Twelve years ago, I was ready to dive into the world of speech-language pathology with enthusiasm, fervor and a toolkit of assessment and therapy materials. I had worked hard in the cold and snowy deciduous forests of Madison, Wisconsin to earn my degree. At the time, it was the best graduate program for our field, and I was going to be the best. Don’t get me wrong—I am the first to say that there are others much smarter and better than me. Rather, I felt like I needed to be the best speech-language pathologist because every child, every client deserved that. So, in 2003, I embarked on my profession. My brain knew how to give assessments, write reports and give parents lists of effective text-book strategies for any speech and language disorder.
I was confident my well-earned GPA and handful of clinical experiences gave me the solid foundation I needed. And, I was very wrong.
Fast-forward to 2015 and I will say that I walk into each assessment and therapy with less book knowledge. I continually think to myself, “There’s so much information out there. I have so much more learning to do. There are stacks of research journals on my nightstand used as coasters.” When parents ask questions, I rely on my experiences to give my response. Then, I will usually follow-up with, “But there is no one else like your child. So, we need to meet his unique and important needs. Together, we’ll find a way.” My brain’s work is now supplemented by the sentiments of my heart-skills: flexibility, acknowledgement and empathy for the challenges of being parent. So, today, I wanted to take the time to sincerely apologize to the parents and families of a decade ago. This is my confession as a speech-language pathologist.
Dear Awesome Families,
Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of your family’s journey. I want to take this opportunity to say, “I’m sorry.” When I walked into the room to give your son the speech test, I did not take the time to talk to you—what keeps you up at night as his mama? I did not hear your story about what was most important to you as a parent. Before giving him a test, we should have talked about what he liked, what frustrated him, what he excelled at. I only looked at one aspect of your son, and there are so many more wonderful parts to him. You know his story best, and I should have listened.
Then, when he did qualify for speech services, I talked about the numbers, the scores. I used big words that I did not learn until graduate school. I kept my eye on the clock to make sure that I would make my next therapy session, and I only gave you four minutes to ask important questions (that you likely stayed up late thinking about). I should have talked to you before our meeting—formal meetings are not a good time to hear news for the first time. I should have given you ample time to talk about your concerns because you deserve that as the parent. As a parent of two young children (and one on the way), I now understand this. I should have spoken to you like a human being. Words are important to me as an SLP; however, I am the first to say that the most important words are not necessarily the longest.
When he showed up for the first day of our speech session, I told you to say good-bye to your 3-year-old at the front of the school building. He cried, and I noticed your eyes beginning to water. I said, “He’ll be okay,” and walked into the big building. He stopped crying when I showed him the puppet I used for therapy. He made his first /k/ sound, and I was happy. After the session, I walked him down the long hallway, through the front doors and back to your car. You seemed relieved, and he was excited to show you the sticker he received. I said, “He made his first /k/ sound!” and you appeared pleased. I should have invited you to be a part of our session. I wish you could have been there to hear his first /k/ sound, see the strategies I used and possibly try out his new skills at home. Please know that I learned from you and your son. Now, I try my best to have parents see the therapy session. Sometimes, it’s a video sent on the phone. Sometimes, if possible, my parents stay for the entire session. Parents, like you, should be a big part of the therapy process, and I now know this.
Thank you for being a part of my learning journey. Much like my students and clients, I am slowly growing and finding ways to be better. Please know that my time with you was meaningful. Thank you so much.
Your Speech-Language Pathologist