The Southern New Jersey Autism Speaks Walk Now for Autism was this weekend. It’s a great opportunity to see the children we work with outside of the classroom…in the fresh air, surrounded by bubbles and bouncy castles. We were involved and attended the walk before the creation of Speak for Yourself, and actually before the creation of the iDevices. The last couple of years, we have been part of the Resource Fair. One of the things that make this event unique is that we are able to bring our children with us.
We don’t usually write about our own children, but we’re going to today. Between us, we have six children. Renee has four and I have two, and our role as mothers influences our decisions as therapists. We think, “What would I want done for my own child?” and we do it for our clients.
Our role as speech-language pathologists (SLPs) influences our role as mothers, as well. We talk to our children constantly. When they were very young, their lives were narrated, their receptive language was informally assessed on a regular basis, and they were exposed to AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication). My son used five signs when he was nine months old, and Renee’s four year old was exposed to “talkers” as soon as he could purposefully move his hand and isolate an index finger. I think this is common among SLPs in general. We know that sometimes children have problems talking, while some parents are blissfully unaware that a problem with communication is even a possibility. There have been times where I’ve told a mom at a playground or a school function what I do for a living, and she says, “You mean sometimes kids can’t talk?” As speech-language pathologists, we know how truly important it is for a child to be able to communicate, and we don’t take it for granted. We use our knowledge for our own children and children in our personal lives, and we celebrate milestones in speech and language development that other parents may dismiss with a statement like “Isn’t that cute that he pointed at the dog and said ‘daw-die’!?” We know that verbal speech is not guaranteed.
It is not a profession that you “leave at the office,” so when I’m with my fifteen-month-old great niece at a family dinner, I respond to her vocalizations, expand on her single words, and support her turn taking skills by responding to her babbling. Parents use these strategies naturally without knowing what they’re called, usually children develop verbal speech, and the parents never know that there was even a possibility that their child would not be able to talk. Unless, of course, they don’t start to talk. Children of SLPs could probably all get together and exchange stories about how their parents worked on their language skills because it’s true. Children of SLPs who specialize in AAC could probably talk about recording their voices into devices and using various devices to test the functionality for a student. While Renee and I talk daily and typically more than once, our families don’t get together frequently. However, when our children are together, they have the bond of mothers who are SLPs specializing in AAC, but they also belong to a highly exclusive “my-mom-spent-two-years-of-our-lives-developing-an-app-and-fighting-a-federal-lawsuit” club.
The Autism Walk is their opportunity to see us talk to people and to meet some of the children we work every day to help. They can see us working directly with children who come to our table. It is a day when our professional lives and personal lives overlap, which makes for some interesting and amusing moments.
Here is a picture of my mom and my two children:
Here are three of Renee’s four children (her other son had a baseball tournament):
After the two minutes that it took to take these pictures, I handed my phone to my 13 year old son and said, “Can you get a quick picture of me and Renee?” It ended up being anything but quick, and my son took a total of 39 pictures, laughing the whole time. The next sequence of pictures had us laughing for a good part of the day. (Make sure your sound is on, and so that we give appropriate credit, the song is “Forever Young” by Bob Dylan.)
At these times, where it is an accomplishment to get a picture taken, we marvel at the miracle that it took to create Speak for Yourself. Because we are SLPs who spend our days working with children who are nonverbal, we also know that it is a blessing to be interrupted by a child’s voice. We are grateful, in our personal and professional lives, when a child tells us something. And personally, we are thankful for our children who help us test the app, carry boxes, babysit younger siblings, and get up early on a Saturday morning to attend an autism walk. We love our roles as moms and SLPs, and our hope is always that being good at one will make us better at the other.