An SLP and Her Dog Make High School Fun Again Name: Traci Ohlenkamp, MA, CCC-SLP Title: Speech-language pathologist, Osseo (Minnesota) High School Hometown: Crystal, Minnesota SLP Traci Ohlenkamp and her dog, Murphy. High school halls can be lonely. Filled with tension, teen drama, and rushed students and faculty, an unconditional and sincere greeting is always welcome, even—or maybe especially—if ... In the Limelight
Free
In the Limelight  |   April 01, 2012
An SLP and Her Dog Make High School Fun Again
Author Notes
  • Kellie Rowden-Racette, The ASHA Leader print and online editor, can be reached at krowden-racette@asha.org.
    Kellie Rowden-Racette, The ASHA Leader print and online editor, can be reached at krowden-racette@asha.org.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   April 01, 2012
An SLP and Her Dog Make High School Fun Again
The ASHA Leader, April 2012, Vol. 17, 20. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.17042012.20
The ASHA Leader, April 2012, Vol. 17, 20. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.17042012.20
Name: Traci Ohlenkamp, MA, CCC-SLP
Title: Speech-language pathologist, Osseo (Minnesota) High School
Hometown: Crystal, Minnesota
SLP Traci Ohlenkamp and her dog, Murphy.
High school halls can be lonely. Filled with tension, teen drama, and rushed students and faculty, an unconditional and sincere greeting is always welcome, even—or maybe especially—if it comes from Murphy, an ankle-high Shih Tzu. Although Murphy is not at school every day, when he does make an appearance in Osseo Senior High school in Osseo, Minnesota, everyone smiles and stops to say, “Hi.” Maybe even a little too much.
“I can only bring him once a week,” said Traci Ohlenkamp, the school’s speech-language pathologist. “Everyone wants to stop and spend time with him. It can be a lot of extra work!”
But the extra work pays off, she said. Murphy is a trained therapy dog, and, although to an uneducated eye it might seem as if he’s just there lapping up attention, he’s actually providing anecdotal benefits to many students on Ohlenkamp’s caseload.
“It’s pretty amazing,” she said. “I have some kids who are pretty low-functioning, but when I bring Murphy in they smile and move their hands to pet him. My fluency kids are more fluent when they speak with him, and my students with autism really seem to connect with him.”
Ohlenkamp got Murphy as a puppy three and a half years ago, intending to train him to become a therapy dog. Although Ohlenkamp grew up with dogs as a kid in Mounds View, Minnesota, the dogs were mostly hunting dogs and primarily pets. But several years ago she learned of an occupational therapist in her district who brought a therapy dog to school. When Ohlenkamp and her husband, Matthew, decided to train Murphy, they had little idea how much commitment it would require.
“We went to training two nights a week for nearly two years and exposed him to all sorts of things like loud noises and shuffling next to him—things that students with special needs may do that might overwhelm some dogs,” she said. “It’s a lot of desensitization.”
After two and a half years of training, Murphy proved to have the perfect temperament to be a therapy dog. The school administration was on board right away, but Ohlenkamp initially met some resistance at the district level and was asked to bring Murphy in to meet the district’s leadership. They were won over, and Murphy was granted visiting privileges. Ohlenkamp took it a step further—she not only worked Murphy’s visits into her schedule, but with the help of her “techie” husband, created a blog “authored” by Murphy. She uses the blog with her students to work on reading, writing, and building vocabulary. Students have taken over the blog and are now writing the entries for Murphy.
“It’s really nice because the students are proud of their writing,” Ohlenkamp said. “I tell them, ‘Go home and tell your parents you are an author.’ They can show their families online what they created. It’s neat.”
Murphy will continue to trot the halls of Osseo Senior High to the office he shares with Ohlenkamp for the foreseeable future. “The students love him,” she said. “He’s so non-judgmental and predictable in his actions that he helps the kids feel safe and calm.”
Contact Traci Ohlenkamp, MA, CCC-SLP, at ohlenkampt@district279.org
We Know They Are Out There

Do you know a fellow ASHA member who is doing good work and has an interesting story to tell? Nominate candidates for future “In the Limelight” profiles at leader@asha.org.

0 Comments
Submit a Comment
Submit A Comment
Name
Comment Title
Comment


This feature is available to Subscribers Only
Sign In or Create an Account ×
FROM THIS ISSUE
April 2012
Volume 17, Issue 4