ACLP Bulletin | Summer 2023 | VOL. 41 No. 3

Shannon Dier, MS, CCLS

Rethinking Routines

Typically, when I sit down to write this column, I look over the planned articles for the issue and consider what theme ties them together. Like looking at puzzle pieces scattered across a table, at first it often feels impossible that these different parts could form a common picture. But with reflection, patience, and a little creativity, gradually it is possible to uncover the underlying ideas the articles share even as they represent different aspects of child life practice. For me, an avid puzzler, this process makes the task of writing the Executive Editor column less like an intimidating responsibility and more like a playful challenge. Who says you can’t “child life” yourself? 

Yet, as I considered the articles we have in this Summer issue, I was struck not by their similarity but by the breadth of topics covered. Attempting to unite articles about gun violence, facility dogs, and neurodivergent students felt contrived rather than authentic. I wondered if this editorial writing strategy was less effective than I imagined, and I began to rethink my approach. This led to reflecting on how often we find ourselves in this position as child life specialists. Maybe we have been approaching an intervention – a therapeutic activity, a procedure prep, a diagnosis teaching – the same way for years, and then suddenly we find this approach doesn’t work for a certain patient or family. Sometimes these challenging moments of “failure” prompt exciting new ideas and approaches as we reexamine the places where we may have leaned into what was familiar and routine rather than experimenting with new techniques, tools, or technology. Other times, we recognize that what we have been doing usually is best; it just wasn’t the best fit in the situation, and so we learn to better identify moments when more individualization or innovation is needed. 

Ironically, it was this line of thinking that led me to recognize something common among many of this issue’s articles: they provide an opportunity to reconsider taken-for-granted ideas and explore new approaches to existing challenges.    

For instance, two articles tackle the challenge of supporting a more diverse pool of learners and professionals. First, child life specialist Mary Ann Gill describes strategies that would better support autistic and neurodivergent child life students, deftly combining personal experience with evidence-backed recommendations. Several of the ideas she shares may seem to challenge established practices, including how person-first language is not always preferred and that neurodivergent child life students may benefit from using scripts to learn conversational patterns common in medical settings. In a similar vein, Lindsey Murphy, Genevieve Lowry, and Cara Smith encourage us to refocus the pathway to the profession on the child life competencies rather than health care settings. These authors explain how current guidelines for training and certification prioritize experience and knowledge of health care settings, which has the unintended consequence of restricting learning opportunities in community settings and limiting access to the field.  

Other articles might prompt you to rethink what you know about a topic. Laurel Johnson and Jenna Read go beyond talking about the importance of resilience to detail specific mindfulness strategies that you can easily learn and implement in your everyday practice. The history of facility dog programs from Lynn McGurgan may be a helpful reminder of how recently our canine friends became a part of child life programming and how much we still have to learn about their impact. For me personally, talking with Erika Croswhite of the Benchmarking Committee about her article on the Child Life Professional Data Center was especially informative. It is easy to forget in our day-to-day tasks of patient care how impactful tracking what we are doing can be and how far-reaching those daily statistics can be when compounded across programs and across many months and years.   

Finally, I would like to highlight a reformatted column that will hopefully continue to reshape what you think of when you consider writing for ACLP Bulletin. In Scenes from the Life, a handful of child life professionals share their experiences and perspectives on timely topics. This issue, Jennifer Fieten, along with Sidney Moreno and Brielle Swerdlin, contribute their experiences with children and families affected by gun violence and share avenues for support and advocacy. Going forward, we hope to continue to publish pieces like this that highlight the work of our professional colleagues. This effort will start with our Bulletin committee members who will lead several new columns over the coming year to demonstrate the type of writing that is possible.  

The Bulletin committee is also rolling out updates to our submission process. First, we are officially moving to a rolling submission process. No need to consult specific issue deadlines; articles will be reviewed and receive feedback as received. This better fits what has been happening in practice since publication timing depends on a number of factors. Second, we have a new submission form on the ACLP website. Whether you have an idea for an article or a draft ready to submit, now you will complete a simple Jotform that provides the editorial team with the information they need to support you wherever you are in the writing process. Related to this, we are also in the process of updating our writing guidelines and support documents on the website. You will find all these updates on the ACLP Bulletin webpage.  

Innovation is an ongoing process, and one that we should continue to rely on in child life practice. Though it turns out my writing strategy of looking for the common thread worked out after all, the act of questioning, rather than rely on, my typical approach was what matter most. I hope the articles in this issue prompt new questions, spark new ideas, and help you decide where to reconfirm and where to renew your practice.