Scale it back a skosh more than 20 years ago and picture the terrified freshman in college, in another state, from a small town of 600 people in the midwest. The first week I appear at all of my Gen Ed classes in anticipation of my first nursing class on Thursday night. Yep! Nope! Practically running back to my dorm in a panic, I bang on the RA’s door. “How can I get out of this class?” They want me to get up in front of people and TALK! (This causes me to chuckle now because lets face it, I am a speech pathologist and I like to talk). The following year, my counselor suggests I take a class in the Communication Disorders Department. Sure, I say without a clue. I don’t know what this class is about, I have never heard of a speech pathologist but I will do it because I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing. Following the completion of the Introduction to Communication Disorders class that semester, I call my mom and PROUDLY announce, “I am going to be a Speech-Language-Pathologist!” Her response, “What is that?” and I reply back, “I don’t know, but I am going to help people”. And that is really what it is about… helping people.
Moving forward to grad school, (yes I made it through those grueling years being homesick, not having a clue, and being afraid… (and lets be honest for those other SLP’s reading this, we tend to be an intense bunch of creatures with Type A personalities) and to the main topic of this blog… a box of cereal, life, and how you have to roll sometimes.
My best friend to this date, Cari and I lived together for a year while I was attending grad school. Cari, the extrovert who everyone loves, who rolls with things and learns quickly with the introvert, (that would be me) who analyzes, reads the directions to everything and likes to make sure everything is in order. Who does not like order? (My mom will still occasionally remind me that “not everyone is like you, Tracy”)
Anyway, back to Cari… One day she gets home from class and I am beside myself. I have the SICD, the Sequenced Inventory of Communication Development, out attempting to read the instructions and pick through a vast array of testing materials. She looks at me and says, “Put the manual away.” In my mind I think she must be crazy. Doesn’t everyone read the manual to everything so you know how to do it? What will I do? I am not sure who got the cereal, but picture two 22 year old women facing each other sitting on the floor each with a box of cereal in hand, shoveling it in as she shows me how to do the test. (I still like to shovel popcorn in but we will save the low tone kiddo who overstuffs at mealtimes for another blog!) This is one of the first times I can recall putting the rule book aside in college and learning to do something new.
Moving ahead those skosh more of 20 years and into today and into my practice and into my life. I work for myself traveling from home to home, some private clients and some through early intervention. I have a skill set that I have learned from the foundation of my 6 years in school; the variety of training related to Autism, ABA, PECS, Social Thinking, Apraxia, Feeding, and Sensory Integration; and I have the experience of working with a variety of clients over the years. I can bring that skill set to each home, but for each family and for each household I enter I have to “Put the manual away” and treat that child as an individual and that family as an individual family. I have to look at the social emotional component of each family unit as well as any cultural differences. I need to be respectful and educate my families. One of the biggest gifts I can provide my families is to accept where they are at on their journey with their child and his/her delays. For many of my kiddos I look for unique motivators and what that child is interested in so I can begin to form a relationship with that child. Then I can begin to determine how that child learns and what steps to take next. Some kids like the Kaufman Praxis Cards at 18 months. Use them! Some kids like to sit in cube chairs. It gives them a sense of space and support for their bodies. Use them! Some kiddos learn to read before they can answer questions or follow directions consistently. Write the questions down to provide the child a visual support! Think outside of the “typical” box; once you shut your mind to an idea you might miss out on an opportunity with that child.
Sometimes in life we have to unlearn what we have learned, take what we have learned to help us grow in the next experience, and sometimes just put down the manual and think outside of the box (and by golly, grab a box of cereal too).
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