HOW BECOMING A MOTHER INFLUENCED THIS PROFESSIONAL’S APPROACH TO WORKING WITH PARENTS
In this episode, Ayelet sits down with Andrea Boerigter of the website “The Speech Mom.” Like Ayelet, Andee is a pediatric speech-language pathologist and mother of two young children. Andee specializes in the areas of feeding and language development, and is the owner of “Bloombox.”
Andee describes how her experience of becoming a mother influenced the way she provided education and services for families, and how that impacts the reasons why she started her practice and her business.
Andee and Ayelet discuss practical steps and ideas for early language and feeding development, and what additional favorite resources exist!
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TEXT TRANSCRIPT OF THIS EPISODE
Welcome to episode 43 of the Strength In Words podcast! Today, I’m speaking with Andee Boerigter of The Speech Mom. She is a pediatric speech and language pathologist specializing in the areas of feeding and language development. She’s the owner of “Bloombox,” which she’ll tell us more about in a few minutes, and she’s a mother of two young boys. I can relate. Andee, welcome.
Andee: Thank you so much for having me! This is great.
Ayelet: So great. So, I asked you to come onto the show today to speak a bit about your own experience as both a professional working with young children and as a mother of young children, which of course is, again, something I can relate to, as well! So first, let’s just hear a little bit about you and what brought you to the kind of work you’re doing today.
Andee: Like you said, I’m a pediatric speech-language pathologist, and I’ve always been really passionate about involving families and working with families. When I moved to South Dakota, I took some birth – three patients, which I really enjoy, because it’s more of a family training type model. So, I learned more by doing it, and (sorry I lost a headphone there) as I invested in learning more, I realized how much more progress these kids were making because we were involving the families. I saw the same thing as I became more involved in feeding therapy. The more I could train the family, the more progress these kids are making. So that’s a little bit about how I ended up being so passionate about training families.
Ayelet: Right. Again, we’re there as the professional for this distinct, short amount of time. So the more training, the more effective we can be.
Andee: Absolutely! I mean, as much as we’d like to say we can make a huge difference in one hour a week, we really can’t! I mean, we can train some new skills for a kid, but when we want to see carryover, when we want to see hard-core progress, we have to look at how we can train someone who’s with them all the time to do what we do.
Ayelet: I’m so curious how your conception of your professional identity changed when you had kids of your own?
Andee: It changed… it changed everything. I actually remember my very first session when I came back after my maternity leave. I walked in thinking everything would be the same, and I left thinking, “I’ll never do a session the same again.” The boys, Hank and Gus, they inspire everything I do as a therapist. I mean, they didn’t educate me, they don’t make it easier for me to do my job… there is nothing they do that makes my life easy for them. Or, you know what I mean! But, they taught me to stop treating families like they’re just there, and making them the most important aspect of therapy. And Hank actually had feeding issues. He was born a few weeks early, and I was getting so irritated going into these lactation consultants, meeting with his pediatrician, the way that they were talking to me! They were telling me what he was doing and why he was doing it. And I would say, “well, what should I be doing?” And they would say, “oh, you know, well, we will do this and we will do that.” But I’d think, just give me something to take home because he’s my whole world. And I now realize that with the families I work with. You know, I love these kids. I love every patient I have and they are so important to me, and I’m so passionate about them doing well. But it’s not even a small comparison of how much their parents want them to do well and how much their parents care. So if we can teach them what to do, everybody’s winning!
Ayelet: Yup. That’s exactly it. And like you said, we love these kids as professionals, but we know now that we have our own little person or people, that doesn’t compare at all to how their parents feel. That’s sort of what changed for me, as well. I get that.
Andee: And you know, I also want to say, too, that it made me so much more realistic. Because now, if somebody tells me to do something with my kids, and I’m like, “how many times a day do you want me to do that? Like, are you insane?” And so, I used to tell families, “I think you should be doing this 5-6 times a day!” and now I’m like, “if you can get it done once, give yourself a high five because…”
Ayelet: You’re amazing, right!
Andee: Whoo! Yeah. Oh yeah. That changed, too.
Ayelet: Yeah. That makes so much sense. What are some of the most important sort of tips or strategies that you use as a therapist that prove to be actually the most useful to you as a mother?
