I never knew or even heard of a speech-language pathologist until my younger sister was born. The ideas I had about us growing up, playing together, and having nicknames for each other were very different from our reality. You see, my sister is on the Autism Spectrum, which made certain aspects of our childhoods very different. Her abrupt reactions to the smallest things in her visual field, her physical meltdowns when she became overwhelmed, the way she would repeat lines from cartoons as if it were a typical conversation are examples which highlighted some of our differences. At that time, I couldn’t understand the world through her eyes. Her reactions, to me, seemed so abrupt. Her language was so repetitive and disjointed. But she would smile when I picked her up and spun her around. She would laugh when I would chase her or hide under a blanket waiting for her to find me. She loved watching me play computer and video games, captivated by the images on the screen. In a way, I knew she was THERE, but REACHING her and forming a consistent connection was hard. I often became so frustrated with myself, because I thought there was something wrong with me and how I was approaching her. But of course, being so young I had no idea what that “something” was...
When my sister was about 3 and I was 12, I was first exposed to the world of special education. She attended a special needs preschool program, which was filled with teachers and therapists all trained to work with children with different physical, cognitive, and language needs. It was my first exposure to this line of work which sparked an awareness that there were other children, like my sister, who had developmental differences. I had NO idea you could have a full time job helping children with special needs function in the settings they are most frequently in - homes, schools, daycare centers. I needed to know more. I was invested in making sure I could understand how to help her as her sibling.
It wasn’t until my sister was enrolled in elementary school when I had the pleasure of meeting one of her first speech-language pathologists. My sister attended the same elementary school that I attended years prior, so it was interesting to see her experience from a different perspective. I never paid attention to where the “speech room” was or noticed that there were children that were occasionally pulled from class to go with another educator (typically someone you see every now and then in the hallway, but as a student you have no idea what they do). I never knew that there were laws and policies protecting my sister’s ability to obtain an education and receive intervention. I felt a need to educate myself to know that she was getting the services she was warranted. I made sure I knew all her therapist personally through high school. When able, I attended my sister’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings, and asked questions about her progress towards goals and how I could be of further help. I wanted to know how to advocate for her so that she could one day advocate for herself. I never realized that a whole profession existed whose sole purpose is to ensure that the individuals it serves have a place at the table which we call society - to be seen, to be heard, to be respected, to be included, and to be valued. I wanted to be a part of that. But little did I know that I was preparing myself to enter this field.
A few years, classes, and degrees later, I am now a speech-language pathologist entering my fifth year of practice. And - funny enough - I am now my sister’s personal therapist. As she grew in age, my clinical interests shifted from pediatric/school-age to adults. Although she has developed into an increasingly independent and headstrong college student, she still has quite a bit of developing to do as she steps out into a world that is no longer structured by teachers and parents. She’s had to develop time management skills to balance her assignments with leisure. She has been forced to develop a sense of awareness about her strengths and weaknesses so that she can advocate for additional resources at the college level. She has to problem solve through novel social situations. In a way, her growth has aided my growth as a clinician and what I am passionate about achieving through my practice. Kids grow into adults who are trying to discover their place amongst a larger group of people who differ in so many ways. I want to help people find their place at the table, based on where they are right now and where they can realistically be in the future. It’s why I emphasize treatment of functional, real-word skills that apply to my client’s lives because I know those are the skills which will be meaningful and practiced frequently. Although I have been a practicing clinician for a few years, it really feels as if my journey is just beginning. Hopefully, you’ll follow me on this ride.
Are you interested in learning more about the field of speech-language pathology or seeking individualized treatment? Contact Cognition, Speech & Language for more information.