Finding the "Place"
Well hello everyone! It’s the first post in my first EVER blog. This feels completely crazy, but mainly exciting, because here, we all get to come together to share and talk about issues and topics in the world of Autism. Over the last couple of years, this world has become full of people (both littles and bigs!) that are near and dear to my heart. The funny thing is, it’s the last place I thought I would end up.
For those of you I haven’t gotten to meet yet, I thought some background would be helpful! By training, I am a speech-language pathologist, and have been working for a little over five years with kiddos in schools and in private practice. When I first entered college as a freshman, however, I had no clue what speech pathology even was: I’d always been sure I would be a veterinarian, and declared a major of Biology to meet that goal. But just a few weeks into classes, I felt like things weren’t quite…….right. Instead of loving my courses, I felt stressed out, unmotivated, and in need of something different.
After considering options like teaching English or becoming a medical illustrator (Science AND art? Well yea!), my parents found a psychologist who specialized in personality testing for career matching. I’m sure you can figure out what landed at the top of my recommended list :) Clue number one that life, God, and the universe did not trust me to make my own decisions.
So, classes started, I was excited about learning again, and, after a few courses, felt sure that I would work with adults with neurological injuries and dysphagia (i.e. difficulties with swallowing). Fast forward about six years, and I was beginning my first job working with preschoolers (Ok universe, I got the hint, I’ll do what you say).
The great thing about speech pathology is that there are SO many directions your career can go. Love articulation? Teach those kiddos /r/ all day long! Great with social skills? Start up some groups! Be it fluency (i.e. stuttering) or feeding therapy, chromosomal disorders or Down Syndrome, language delays or hearing impairment, pretty much anyone can find their niche. I was especially excited to find mine, and got to meet, work with, and love kiddos from every one of those categories, celebrating their triumphs at every level. I loved seeing the progress-and the joy that came with it-for these kiddos and their families! I worked hard, gave them my best, but still found myself waiting for the “click”, the lightbulb, the revelation that I had found “my group”. (Radio silence on this one......)
For one particular bunch-my kiddos with Autism-that feeling was even more intensified: in fact, I felt that I consistently and fundamentally failed them. It seemed like, no matter how I attempted to help, it never gave these kids a chance for any significant change in their communication. In the end, I just assumed that I was not the right fit as an Autism therapist.
In 2015, not long after I came to that conclusion, I met a little boy who spoke no words, seemed disinterested in connecting, and often seemed down-right mad at having to spend time with me (cue heartbreak!). As with many of my previous ASD kiddos, I felt ineffective and unhelpful, but did not want to give up without trying every avenue at my disposal. This time, I had a new friend to reach out to who gave me a couple of suggestions and invited me to a seminar a couple of weeks later.
It’s an unreal feeling to realize that everything you knew completely shifted within a matter of minutes, but it would be untrue to describe my experience there any other way: that day, I first heard of the concept of Spelling to Communicate, and watched Autistic individuals use the letter boards. That day, I COMPLETELY changed my view of Autism. That day, I found my place.
Looking back, it’s unbelievable (or maybe absolutely believable) how intentionally those pieces seemed to fall together. I know that steps could have been missed anywhere along the way, and I may never have found myself here. I know too, that I am incredibly thankful that I did.
Coming to Tennessee and sharing this, my heart's calling, with those in the community has meant answering a lot of questions from professionals, parents, and, sometimes, people who haven’t had any experience with Autism outside of putting a blue filter on their Facebook profile picture during April. Across the board though, the one that typically comes up is: What made you choose Autism?
My answer ? I don’t really think I had a choice :)