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Sunday, October 25, 2020

How Did We Come to be Here? Adventures in Speech Pathology

 While this blog has been around for about 7 years now, I have to admit to being largely absent for the past couple of years. Life does have a habit of getting in the way.

This year I have managed to write a few posts, and I hope that families, in particular, have found it helpful to see the reprisals of posts about daily routines and the benefits of just “being” at home with your nonverbal child.

I thought, however, that I would take the opportunity to re-introduce myself to those of you who are newer here, or who haven’t hear my story before.  I took a rather circuitous route to speech-language pathology, although always with a laser focus on children with nonverbal autism.

When I was 10 years old I watched a documentary on television about a group of children at a special private residential school in Chicago who had what was then called childhood schizophrenia.  They had autism. They were nonverbal. They displayed a range of “difficult” behaviors that were thought then to be the result of cold and uncaring or unresponsive mothers. “Refrigerator mothers” was the term used. 

Way to take a devastating situation and bury it in guilt.

But that  was the 60’s and, fortunately, we have come a long way in our understanding of autism since then.

But, back to the story.  I determined even at that early age that I wanted to work with these children. I was fascinated and absolutely hooked.  So, I set about finding what I thought was the best program in undergraduate psychology that I could and headed for college.

Somewhere along the way, however, school had lost its appeal for me.  Mostly, I was bored, and the thought of hanging around through a Ph.D. seemed….. well, tedious. So I hoped to find a school where I could spend some time working with these children for a while as a break in between.  I had done some of that in college and loved it.

Timing is everything in life, right?  Mine was off.  Just as I graduated from college we passed PL94-142, otherwise known as the special education law.  Private programs now fell under the purview of public school districts, all of whom had their own staff, none of whom was anxious to hire a 19 year old college graduate with a psych major and special ed minor.

So, while mulling my options I signed up to be a substitute special education teacher.  Unfortunately, in my big city home town, some of those classrooms were homes less to special education students and more to underprivileged students tired of being called “dumb.”  It was an eye-opener for sure, but not what I had in mind at all.

So, what to do? I thought I’d look at special education graduate programs instead. At the time, there were exactly 5 in the country that offered a specialty in autism.  My first choice turned out to be a poor location. As in, I couldn’t find anywhere to live that I could actually afford. Nowhere.

Second choice turned out to be absolutely awful. I spent a semester learning….. nothing. Not a single thing.  But I was not going to move yet again.  Both moves had sent me in wildly different and far-flung directions.

So this time, I thought about what it was I was doing with the children I was working with and what my options were for getting the education I needed.

Another school in the same city offered a program in speech pathology. What I was actually doing with these autistic children was teaching them to communicate. We spent a lot of time teaching signs for communication. So…. I knocked on the door and was actually invited in without fuss or bother.

And that is how I became a speech pathologist - a profession I hadn’t even heard of or considered before but now wouldn’t change!

How did you get here?

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