ASHA’s new president, Patricia Prelock, performs a magic trick.
Patty Prelock is humbled by those she’s built a career around helping: children with autism. They’ve taught her much of what she knows about connecting with others in treatment. About research. About individual differences. About seeing things a whole new way. And about effective leadership.
As she takes the helm as ASHA’s 2013 president this month, she’s ready to share with you what she’s learned from these children.
Q Word has it that a family member propelled your decision to pursue a speech-language pathology career—tell us more.
My brother James has Down syndrome and when we were growing up in Poland, Ohio, a new school for children with disabilities opened up. James was enrolled, and when I went to visit the school I was amazed that they had nearly 500 children and young adults in the program. Many of them had no way to communicate. At 14 years old, I went to the school’s superintendent and said to him, “How can these kids learn if they can’t speak?” He said, “Come and meet my nine speech-language pathologists.” Once I met these amazing SLPs, I decided that’s what I wanted to do.
Several years later, when I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with my doctorate, James reminded me of his role in my career by saying, “Don’t forget, sis, I was the reason you did this.” He is 50 now and has had some health challenges, most recently early-onset Alzheimer’s. But he was fortunate enough to be able to talk. I saw the incredible ways SLPs helped children like James communicate and have a voice. So that’s how I became involved with children with significant needs, which led to my focused work in autism.
Q How has your research on children with autism informed your leadership style?
Working with children on the spectrum is the most challenging and rewarding thing I do as a researcher and a clinician. One thing I’ve learned is if you have seen one child with autism, you’ve actually seen “one child with autism.” Although they share social, communication and behavioral challenges, their expression of those challenges and their strengths is unique. And being able to see who they are as individuals is very important.
My work with them has influenced my style as a leader: It’s given me insight into how different people think, and how you manage in a world where one person’s perspective may not be the same as your own, and the critical need to work as a team to provide the most meaningful educational program. Working with children and families affected by autism has taught me the importance of implementing a shared leadership model to support their complex needs.
One thing that’s often challenging for leaders is remembering that everyone brings a unique perspective to a discussion, an action or an event. Being able to perceive those individual differences … understanding that others may not do things the way I would is a critical lesson for a leader, and it is a reminder that differences in perspectives or opinions doesn’t mean what others have to say is less important.
I have learned the value of what my colleagues can and do bring to an issue. I believe that more than one perspective is essential to effective decision-making and problem-solving.
My work with children on the autism spectrum has made me realize the power of collaborative, interdisciplinary teamwork. Autism affects multiple areas of thinking, learning, communicating and living—having multiple professional perspectives to guide intervention is crucial.
Q How did this research play into your decision to run for ASHA president?
It’s given me insight into the multiple arms of the profession—for example, as a researcher, I realize the importance of the science base for what we do. As a clinician I understand that assessment and intervention should have an evidence base balanced with clinical experience and the goals of the client. As a specialist in child language and a clinician who provides school, community and home-based services for children with disabilities, I understand the perspective of our school SLPs and those providing in-home and in-clinic services. And as an administrator, in my capacity as a former department chair and now dean, I understand the challenges of managing limited human and financial resources and the importance of having strategic priorities. So serving as ASHA president, I have the opportunity to give something back through these perspectives and experiences.
ASHA has given so much to me over the last 30 years—the chance to serve on many committees, councils and working groups, and to develop leadership skills among leaders and mentors I admire. So it feels appropriate to give back to my colleagues, ASHA staff and the larger ASHA community.
Q What’s at the top of your presidential agenda?
With change there is opportunity, and how we as an organization take advantage of the opportunities and recognize the challenges in our changing roles in health care is critical. We need to understand the impact of the Affordable Care Act, what it means to be part of an accountable care organization, how services are likely to be part of bundled payments, and what it means to be involved in primary care. We need to be able to explain and demonstrate the value of our services as speech-language pathologists and audiologists. We need to be at the table with other professionals who have a role in the care of children, youth and older adults. We need to think differently about how we could add value as experts in health communication.
Related to our changing role in health care is the importance of interprofessional education—the need to educate and train our students to work with other professionals. Changes in health care and higher education will require a paradigm shift. We need to find ways to evolve as a discipline and continue to demonstrate our value as we collaborate with other disciplines. I am comfortable with change, but I understand that for others, change can be more difficult. I let the wise words of Gandhi guide me in my thinking that we must become the change we want to see. We can be innovators with change. We just need to be open to the opportunities.
Q What in your professional background are you most proud of?
I’m really proud of being able to work with many colleagues across disciplines to develop training grants and interdisciplinary research projects. I have had the good fortune to have been awarded nearly $11 million in grants for collaborative, interdisciplinary training and research. It has been a privilege to engage students across disciplines in interprofessional opportunities that have allowed them to experience what it means to be a culturally competent, family-centered and community-based collaborator to meet the needs of children with significant disabilities and their families. The more I can give our students in training, the better chance they have to contribute to our science base and enable us as a discipline to be responsive in an effective and nimble manner. I hope to work with our extraordinary National Student Speech Language Hearing Association students on these goals.
