We Are the Lucky Ones

I wanted to take some time to reflect on how lucky we have been: individually as speech-language pathologists and as a company. People in business sometimes get offended if you talk about luck playing a role in their success. They feel like it minimizes the amount of effort and education that went into their life’s work.  Of course, we’ve worked hard and put a lot of ourselves into creating…and protecting the Speak for Yourself app.  We weren’t “lucky” in the chance sense of winning the lottery. Nothing fell into our lap. We have been lucky in a Butterfly Effect kind of way. The Butterfly Effect is when a small change in a system (like a butterfly moving its wings) results in a significant change later.

 The Day We Met, I Didn’t Feel Lucky…until we met

On the day Renee and I met, I was annoyed that she was there. It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t know. She was coming into the autism classroom where I spent five mornings a week to do an AAC re-evaluation.  The little guy was denied a device the year before because he didn’t like bubbles. My student didn’t ask for bubbles so the evaluator said he wasn’t ready to use AAC.  He had to wait an entire year for a re-evaluation.

I had spent the year priming the initial AAC Evaluator, convincing her that this little guy was capable. I taught him to enjoy bubbles by pairing them with things he already liked…walks outside, popcorn, the swing. But the district decided to use a different AAC Evaluator. I was crushed.

As luck would have it, Renee was the AAC Evaluator that walked in that day. Despite my post traumatic AAC evaluation stress, I liked her instantly. She was friendly and smart. I didn’t have to convince her that my little student was worthy of a device. Renee was going to try devices until she found something that worked for him. I knew he was in good hands, and I left our first meeting relieved. We talked as easily as lifelong friends immediately.

Heidi and Renee of Speak for Yourself outside at the ATIA Conference 2017.

Renee likes to tell people that she stalked me to come work with her. It wasn’t really stalking. She called me a couple of times. She gave me her supervisor’s phone number. But the timing was right for me. The kids I had worked with for two years were all going in different directions. I had grown to love AAC in those two years. I wanted to make sure kids didn’t have to wait for a device because they had bad luck and got the wrong professional. So, I was lucky…I got the position as an AAC Evaluator/Consultant and started working with an incredible friend and future business partner. I’m thankful every day that Renee walked into my life that morning.

We Were Lucky to Find Our Developer

We created the blueprint for Speak for Yourself in Panera Bread. We used PowerPoint because we were AAC-specific in our programming skills, but we knew how to use PowerPoint. We asked our local Apple representative if we would be able to do coding for an app by ourselves. She laughed at us. We asked if she knew any good developers who wouldn’t charge a lot. She said for that kind of app, it would be expensive.

There were two people I knew who had significant computer knowledge. One was a friend from middle school who had just started his own company. He wasn’t in a position to wait to be paid, and the cost was much more than we could afford.

The other was a friend who I had been playing recreational volleyball with on Tuesday nights for a few years. I knew he had done something with computers. When I got an iPod Touch a couple of years before, he had been interested in it. I had taken it to volleyball and showed him how it worked. As we all walked out of volleyball one night, I asked him if he knew anyone who could do iOS programming (the Apple lady told us that’s what it was called). It was starting to snow so I quickly told him about the language app we wanted to make and asked him to let me know if he thought of anyone.

I got in my car and started it. Just before I pulled away, he tapped on my passenger window. When I rolled it down, he said, “I feel like I’m missing out on an opportunity. I’m going to learn how to make the app.” I said, “Okay, that would be great.”

Mark, Renee, and Heidi at ASHA 2016.

People say they’re going to do stuff all the time. They say they’ll call back, and they don’t. People plan to meet for drinks, and it doesn’t happen. We were lucky…Mark is good to his word. He learned how to do iOS programming, and he wrote the code for Speak for Yourself…every last character. He’s still the lead developer. After the development of an app as complex and involved as Speak for Yourself, he’s an iOS miracle worker.  We are so lucky.

We are lucky to know you

When we pushed the button over five years ago that made Speak for Yourself live on the App Store, we knew it was a strong AAC option. We knew people could use it to develop language. However, we didn’t know if anyone actually would…but you did. Professionals were instantly interested. Parents contacted us, asking for more information.

The idea that it would help people who couldn’t afford expensive dedicated devices drove us throughout the process. Thinking of parents who would be able to put AAC in the hands of their child, motivated us to make it user-friendly. We were so busy planning for the development and the actual language system. Our time was spent figuring out how to make a Facebook Page and what to post that would help people using Speak for Yourself, and AAC in general.

Along the way we built a community together. You helped us build support with your questions and suggestions. We didn’t realize we would gain friends. We didn’t know that so many of you would take time to share pictures, videos, and stories of the difference that Speak for Yourself is making for your families. You’ve been there through the early, dark days, and we share the joy in every hard-earned milestone and new skill. Thanks to each of you who have made the slightest movement of a butterfly wing in our direction and changed us and Speak for Yourself for the better. We are so lucky to know you.

Speak for Yourself pizza party picture in Maryland/DC area September 2015.

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