As we prepare for the end of the school year, we are thinking about our students using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) who have brightened our days and challenged us to be better speech-language pathologists. Here are some things we want them to know…
We know you are listening. We want to start by saying thank you for letting us in and letting us be part of your life. We know it is difficult for you to tell us things, and we appreciate that you make the effort. We’re sorry for any mistakes that we’ve made. Please forgive us for the times that we missed a sign or couldn’t understand something that you were trying to verbally say to us. We are learning too.
We hope that you have enjoyed our time eating snacks, reading books together, and having fun conversations as much as we have. We hope you have heard us talking about how smart you are, and how much potential you have. It is all true.
We’re not sure if we will be seeing you as much next year (we usually don’t find out until September), so as we wrap up another school year, here are some things we want you to remember and some advice we have for you:
First, we know you have heard people say horrible things about you right in front of you. They are the ignorant ones, and there are a lot of people working to educate them. In the meantime, ignore them, and whatever you do, don’t believe anything they say. Know who you are, and believe in yourself. If you have to, get angry and let that motivate you to learn how to tell them off. Learn how to say, “Go away,” “Stop talking about me,” or “I can hear you.” Keep saying it until there is no question about your intent.
Second, let people know you are in there because you need people and relationships. We all do. Look in the direction of people as they enter the room. If they say something you agree with, make eye contact with them. Smile or laugh if they say something funny. Reach your hand out to them if they say something sad. Show them that you understand. You need one strong person who believes in you, but the more you have, the better. It’s not fair, but for the rest of your life you will have to “prove” to people that you are intelligent. You will have to fight harder for the same rights that everyone else takes for granted. Every time you meet someone, you will have to say something “witty” on your device in the first 30 seconds, so that they will see you as a person. Like we said, it’s not fair, and on behalf of humanity, we are sorry.
Third, listen to the people who believe in you and prove them right. “Show off” for them. We have stayed awake at night trying to figure out how to help you access your device, and we worry when we know that you are not yourself. That day that you told me you were “afraid” on your device but couldn’t tell me why, I sat in my vehicle and cried because I would never know. It means so much to the therapists, teachers, and aides who care about you when you say that you like to talk to them or smile and reach for them in the hallway. You don’t owe us anything, but when you tell us things, it makes us want to do more so that we can know you better.
Fourth, tell your parents that you love them because fighting is exhausting, and they may need your words to get through the day. A lot of people will come in and out of your lives, but your parents will be there forever, loving you unconditionally. They have watched you sleep with tears running down their faces, wondering what else they can do. They have researched the Internet hours beyond exhaustion trying to find a treatment, an article, or a system that may help you. They have figured out how to speak your language, even without words. So, however you can do it, let them know that you love them.
Finally, you are special and you have a purpose in this world, just like everyone else. Don’t be content to sit on the sidelines and watch. You can accomplish great things, but you have to work hard. It may take you a little longer, but let yourself dream…and then make it come true.
Heidi and Renee