Andee: That is such a great question, and it is, without a doubt, patience. And I know that we’re like, “oh patience, yeah, everyone needs to have that.” But, especially when it comes to language development and feeding development. As a mom, I’m like, “get it in your mouth, let’s do this! Eat, eat, eat.” But, as a therapist, I know that I have to give them the food, let them experience the food, talk to the food, lick the food, you know… My husband just made turkey quesadillas for lunch, and Gus was just like, “Oop, no. Mm-mm.” And my husband, you know, he doesn’t quite have that feeding therapist vibe, so he’s like, “eat it. It’s good.” And, so I was like, “oh, well, what do you think? Mommy likes hers!” And, you know, he was there for 10 minutes until he actually took a bite, but he did it, whereas if I had been, like, “alright, you’re putting this in your mouth,” he’d have probably lost his mind.
And then the same thing goes for language development – especially, like the reciprocal imitation. As a therapist, if I watched a mom do that, I’d be like, “give them time!” but as a mom, I just do it. I’m like, “come on, say ‘Mama.’ Mama. Mama!” And I have to kind of remember what I tell parents not to do.
Ayelet: Right. You have to put on your two hats. Which hat am I wearing?
Andee: Absolutely. My kids know when I’m wearing my therapist hat. Like, you see rolling eyes. Especially at meals, when I’m like, “oh! Well if we don’t know anything about this food, let’s just touch it!” And they’re like, “oh jeez, this lady again.”
Ayelet: That’s amazing. It sounds like… and I get it because I do the same thing, like having that sort of structure of “this is the scaffolding.” These are the steps. And that – that’s what, I think, we have to bring to families as professionals. Helping parents understand what the steps are to become successful so a child can learn a certain skill. And some of that we just all – many families know innately. Many parents “get” that obviously, for instance, a child is not born able to say a word. There are tiny little pieces that go into the development of speech and language so that a child can start to say his or her first word. And it’s the same thing, like you’re saying, with feeding, and with all of those different pieces.
Andee: And I think it’s important, too, to discuss that with parents. That there are necessary steps to get to the end goal. I love, actually, ASHA has a print out of what they should be doing and when they should be doing it. Because I think not only is it important to look at “what they should be doing,” but also look at what they shouldn’t be doing. They don’t need to be putting these words together at 16 months. Let’s back it up and look at what steps we need to be looking at. And ASHA is the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association, and they have great parent resources at asha.org.
Ayelet: Yes, yes. And we’ll link to those on the podcast page and here on in the Community LAB, as well. That’s great, Andee, thank you. Ok, we’re just going to take a little break to hear a word from our sponsors, and then we’ll hear a little bit more about some of your favorite resources, Andee. Because I know you have some that you have created, as well, and I can’t wait to hear more about those.
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Ok, Andee, what made you decide to start The Speech Mom, and, my second half of that two-fold question, how did Bloomboxes come to be?
Andee: So, The Speech Mom was a blog that I started because I recognized that as a parent, I was looking for resources, and there were really two types of resources: there was a group of resources that were being offered by people maybe without the education needed to offer those resources, and then on the complete other end of the spectrum, there were a lot of resources offered by professionals that maybe didn’t have that realistic aspect of having their own family. And neither of those resources were wrong, it’s just not what I was looking for: I was looking for educated and realistic. And I said to my husband one day when he came back from work that I really wished someone was offering this education that also had the realistic experiences of being a mom. And he said, “that sounds like something good for you to do.” And…
Ayelet: [laughs] Thanks, honey.
Andee: Yeah, right? Cuz I didn’t have anything else to do. So, honestly, I wrote the first blog post, and I had expectations of 7 people reading it. Like, my mom, my mother-in-law, maybe a few friends. And it was so cool to see how many mothers, how many caregivers were really interested in their child’s development. And they were really interested in how they could use the information in a realistic manner. Easy, simple tips, there’s no expensive equipment required, and I’m never gonna tell a parent to do something that I would not do. Because, that’s horrible. And, also, I’m never going to post something that doesn’t solve a problem. And that is kind of a war between my husband and I because he always reads them before I post them, and he’s always like, “What is this? Are you solving a problem?” And I’m like, “no, but I just wanted to talk about it,” and he’s like, “get rid of it.”
