Why are you a speech language pathologist? If you are a parent, what brought an SLP into your life?
My brother Troy is eight years younger than me. I’ll never forget car rides when he was a toddler. When traveling with him, my other two younger brothers, and my parents, Troy would “gibber-jabber” and point to objects and items outside of the car window. Although he was very deliberate and intentional, we seriously had no clue what he was talking about! One time, one of my other brothers David or Kurt yelled, “He’s talking in Spanish again!” We would erupt into laughter and “gibber-jabber” back to him.
My dad, a retired diagnostician, tells a story about Troy that I’ll never forget. My parents had a diagnostician who was also a speech-language pathologist test Troy’s skills when he was about three years old. She described my brother’s cognitive and linguistic impairments as falling in the “mental retardation range.” My registered nurse mother was in tears. How could this be? My dad explained that the scores were low and the diagnostician/speech language pathologist was trying to describe the significance of my brother’s weaknesses; not that he was being labeled as a child with Mental Retardation.
Allow me to step on to my soap box for a moment:
A word to the wise, if you have a license in assessing and diagnosing children, it is imperative that results be interpreted appropriately and clearly communicated to family members. It is also necessary to refer children to other specialists for testing if other disabilities may be impacting the scores and skills you are measuring. Remember, our job is to adequately measure ABILITIES and DISABILITIES. Speech language pathologists follow the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association’s (ASHA) guidelines for Evidenced Based Practice (EBP). There are three components: evidenced based materials/assessments/interventions, using clinical judgement, and considering the unique needs of the child and the family’s goals. Our patients are depending on us to know which tools to use, to keep up with continuing education, to have experience with other similar cases, and to know how to research the answers if we are unsure — in order to explain the impairment appropriately, give necessary recommendations and referrals, to partner with them in figuring out answers, working therapeutically to improve impaired skills, teach compensatory strategies, and/or train others working with the child.
I digress. But back to my point: Although Troy had perfect hearing in his left ear, it turned out that he had a mixed hearing loss in his right ear. His middle ear bones were misshapped and he had nerve damage; thus, causing a severe unilateral hearing loss. Hearing Loss. Not Mental Retardation. (Stepping off the soap box).
I have many memories of watching him in speech therapy as a toddler at an outpatient hospital in Lubbock, Texas. My mom and I would sit behind a double sided mirror and watch his sessions. His speech therapist, Cori Weaver, was so patient and creative. Troy would misbehave and “gibber-jabber” in his cowboy hat, t-shirt, shorts, and boots.
Before long, he was speaking in “English” and becoming less frustrated when communicating. Our family began to observe a happy brother, who was quite intelligent, funny, and who increased speaking intelligibility — to the level of full fledged “English!”
I used to help him with his “speech homework.” One of our favorite memories what when I let him paint a fingernail or a toe nail after he practiced each set of words. I don’t know why he was so into nail polish! I relished the moment as I didn’t have any sisters. Poor baby! His older sister was making him work and giving out a free mani and pedi! We older siblings describe this humiliating process to our younger siblings as “cultivating character” right?! I actually just wanted to help him and this really was the motivator at the time. What a funny memory!
Troy wore a hearing aid for several years until he was eligible for a Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA) implant at age ten. The BAHA is designed to bypass the outer ear and stimulate the nerves in order for sounds to reach the brain. Troy now had auditory information in both ears.
My parents fought hard for him at Admission Review Dismissal (ARD) meetings. My mother especially wanted Troy to have access to all the services and supports he was eligible for. She wanted his abilities to be measured and not his disabilities. My parents enrolled him in Early Head Start, which is a federally funded early learning program designed to facilitate growth of language, literacy, and socialization to disadvantaged students. My parents worked hard to ensure he had a Frequency Modulation (FM) system in his classrooms at school. An FM system is a wireless assistive technology system designed to help the individual better identify and understand speech in noisy situations and over distances up to several feet. Troy’s FM system worked together with his hearing aid and then with his BAHA during classroom instruction. His classroom teachers would clip a small microphone onto their blouse and begin instructing the entire class. Troy was able to hear the message and instruction over the background noise of chatter, shuffling papers, pencil sharpeners, air conditioner, and noises in the hallway. He was able to assess the curriculum like any other student without his impairment hindering him.
My mother died August 6, 2004. Troy was ten years old and I was 18. She never was able to see Troy with the BAHA implant. It was placed about a month or two after she passed. I found one of her old diaries with notes, reminders, and “to do’s.” She has pages and pages of agencies, phone numbers, specialists, and networks she had researched to get Troy immediate help and even help in the future. In her diary, she wrote a letter to each of her children. I remember in Troy’s letter she expressed that she had prayed the hardest for him, which is why his middle name is “Samuel” – it means “sent from God.” She also listed that she worked the hardest for Troy when finding out he had a disability.
“Troy, You are the child I prayed the hardest for. When I see you, I see a miracle because I didn’t know if I would ever get you. You are the child that completed our family. Your presence at the table makes me feel like I have a full house. Your difficulties with your speech and hearing have terrified me but God has provided technology and people to overcome your disability. In my eyes, you will always be my baby.”
Troy eventually had his BAHA removed, was dismissed from speech therapy, and preferred to sit in classrooms on the right side so that he would not miss out on any instruction. He graduated high school in the top ten, graduated from college as a civil engineer, and has to tell people he has hearing impairment because they have no clue otherwise.
Thank you God for answering my mom’s prayer to have one last chair filled at the dinner table. (I’ve lost count the number of times she prayed that prayer over our meals!) Thank you Troy for painting my nails and letting me walk down a pathway of communication impairments for a profession. It is the most rewarding, exhilarating, team building, tiring, brain-thinking, problem solving, exhausting, collaborating, don’t miss something, paperwork filled, can’t get enough profession I could ever have dreamed to be a part of!
I stand amazed at the work of Christ in my life. I’m thankful for the journey he has put me on. God has a way of bringing himself the most radiant glory that he deserves, even in our personal lives and professions. Hebrews 1:3-5 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” We are nothing with out Him.
Serve your students, patients, and/or clients well– because it’s what we do and it’s who we are. And, you never know if your a cultivating a sibling to be a future therapist in our profession! Remember who is ultimately glorified when you serve others. Colossians 3:17 says “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”