Q What do you hope to see ASHA do in response to the changing health care and higher education landscapes?
The Health Care Summit we just completed is an important first step. Now we’re investigating ways to partner with other professional organizations. We will be engaging with the Institute of Medicine through a Global Forum on Innovation in Interprofessional Education and will be working with our academic partners in the Council of Academic Programs in Communication Science and Disorders. We can also capitalize on opportunities to partner with other global and professional associations. I believe if we all work together we can develop an interprofessional education model that ensures competencies in speech-language pathology and audiology as well as competencies in interprofessional education. ASHA has a wonderful infrastructure, strong staff and committed volunteer leaders to facilitate this work. We also need to give our members the tools they will need to make health care and educational reform changes in their communities.
Q Do you also plan to work a little magic during your term as ASHA president?
Yes I do! My husband is a magician, and he’s taught me a little magic. I have learned how to integrate it into both my personal and professional life. I was hesitant at first to incorporate magic into my academic life because I see myself as a serious scientist and wasn’t sure how my colleagues might react to something they see as a bit of “hocus pocus.” But magic really involves a little risk-taking and some generative, out-of-the-box thinking, which you need to do in research, in leadership, in planning ahead for the professions. Magic also tells us a lot about how people think. It’s a particularly effective tool in my intervention with children who have autism, as it provides a way to gain new perspectives and to teach them how to use the “social banter” that accompanies magic tricks with their friends.
I just finished reading a very interesting book, “Sleights of Mind,” about the neuroscience of magic and how our brain plays tricks on us. That’s the science part. The art part is that sometimes it’s just fun to see something happen right before your eyes, have no idea how it happens and imagine what’s possible.
At the recent ASHA Board of Directors retreat we talked about generative thinking and learned how to ask the right questions and frame potential problems so that our organization is well positioned for managing change and prepared for needed innovations. I was able to do several magic tricks that challenged me to connect my magic to what and how we were learning to think about our future as a vibrant, change-making organization.
Members also want to watch for some magical innovations in our convention next year as Colleen O’Rourke and Donise Pearson, co-chairs for the 2013 ASHA Convention in Chicago, prepare for our convention theme, “The Magic of Teamwork: Science and Service Delivery.”
My interest in magic brings to mind a quote by Blaine Lee, “Great leaders are like the best conductors—they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players.”
Q What are some other favorite ways you spend your (no doubt limited) spare time?
Being a grandparent and spending time with my grandson, JJ, is absolutely my favorite thing to do. I have two wonderful adult sons, George and Taylor. My older son, George, lives in Arizona with his wife, Michaelene, and they have given my husband and me our first grandbaby. It is amazing to experience his growing little mind, see his language emerge and watch how much he understands as an 18-month-old. My younger son, Taylor, is quite the entrepreneur and has his own business.
Family is huge for me. We have a reunion every July on Lake Champlain, spending two to three weeks canoeing, kayaking, sailing, swimming and playing on the water trampoline. We have campfires on the beach and cooking involving family and friends that could include up to 20 people at a time.
In the winter I like to snowshoe with my husband, Billy, and we like to take long walks with our precious chocolate Lab, Cocoa. And I love football. I’m a huge Patriots fan. (I’m also a Red Sox fan, though I don’t want to claim that this year.) My oldest son is a football coach for a high school team. I grew up watching football with four brothers, so in high school, when I was a cheerleader, I was the only one on the squad who actually knew what was happening in the games!
Q What has your family’s role been in your career?
My family has been amazing, especially my husband, Billy, who has been incredibly supportive of my career. Being a dean and a scholar is a 24/7 job, and you can’t do it without a wonderful partner. He says his number one job is to help me be successful. He doesn’t want me doing things to distract me from my work with families and children, so he takes on a lot of the cooking and errands during the school year.
And he keeps me healthy, making sure we find time to play. He’s taught me a lot about balance, like when we’re at our house on Lake Champlain, he’ll say, “Let me take you out on the boat,” knowing that being on the water puts me right to sleep. He knows that is a sure way to get me to rest. Billy is an attorney by profession but a kid at heart. He is a Marine infantry Vietnam veteran, and realizes life is precious. When he went to Vietnam, he never expected he would return, and when he did, he had a new appreciation for life. So he doesn’t take life too seriously. He’ll look at me when I am being a bit intense about an issue at work or home, and patiently wait for me to talk it through, knowing I will eventually figure it out.
I come from a large Italian-Irish Catholic family. With six children, my parents had their hands full and had to deal with a number of losses. Three of my siblings are no longer living, and died at the young ages of 21 months, 35 and 58. With my two younger siblings remaining and dealing with Alzheimer’s and mental health challenges, my reality is to appreciate the moment—knowing that for many those moments are far too few. My mother, at 82, continues to remind me that every day is a gift. In spite of the losses and the challenges, I have been blessed in many ways and have had the privilege of serving as a clinician, educator, researcher, administrator and, most important, as a volunteer.
I appreciate laughter and not taking myself too seriously, and appreciate Sidney Shelton’s statement that “there is magic, but you have to be the magician. You have to make the magic happen.” I hope to help ASHA be the place where magic happens!