As a speech therapist who suffers from acute germ neurosis, I lather my hands in organic alcohol-based hand sanitizer every time I sense a nearby germ has escaped my students and entered my airspace, such as when I catch them exhaling. If their hands enter the general vicinity of their faces, I extend them the honor of using my hand sanitizer (or what I tell them is “magic soap”). I’m a real pusher of the stuff; we go through it in my classroom like candy, except that we don’t eat it. Except for that one time, when my back was turned for just an instant, and the student thought the soap was magical because it could be consumed. You just can’t pay for entertainment like that these days. And certainly, like any good germaphobic speech therapist, I take any opportunity to teach my students to say their sounds without the use of physical contact.
But sometimes when less tactile methods fail, I have to get physical and the gloves come on. My latex germ-repelling gloves. I glove up in these fashionable accessories when trying to make a good impression on a first date, but also when pressing on students’ lips and cheeks to eliminate or reduce the escape of air from the sides of the tongue during a lateral lisp. Which sounds like loads of fun, I know, but students typically dart for the door when they see the gloves. I’m not sure if it’s because they aren’t fond of this manner of therapy, or because I’ve taken to using the gloves as hand puppets instead of therapy tools.
Accompanying the gloves are the cherry tongue depressors, which enter students’ oral cavities and extend toward the palatoglossal arches (a little dangerously close to the gag reflex, if you ask me, or the students who gag and spit on me) to give a frame of reference by way of tactile stimulation to the points of contact for the tongue when it makes a consonantal or rhotic /r, ar/ sound. For students with tongue thrust, the tongue depressor supports positioning of the tongue behind the teeth. As with the gloves, students are similarly disappointed by the entrance of the cherry tongue depressors into the session, except for that one kid who thinks they taste great and keeps requesting more cherry tongue depressors every time he passes by my office. I have no proof for this, but I actually suspect he might be faking his /r/ problem just to get his daily cherry tongue depressor fix.
As a germaphobopathologist, I prefer to use hands–off, glove– and tongue depressor–free speech therapy whenever possible to reduce my perceived risk of transmission of germaphobopathologist-resistant germ strains. In an ideal world, I’d like to teach in a germ-proof space, such as a transparent protective bubble. But my district was hit hard by last year’s budget cuts, and my requests for protective bubble-wear have been repeatedly denied.
So for now, I guess I’ll Keep Sticking My Fingers in Other People’s Mouths for a Living.