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Why People Who Use AAC Devices Can Make Great Speech Pathologists

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“Life is scary, overwhelming, and frustrating. But how you handle it says a lot about you.”-Lydia D.

You might be asking yourself who is Lydia D.? To answer your question, Lydia Dawley is awesome and going to make a difference in this world. Just you wait…

Yes, I’m Lydia. But really, I’m awesome!

I’m a student at the University of Wisconsin in Whitewater — let’s go Warhawks! I’m going into Communication Sciences and Disorders to be a Speech Pathologist (SLP). I really hope to work with children with Alternative Augmentative Communication Devices (AAC). I think it’s the coolest way to talk because I’m considered “nonverbal.”

Studying to be a speech pathologist and being “nonverbal” can really raise some eyebrows. Talk about ironic!

I have mixed cerebral palsy, so I “can’t” walk and talk, but I can walk with help from someone, and I can talk, but only my family and close friends understand me. I don’t think of myself as disabled; I just think living with cerebral palsy is an unique way to live! That’s why I want to be a SLP. As far as I know there hasn’t been a speech pathologist who uses a communication device ever. You might be asking yourself, “Don’t you need to speak to be a speech path?” Yes, that might be true now. But I’m gonna change that up!

Here’s why I believe it’s important for people with AAC devices to be speech pathologists:

1. We are secretly geniuses, but we may not realize what kind of gift we have. People who are “nonverbal” have a gift we might not think is a gift. We have a unique way of speaking. We have figured out how to talk for pretty much all of our lives: from typing on our communication devices to writing letters in the air to spell out words. We can use our gift to help kids with communication disorders figure out a way to get their voices out!

2. We can relate to the clients. People who use AAC devices know what‘s up. Trust me, I had some educators and therapists who thought I didn’t know anything. They would say I need to only use my communication device and nothing else. No… wrong! People who speak with AAC devices need to use everything around them, because when they have to depend on just one thing, they will have no way to talk if the device runs out of battery or breaks. Kids with communication disorders and AAC devices need speech pathologists like them to let them know they are heard and no matter what, they’re going to have a voice.

3. We can be so stubborn! Just ask my parents. When I was only 2 years old, I used a little blue walker and I had no communication device. Well, I had to use my little brain to let my parents know that I had something to say. So I rammed my walker into my parents’ and brother’s legs and up against the wall. Ha ha sorry Ma, Dad, and Zach. But when I become a speech pathologist, I’ll encourage my clients to be stubborn. I’m not saying they have to ram people into walls. I’m saying don’t get discouraged if someone doesn’t understand, and don’t give up on trying to make them understand. It may take 100 tries to say one word, but it’s worth it!

4. We share similar experiences. We have been there! To have no voice can be horrible; it’s frustrating when someone doesn’t understand what you’re saying. You may want to cry and scream at the top of your lungs, but you don’t want to make the person feel bad. So you suck it in. With our experiences, we often know what works and what doesn’t, but we’re also open to trying everything because it might work for us, but it might not work for them.

5. We tend to have creative minds! Through our experiences, we can come up with some unique ideas for how to have a conversation. I came up with my own language for which I don’t have to use my communication device. I had speech therapy when I was little (that’s how I fell in love with the field) and I practiced saying sounds and words. When I talk to my parents and friends, I spell out words by pronouncing letters, and I came up with a way to “say” a letter by writing it in the air. That’s another reason why I want to be a SLP; I want to show people they may need to think outside the box a lot to be able to get their point out!

6. We can give hope. Speech pathologists can diagnose communication disorders. Odd as it may sound, I’m most excited to diagnose kids. I don’t know why, but to tell parents that their child has autism or cerebral palsy sounds like I’m giving them a gift. I know it might sound scary when someone tells you that your child has a disorder. My parents felt the same way, but they raised me up as strong and independent.

7. We can show our future clients they can do anything! I want to encourage not only my future clients, but their parents to think of themselves as people who are going to do some things differently, but they can do anything!

8. We can be “mind readers.” Really, it’s a super power. In high school, I was a mentor with the school’s speech pathologist to a boy who was in high school and a girl who was in elementary school. While I was with the boy, he was trying to tell the SLP something, but she was not getting what he wanted. On the second time he said it, I smiled and asked him, “Do you want to play memory?” In the widest smile and the brightest eyes, he yelled, “Yes!” That’s when I knew I wanted to be a speech pathologist — I need to help kids be understood. It feels beyond awesome to get that bright-eyed, gigantic smile from your client!

9. We’ve had to learn patience. I don’t know how many times I had to wait for my parents to do something for me. Sorry Ma and Dad, but you are kind of slow! When speaking with a communication device, we have a delay with composing our response. And yes, there are speech therapists who don’t wait for their client to write on their AAC device. I don’t understand why! I have been there when someone doesn’t wait for me to talk and I don’t want other people to feel that way. So when I become a SLP and see clients, I will be patient with them because I know they have something in that big wonderful brain waiting to get out!

10. We’ll love your kids as if they were our own. This is the reason I’m most excited about being a speech pathologist. I love kids! They are curious and fun. I want the best for my future clients, and I can’t wait to help them find their voice and see what they are going to do in this world!

I know people who use AAC devices may meet some people who will say they can’t be speech pathologists, because I have. But just smile and say thank you for your input. Don’t let those people get your goat! Go and get it. They don’t know you — you know yourself. You know what you can and can’t do. Do what you want, because I believe in you!

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Thinkstock photo by Wavebreak Media.

Originally published: June 12, 2017
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