasn’t anyone taught you how to use it?”
Beebe continued “Think, just think & never be afraid to try your own ideas….that’s how you learn”. At that point, in my early career, I assumed every therapist had the answers in their hypothetical toolbox for most of the speech-language problems that came at them. I was trying very hard to build the variety of tools in mine.
Beebe’s questions to me were always followed by an especially long pause to let me ponder the depth of what she was telling me. I’m not sure I fully understood what she meant at that point in time. However, I NOW know she was saying that my best and most flexible tool is my own brain.
Beebe was truly a pioneer who was always thinking outside the box. She was always focused on challenging people to be their best. She was ALWAYS interested to know how other people were thinking. It didn’t matter if it was an intern, a student or a parent of one of her students.
Over the months of working alongside Beebe a deeper message became clearer “You will NEVER have ALL the answers and even when you do happen to have an answer it won’t work with every child anyway.” Beebe challenged her students to think, she challenged her students to think, just as she challenged herself to think. Beebe would develop thinking skills by posing scenarios, creating challenges, and most of all by conversing. Beebe used to say “You should be able to go into the therapy room with just a pack of lifesavers and build a lesson through the conversation that you create”.
Listening and Spoken Language Therapy
Most of what Beebe did through a simple conversation wasn’t so simple. She stretched THINKING through words. Sometimes she’d purposefully disagree with a child and encourage him/her to stand up for themselves. Sometimes she compared/contrasted objects or talked her way through simple stories from her own or the child’s experiences. She did lots of work on describing objects, thoughts, feelings and situations that seems to magically develop within natural interactions.
She was actually BUILDING BRAINS!
It wasn’t until years later when things like Theory of Mind and Executive Function came into view.
Oh, how I wish I could go back in time now and talk to her about all these ideas. I know a lot more about hearing impairment and myself now. One of those lunch time conversations would be so amazing to hash out with her now.
The same lesson about “use your brain” has proved to be timeless. Fast forward more years than I care to count now I’m the one saying “What do YOU think you should do in this situation?” I ask therapists. I ask parents. I also ask the children themselves. Parents need to challenge themselves to think for themselves to create new conversational opportunities rather than just copy what they see a therapist do. Children need to learn how to think and then how to talk about their own thinking processes. This is really all about learning to use your brain.
Language IS Thinking!
Listening and spoken language therapy is about cognitive development, not just how many words a child has in their repertoire. Conversational competency and organizing thoughts into word streams in just the right way so other’s can FEEL your ideas is complex stuff. Reading social cues, understanding humor and sarcasm, problem solving, planning, complementing, arguing, debating, convincing others are all part of being an effective communicator. Pulling all these skills together efficiently requires highly organized cognitive skills. Listening and spoken language therapy is about so much more than words.
Helen Beebe was an incredible therapist, an inspirational mentor who was far ahead of her time. Honestly, she taught me a lifetime of lessons that continue to grow in my mind many many years after she passed. I am very well aware she had this affect on so many people. I’m especially grateful to be one of them.