This week I’m putting on my other hat! It’s Better Speech & Hearing Month and I’m a speech therapist. Most people have some idea of what we do but most don’t know the full scope of our profession. We need a more encompassing name because speech is on a part of what we do. We work on speech and language disorders in adults and children. Fluency disorders, including stuttering. Voice and resonance disorders. Swallowing disorders in adults, children and infants. Cognitive-communication disorders including social communication skills, reasoning, problem solving, memory and executive functions. Accent modification for ESL speakers. Both speech therapist and audiologists work with people with hearing disorders.
Being able to communicate want and needs, to socialize and interact with others is an essential part of living. Most of us take this ability for granted. It is what makes us feel connected to our life, our families, our world. It is also how we feel in control of our life. Think about a child as they learn language. Very early they learn the power in words-particularly NO. They learn that if they call you, you come. Remember you couldn’t wait to hear mama or dada and later you wished you could change your name?
Speech therapist try to find the key that makes communication a reality for each person they work with. The client or patient, and often their families, are partners in this quest. Everyone has work to do. Communication is a two-way street. Sometimes when we see someone struggling to communicate our first instinct is to talk for them. Sometimes that’s ok, but most of the time what is most helpful is to show patience as they communicate in their own way.
Eating is another ability we take for granted. It is also essential to living not just because it fuels our body, but it also connects us with others as we break bread together. For some the ability to chew or safely swallow food is compromised. This can affect people of all ages and the causes vary, but speech therapists work to help clients consume a diet that will sustain them and give them pleasure. You may be asking, why a speech therapist? We are uniquely qualified because the muscles, structures, nerves we use to eat we also use to talk.
You can help
If you know someone who has difficulty communicating ask yourself,
- How would I feel if that was me?
- Would I want to be ignored or acknowledged?
- How would I want to be treated?
- Can I change how I’m communicating to help them?
- Are there other ways I can communicate-a smile, a touch?
And of course, a book!
A Boy and A Jaguar
Illustrated by Catia Chien
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
A real-life story with powerful illustrations about zoologist and conservationist Alan Rabinowitz. When Alan was a boy, he was a severe stutterer. His father often took him to the Bronx Zoo because he loved animals. And when he talked to animals he did not stutter. He decides he will be a voice for animals so they aren’t misunderstood like he is. While his family tries to get him help it is not until he is in college that he receives the help he needs and becomes a fluent stutter. Now he can speak, but he says, “I can speak but nothing has changed on the inside. I still feel broken.” So, he goes to nature, where he is at home and studies animals. He studies jaguars in the jungle. He works to get protected areas for the jaguars. He uses his voice to speak for them and the result is the world’s first and only jaguar preserve. He sits with a jaguar and thanks him because he is now whole and at home.
Dr. Rabinowitz has a Q&A about cats on the jacket. He is an advocate for stutters and feels his stuttering put him on the path toward his passion so he credits it.
So if you see a speech therapist or an audiologist this month ask them about what they do and thank them for helping others in their quest to communicate and break bread with you!