Summer spurs images of the people laughing, ice cream cones melting, and my friends sunbathing under the all-too-quickly-disappearing rays here in the great NW. The concept of sitting through hours of class each week is quite new to me this summer, and it finally caught up with me last week when I realized I would much rather be kayaking with orcas again in the San Juan Islands than studying for exams and writing yet another set of SOAP notes. That frustration nagged me all morning on Tuesday, and I’ll admit that I walked into a session with my fluency client in a less than chipper mood.
My client, a soon-to-be college freshman, pulled out his copy of The Rainbow Passage for another few (hundred) rounds of the Camperdown Prolonged Speech Pattern. Through my forced smile, all I could think was, “Here we go again: wheeeeennnnnn suuuunnnnnnliiiiiight striiiiiiiikes raiiiiinnnndroooops iiiiinnnn theeeee aaaiiiir…great…” BUT, he threw a curveball at me that has been on my mind ever since. Rather than jumping into practice, he asked me, “By the way Hanna, this is going to cure my stuttering right?” After a slight hesitation, I explained that despite lots of current research, we still don’t know exactly what neurological proceses cause stuttering, so our intervention methods are intended to treat the symptoms of stuttering (e.g. blocks, repetitions, prolongations, etc.) rather than cure the underlying impairment. For the next 20 minutes, we put The Rainbow Passage aside and he, my supervisor, and I talked about what he thought would be different in his life if he either stopped stuttering altogether, or reduced his stuttering severity significantly. “I could meet new people more easily,” “I wouldn’t have to worry about answering questions in class,” ” I wouldn’t have to plan out everything I’m going to say.” In the end, I asked him to sum up his thoughts into a single difference; his response was: “I would still be me, I would just be a more expressed me.”
You might not have had the same kind of “tuh-duh” moment I had when reading those words, but this is a BIG DEAL! Here I am pouting about my lack of a tan, and in front of me is an individual counting on me and the amazing supervisors at UW to radically alter his life- to make him a more expressed version of himself. In that moment I was forcefully reminded that speech-language pathology is important. We don’t just help people, we open up doors that have never existed for our clients before. We give them a way to express what they otherwise couldn’t, and that is not to be taken lightly.
I was talking with my mom, a retired special-education preschool director, the other night and she was telling me about her on-the-job “training” in counseling parents of children with disabilities. “I would go to their houses after work to do in-home visits. We’d be sitting on the couch chatting back and forth when all of the sudden these parents would just fall apart in front of you. Through tears, they would tell you how they just wanted one more baby to complete their family, and after two perfectly healthy kids they now have a three-year old with a severe disability, and they can’t imagine how they’ll ever manage to make it through the next year…or 15 years…or 50 years…with a child who will never achieve the milestones and goals they always envisioned. They’re so frustrated and guilty for feeling disappointment in their own child, and they’re looking to you to help them. They are counting on you to support them along this journey and to remind them that at the end of every dark tunnel, there will be some light-some new milestone to celebrate and new goals to set.”
I know that I’m new and optimistic and haven’t spent years bogged down by billing paperwork and disengaged parents. I know that I haven’t had to face coworkers who don’t want to hear another classroom recommendation or refuse to take your expertise seriously. But despite all that, I want to congratulate the amazing community of speech-language pathologists (and OTs, PTs, SpEd teachers, and other professionals working in this field) for waking up every day and changing the course of peoples’ lives. Whether your client is 18 months old, 18 years old, or 88 years old, you matter to them and their families. Their dreams are bigger than your missed morning coffee, delayed amazon.com package, or (heaven forbid) lack of a tan, and I am so grateful to my fluency client for reminding me of that.