Marilee Burgeson, Speech Language Pathologist
Marilee Burgeson has been a Speech Language and Hearing Consultant for the San Diego County Office of Education since 1987 in a 0-3 early intervention program. She has been instrumental in developing an Autism Services team model that is transdisciplinary and has been recognized by the State of California as an exemplary program. She also has a small private practice. She has continued to be a lifelong learner and is trained in ABA and is a Hanen trained speech pathologist.
Questions and Answers with Marilee Burgeson
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: University of Colorado, Boulder, 1978
Q. How long have you been DIR Faculty?
A: DIR Faculty since 2016
Q: How did you get interested in developmental challenges?
A: At 17 I volunteered in a program that paired community volunteers with in trouble youth. I spent three hours a week for three years building this formative relationship in my life. This interest in juvenile delinquency led me to major in sociology and one of my classes was in learning disabilities and then to a Master’s degree in Language and Learning Disabilities in the department of Communication and Speech Disorders. This unique perspective gave me a diagnostic view of assessment that helped me to consider many aspects of a child’s learning profile and how that impacts communication. This perspective along with learning to follow a child’s lead early on allowed me to deepen my compassion and understanding of children with developmental challenges.
Q: Was there a particular child or family that opened your door to DIR?
A: In 1994, we were becoming overwhelmed by children with Autism and behavioral interventions. I was looking for alternatives that were more appropriate for young children and their families which led me to my first conference on DIR in Maryland. At the time,I read any available literature on DIR and started to implement some of the strategies with only a very surface understanding. I really loved the idea of parent coaching and was strongly impacted seeing the power of an emotional connection transform the parent and child relationship. I continued to attend conferences, Institutes and convinced my early intervention program of the value of DIR model for our program. The passion, people and unique quality and effectiveness of this intervention have kept me deep into the DIR world to this day!
Q: What are some of the most important things you integrated into your work from other disciplines?
A: The most important things I integrated were an understanding of sensory processing and the impact it has on learning and behavior, cultivating reflective practice and developing an appreciation of the parent perspective. I also learned to be very sensitive to regulation and how it is impacted by anxiety, physiological distress and medical issues. Also, at the Bridges program I learned to communicate and share goals with other approaches.
Q: What do you feel you contribute most as an SLP?
A: The most significant idea I share is that communication is a shared experience. I highlight the power of non-verbal communication, using affect to mobilize interactions and encouraging parents and professionals to wait to allow the child time to share their intentions. I educate others on the developmental language model that expanded a restricted understanding of communication as receptive and expressive language, to one of engagement, intentionality, shared ideas and meanings, comprehension and production. I also learned to facilitate discussions amongst multidisciplinary professionals to define organizational goals and was pleased to do this for Profectum’s Leadership Forum.
Q: Do you do a clinical assessment in your mind of every child (and adult) you meet?
A: I do not assess every child or adult I meet. I instead focus on being open, present and compassionate. I experience great joy in relationships and value the children and adults I have met along the way! They are my greatest teachers.
Q: You have had a special interest in nonverbal affect cueing. How did you arrive at that and What three suggestions would you give parents?
A: Working in the area of early intervention and infant mental health, I learned about the importance of relating, reading non-verbal affect cues and repair as critical foundational underpinnings for meaningful communication. I work with parents and professionals to help them understand communication is so much more than words!
Be present and share pleasure!
Be a vigilant observer of your child’s non-verbal cues and reflect back what they are feeling nonverbally, by matching the emotion or by naming the emotion.
Wait! Wait! Wait! Discover what your child wants to share with you.
Q: Your favorite game? Book?
A: My favorite game is hide and seek. My favorite books are the passion translation of the Bible, Pride and Prejudice and Zorba the Greek.
Q: How much screen time do you let your own family have, and tell parents to allow?
A: I limited the screen time of my own children. No Simpsons or MTV! They never had video game consoles, only small hand held versions for plane trips and peer relations. Otherwise, an hour or two at night, usually together as a family. Videos can be a useful teaching tool within the context of a shared experience.
Q: What game or program would parents be most surprised to know you recommend for kids or teens?
A: Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood; Back Yardigans; Classical Baby; Saved by the Bell ; Apps for breathing and mindfulness
Q: What two books do you most recommend to parents?
A: Autism Solutions By Ricki Robinson; The Whole Brain Child By Dan Siegel
Q: What recent book have you read that you would recommend to others?
A: Creating Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection by Barbara Fredrickson, PhD
Q: What’s your biggest frustration with how people misunderstand autism?
A: My biggest frustration is that people see the disability and not the amazing potential and unique qualities of each individual. I am also amazed of the lack of understanding of the impact of health challenges and sensory processing on learning and behavior in Autism.
Q: What advice would you offer to someone just entering the field?
A: Do it!!!!! It is one of the most rewarding professions. I have been at it for 40 years and am still passionate, always learning new things and being challenged in ways I could not have imagined. Of greatest value are the people you meet along the way and the great privilege of impacting professionals, parents and children.
Q: Describe a child whose outcomes surprised you?
A: I was surprised when I attended a bar mitzvah for a child I had worked with from 3 to 9 years old, chanted the entire Torah reading so beautifully, it brought tears to my eyes. He was the master of ceremonies for his entire celebration as well as performed! It was a great delight to see the embers I witnessed in our DIR sessions grow into a full roaring fire of passion. We spent many hours pretending to perform, stoking the imagination and struggling with anxiety, regulation and aggression. But this truly was a precious moment that brought to light so many things. Not the least of which was the delight I shared with his parents because they knew I knew how far this child had come and would appreciate this amazing day in a unique way.
Q: Any recent publications or presentations?
A: Blog Post following my presentation on DIR to this music therapy group: DIR Floortime® Model And Music Therapy; September 27, 2017 by the Music Therapy Center of California https://themusictherapycenter.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/dir-floortime-model/
Reflective Supervision: A resource for those supporting infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families. December 2015 ( Early Childhood Mental Health Collaborative, Resource guide)
Poster session at 2017 Zero to Three: The Language of Emotion: Cultivating Mental Health in the Speech Therapy World
Conference Presentation on the Bridge Collaborative at Zero to Three this year with our team
Q: How has your work most impacted you? Impacted your understanding of yourself?
A: My work has enabled me to see the power, pleasure and impact relationships can have on development. I have become more reflective, compassionate and open personally and professionally. This change has made me a fierce advocate for children and families and for mental health initiatives and a more sensitive person.
Q: Can you share a moment in your work you will never forget?
A: I remember in my initial visits I introduced colored spandex and the child requested his mother to go under the fabric with him. In that moment I could feel their connection peppered with giggles. The feeling of intimacy was palpable. When the fabric was removed the mother commented that her son had never looked at her that way before. The other moment that comes to mind is recently in my Profectum Basic Course class, a student was showing a video of he and a student playing in soapy water. Then the interventionist introduced the idea of blowing bubbles with a straw. This child ran around the pool, found a straw and began to blow. The interventionist looked with great surprise at the person filming. I love these moments when children surprise us with what they know. That look of recognition was a great argument for the power of DIR that is seen and felt.
Q: If you wouldn’t have become a Speech and Language Pathologist, what would you have become?
A: I would have become a social worker, ballerina, or park ranger.
Q: Anything else you would like to share?
A: I would like to express my gratitude to the many amazing people that have shown extraordinary patience in guiding me along the way and to the many parents and children who have been my most treasured teachers.