AG Bell 2010: Friday Short Course

Adults Aren’t Just Big Babies: Guiding and Coaching Families in the Listening and Spoken Language Journey

Teresa H. Caraway Ph.D., CCC-SLP, LSLS Cert. AVT


Dr. Caraway is a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist at Hearts for Hearing, a program in Oklahoma City, OK.  Hearts for Hearing provides audiological, educational, and therapy services to clients from around Oklahoma and the surrounding states.  The center has fit hearing aids on a baby only nine days old, while in another room activating the cochlear implant of a ninety-three year old patient.  They serve eighty-eight children birth to three and their families through Early Intervention programs, and see another 103 clients for Auditory-Verbal Therapy each week.


Dr. Caraway noted that, “It’s easy to miss what you’re not looking for,” and, as professionals who work with young children, we are often so focused on the child and on our therapy goals (our agenda), that we often overlook the resource we have right in the room – the parent!  Babies, after all, come with adults in tow, and as professionals providing services to the family, we must include all members in our treatment plans.


Lorge (1947) described adult learners in terms of their “wants”:

  • The want to gain something (“I want to gain the skills necessary to help my child”)

  • The want to be something (“I want to be the best parent to my child”)

  • The want to do something (“I want to do whatever it takes to help my child learn to listen and talk”)

  • The want to save something (“I want to save the hopes and dreams I had for my child, with or without hearing loss”)


When we really listen to what parents want, we are better able to meet their needs.  That’s the “what”… but what is the “how”?  How can we meet those needs?  Dr. Caraway suggested that one way to make ourselves more effective at guiding and coaching parents was to understand adult learning styles.  Adults may come to therapy sessions for their children thinking, “WIIFM?  What’s In It For Me?”  They prefer learning that is self-directed, draws upon their rich set of experiences, relates to learning needs presented by real-life events (my child is deaf – what do I have to learn about this?), and want to learn skills that can be immediately and practically applied to their circumstances.


The acronym LEARN is a helpful way to remember five basic principles of adult learning:

  • Leadership – let adults take the lead in determining what and how they learn

  • Experience – has two meanings.  First, adults have a lifetime of experiences upon which to build and relate new skills.  Second, adults, like children, learn best by experience.

  • Appeal – how can we make the information appealing to the learner?  How can the therapist tailor her presentation to best fit the parent’s preferred learning style?

  • Respect – we must view the parents as our partners.  They have valuable things to add to the session even though they may not be professionals.

  • Novel Styles – adults learn in different ways.


So, if adults learn in novel ways, how do we determine the learning styles of the adults who walk through our clinic or classroom door?  Consider… a convection oven. If you moved into a new house that had a convection oven, and you had never used one before, how would you learn how to use it?  Would you jump right in, push a few buttons, and be okay with making a few mistakes?  Then you’re a Dynamic Learner who learns by jumping in and doing.  Would you call a friend or talk to someone who has the same kind of oven?  Then you’re an Imaginative Learner who learns by networking and conversation.  Would you read the manual cover to cover before beginning to bake?  Then you’re an Analytic Learner who prefers handouts and lots of information before becoming actively involved.  Would you skim the manual for the main pointers before starting to bake?  Then you’re a Common Sense learner who wants the basics and then gets started.  The same things apply to parents in an Auditory-Verbal session.  Having a better understanding of how your children’s parents learn and how that fits with your own learning style (or doesn’t – and how you have to adapt your therapy style) can help you become a more effective therapist.


Another complicating factor in adult learning is the influence of various generational learning styles – parents (or grandparents) from the Baby Boom Generation (1946-1964) learn differently than Generation X parents (mid 1960s-1981) who learn differently than Generation Y parents (1981-2001), also called “Millennials.”  The majority of the parents of young children we see today fall into the last category – the Millennial Generation.

Dr. Caraway presented the “Top 10 Tips for Working with Millenials:

  1. Use technology (Do you text for appointment times?  Is your website accessible and appealing?  Do you use video taping to self-critique your therapy sessions?  Is your organization on Facebook?)

  2. Make it fun – this is the generation raised on “edu-tainment” like Sesame Street

  3. Talk is essential – Millennials love to communicate!

  4. Present the big picture – let them know where we go from here

  5. Be fair and smart – it’s okay not to have all the answers, but you should be honest and know where to look for the information

  6. Provide lots of feedback

  7. Be organized

  8. Provide lots of structure in the learning setting – unlike previous generations, Millennials are used to lives full of scheduled extracurricular activities, unstructured time was not a part of their childhood as it was for previous generations

  9. Encourage development of learning communities

  10. 10. Develop opportunities for experiential learning


One interesting point Dr. Caraway made was that, because of technology like teletherapy, we are entering a “4th Generation” of early intervention.  The “where” is no longer as important as the “how” – that is, while home-based services were a great achievement of the last generation of EI providers, what is more important today is not where the therapy takes place, but how it is conducted (with high-quality therapists armed with technology and the latest research-supported practices).


Dr. Caraway showed this video about the impact of technology on society and encouraged us to consider capitalizing on the Millennial parents’ natural affinity for technology to promote our programs.

Does your school, clinic, or program have a website?  Have you polled parents to see if its features are appealing and useful to them?  Do you utilize social networking sites to connect parents or texts/tweets to provide useful information?  How can the activist personality of Millennials be harnessed to promote causes like Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and listening and spoken language opportunities for all children?

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