Great Mistakes

I have a confession: I love mistakes.  I love when kids make them, I love when parents make them, and I even love when I make them, too!

As hard as it is for a perfectionist like me to admit, I think mistakes are AWESOME!  Why?  They teach us so much more than right answers in Auditory-Verbal Therapy.

Let’s say, for example, we give a child a direction with two critical elements (two details, color + vehicle, e.g. “Get the brown car“), and he starts to reach for the red car.  The second we see his little hand veer away from the correct object, every adult in the room draws in a breath.  The urge to jump in is so tempting — a quick nudge in the right direction, a repetition of the instruction, and he could get it, I know he could!  But if we can hold ourselves back, we will learn so, so much more about what the child really knows.  I always tell parents, as hard as it might be, to give the direction once and then sit back and let the child play it out until the end.  What does he do, and what does that tell us about what he understands?  For example, in the example above, if the child is consistently getting the vehicle and not the color (or vice versa), perhaps we need to review some vocabulary.  Inconsistent mistakes are great — they let me know the child is right on the brink of getting this concept mastered.  A child’s auditory misperceptions tell us about what he can and cannot hear, or which sounds he can and cannot discriminate between.  They can be a great indicator that we need more auditory practice, a trip to the audiologist for improved mapping, or both.  Mistakes also provide a great opportunity for learning how to work past challenges, deal with frustration, and self-monitor.

Parents make mistakes in therapy, too.  Generally, when a parent makes what I would consider a technical error in the implementation of some new therapy strategy, I choose not to point it out directly.  Instead, I model the technique again, emphasizing the aspect of it that the parent missed.  Sometimes, I’ll make a gentle suggestion like, “One thing I might try the next time you do this is XYZ.”  Often, parents will catch their own mistakes while they’re in the process of making them.  Usually, parents are embarrassed by this, but I think it’s a terrific opportunity to praise their skills!  After all, you have to know what you’re doing pretty well to know that you’re doing it wrong!  A parent catching her own mistake is a parent who understands what needs to be done to perfect the skill.  Parents’ mistakes show the therapist the depth of their understanding of listening and spoken language techniques, highlight strengths, and point out areas where we, the therapists, need to go back and improve our own explanations and coaching.

I live, breathe, eat, and sleep auditory-verbal therapy, but I make mistakes, too!  When I first started out, I was horrified to do anything less than perfect during a session.  Make a mistake?  How embarrassing!  I thought the families would judge me forever, but I was completely wrong.  As I’ve grown and matured in my own practice, I’ve realized that loosening up and allowing myself to make mistakes — sometimes intentionally, sometimes not — has many positive effects.  When I make a mistake in therapy, it allows me to show parents an example of “what not to do,” and shows the consequences of doing something the wrong way.  For example, if I step in and repeat a direction too quickly, I’ll call myself on it, and share the effect with the parent: “See?  I repeated too soon and didn’t give Anna enough wait time.  Next time, I need to wait longer, because we want to see if she can get it on the first try without repetitions.”  Other times, I’ll tell parents that I’m purposely going to make a mistake when I model a skill for them, and I want them to police me and call me on what I did wrong.  This is a great way to get at what parents understand about therapy techniques.  And sometimes, I just plain flub something.  It happens to everyone, but by allowing myself as the therapist to be vulnerable in the session, and pointing out my missteps with humor and a good attitude, I make therapy a safe space for everyone — therapist, parent, and child alike — to try new things, go out on a limb, and yes, sometimes even make a mistake.

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