Ayelet: [laughs] That is some… what a wonderful touchstone to have. That’s great!
Andee: Yeah, he is great. Most of the time. But when I want to post something and he’s like, ‘no,” then I’m kind of mad at him. So that’s how The Speech Mom started. And I really, I was working for a different company, and I really had no expectations of it being anything other than just a blog. And then, people started calling that company and asking specifically for me, and I was kind of like, “What am I doing here?!” Like, I should just be doing my own thing! So that’s what I did! I quit my job. Everybody was kind of thinking I was losing my mind. And I just started doing private practice, and now I am full-time, seeing patients. And I think the reason that it is doing so well is that, instead of treating the child, and I tell families this my very first visit, I do not treat the child, I treat the whole family. Because that’s how we’re gonna be successful.
Ayelet: Well put. And you’re preachin’ to the choir here.
Andee: Whoo! Then there’s the Bloombox. And the Bloombox is kind of its own beast. I started it because families were saying to me, “what am I supposed to do until you get back?” And even though I’m telling them, “oh, get this toy out, and work with this, and use these words, and blah blah blah,” the moms would say, “yeah, my kid’s not going to do that for me with my toys.” And I bring in really cool toys when I do therapy. And that’s what the kids love, and that’s what engages them. So, I started putting together little kits for parents, and they would keep them for a couple of weeks and then return them. And then their friends were asking, “where can we get these sets of toys with these therapy lesson plans?” Because they’re not just for kids who have speech and language delays, they are also for kids who are typically-developing. My boys take one every month. Right now, they have… well, we’ve had “camping” for like a month and a half.
Ayelet: It’s a favorite!
Andee: They’re obsessed with it. And I’m like, well… ok, just keep it.
Ayelet: So, you organize them by theme, which I know because I received one to try and it’s so fun. We had an ice cream theme. It was great.
Andee: They are all themed. And you know, everything has kinda just morphed into how it is today. Because at first it wasn’t. I was just kinda throwing in some toys, writing some activities, leaving them with families. And then because I’m me, I’m like, “oh wouldn’t this be so cool if it was themed and, you know, charming?” And then I was adding a sensory bin, because who doesn’t benefit from a sensory bin? And there it is.
Ayelet: I love it. I think what I enjoy about what you’ve done with Bloomboxes the most is that it’s not just that it’s like these fun toys. It’s the little piece that you put in that shows and tells parents how to use them that is the key. That’s why I think it’s the coolest – because it marries that professional and parent so beautifully because you’ve got really fun toys, and really, you’re just showing sort of an example with these specific fun toys. But it’s the handouts that you send with them that shows parents kind of, “here’s a way to think outside of this box. That I’ve given you. Actually.”
Andee: Haha, here’s a way to think outside of what you’ve got in the box!
Ayelet: Here’s the box, and here’s the amazing stuff that’s in it. But even if you don’t have these kinds of things forever – you’ll only have them for a temporary amount of time (which in and of itself is kind of awesome because, for a person who strives to be more minimalist than she is, like, what a great idea).
Andee: And also, just to have that rotation of toys, I mean, he is, just getting something “new” every four weeks – my kids are all about it. Whereas, I wish that we could just throw away the toys we have… I’ve tried. They won’t let me.
Ayelet: Exactly. But then the fact that you put in this very specific, “hey! Here are some really easy ways that you can incorporate this kind of language. And it’s specific enough, but also broad enough to help people just start to get them thinking about how we can use play to open up and really support communication development.
Andee: Yeah. And the goal of all of those activities is that it can be child led, and it can still have that language enrichment, the cognitive enrichment, the fine motor, the sensory. Because we don’t have to tell a child how to play – they already know how to play. But how can we use the natural play that they are going to do on their own to help them develop new skills. It is such a fun challenge to write those activities. To see how we can use these toys to elicit new development skills. And the Bloomboxes are for ages 2 through 6. So, there’s two levels of each activity. There’s the “New Talker” which we see the 2-3 year olds really benefit from, and then there’s the 4-6 is the “Next Stepper.” So you know how they work, everybody out there knows how they work, is that you rent them. So, you get a subscription, you get one every month, and at the end of the month, you box it back up, there’s a shipping label in there and you slap it on, and it comes right back to me, and in the meantime, you get a new one. And the research shows that after about 4 weeks, your kids don’t get any type of developmental stimulation from toys. If they’ve played with them for 4 weeks, really you can get rid of them. I know. Isn’t that sad? I wish I could just get rid of everything after 4 weeks. And then… and also, they’re all sanitized with natural cleaning ingredients, and they’re all re-prepped for the families. And also, this is so cool! A company that makes child-friendly baking ingredients has reached out to me, and now you get a baking mix in a few of the boxes – in the CupcakeBox, in the Italian Box, in the Birthday Box, you get a mix that is egg-free, so if kids want to have that sensory involvement, use their fingers, lick their fingers, we’re not worried about the salmonella aspect of things.
Ayelet: Amazing! What fun. So, Andee, can you share a few more of just some of your favorite resources for language development, communication, play, those kinds of things.
Andee: Well, Strength In Words is a great resource.
Ayelet: Thank you. You know, it’s so nice. I think when both of us started, there were very few of “us.” And now, I’m so glad, that there are more people, like us, who can create this really useful content for people, and disseminate the information! In different voices.
Andee: Yeah! Well, and I think it’s really cool that you and I have done more of our work towards people, not speech-pathologists! Not that speech pathologists aren’t people! The rest of the people! Because, I think that – I love borrowing resources from so many other blogs, from so many other websites, but we have the education to use those resources that were designed for speech pathologists, so I think it’s really cool that there’s all of the sudden this movement of providing resources and education for families instead of colleagues. And I need those colleague resources, so don’t stop doing what you’re doing, people like “The Speech Bubble.” But I think it’s great that we’re reaching out a bit further.
So yeah, my favorite resources… I’m just always going with it. For feeding, there are some products that I love, like I love EZPZ – they are these mats, they’re not sticky, they are suction-cupped… maybe I have one.
Ayelet: Yeah, they’re great little placemat-things, with the plate built in.
Andee: Yeah, so it’s like, it sticks to your table and the kids can’t throw them, which I think is so cool. You know, other resources that I like feeding-wise, I like Lollacups, if you guys are looking for sippy cups – they’re straw cups that have weighted straws, so when you tip them, the straw drops to where the liquid is.
Ayelet: How do you spell that?
Andee: L-O-L-L-A cup. It’s a smaller company, but they were on Shark Tank! That’s how I learned about them.
Ayelet: We have a question from the audience, which is, when should you start with those cups?
Andee: Yeah! That’s a great question. I like to start… I like bottles to be gone by 12 months. So, if it’s a kiddo that is bottle fed, I just like to have that gone by 12 months. And I like to incorporate the cups naturally, starting around 9 months. So, I’m not giving it to them in place of a bottle, I’m just giving it to them because I want you to start getting used to this! So even though they might still be breast fed or bottle fed, just start showing them those cups, setting them in front of them, let them knock them on the floor, I don’t care. Make it just a natural part of their day.
Ayelet: It’s a play object.
Andee: YES. It’s something that we want them to be comfortable with.
Ayelet: It’s a low-pressure situation now that it’s a playful object.
Andee: And then, as far as how old they should be when they suck out of straws, I’m pretty relaxed on this, because I don’t feel like sucking on a straw is “they must have this skill” kind of thing. I know between 18-24 months, I love to see that that is a successful skill that they can do all the time. Before that, eh? If you are really concerned, I get the honey bears. And the honey bears are therapy cups, but anybody can use them. It looks like one of those honey bears that, you know, we get our honey out of, but it’s a straw and it’s air-tight. And if you squeeze that bear a little bit, the liquid shoots up through the straw, and that’s a great way just to trigger a child’s understanding of, “oh, liquid’s gonna come out of this straw.” And, a lot of times that’s all it takes – is, that little bit shoots into their mouth, and then the reflex is that they suck out of it, which is cool.
Ayelet: Yeah. Very cool. Well, Andrea, this has been so much fun. Thank you so much. And thanks to all our Community LAB members who are listening live. We’re going to continue this discussion, and open it up for a Q&A session for you guys in just a minute, but for everyone listening from home or on the go, thanks so much for joining us, and we will see you next time!
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