Today at work was “Scarecrow Day,” so I went in to work in full scarecrow regalia. I think it is fair to say that I took the day far more seriously than my coworkers. I was told often that I “win the prize.” Apparently “the prize” does not include anything tangible—like chocolate, for example–it’s more of a theoretical prize. I’m fine with that (but if anyone does want to give me a prize, Lindt 85% dark chocolate will do just fine, thank you very much).
If you were to follow me around, you might be interested to see that I get paid to dress up like a scarecrow, play with play doh, and make pudding. I also push kids on the swing, say “up, up, up” as they climb the stairs and “doooooooooooooown” as they go down the slide. In between, I might put together potato head or video tape a child asking for a cookie half a dozen times just so I can show that same child the highly edited video that makes the process look much more seamless than it actually was.
I like to think that I make communication look more effortless than it actually is. I think this, in part I guess, because someone came up to me today and asked if I was worried that being dressed like a scarecrow would make the kids focus more on me and not so much on “doing speech.” I smiled and replied, “I guess if they’re talking about how I look then that counts as speech.” There is education and tons of research behind what I do, but I don’t need to announce that. The kids don’t care about all that.
See, most of the kids that I work with are either non-verbal or have very limited vocabularies. Several have autism. I will do anything—Shoot, I DO anything to get into their world, to make them notice me. I copy their actions, I get on eye level, I sabotage what they are doing so that they will—I hope—ask me for help.
Wanna know what else I do? I talk TO children. Not near them or over them or around them. TO them. And I listen to the children, even the ones who speak to me without using words. I look at behaviors and try and figure out what it is that is being said. I call it listening with my heart.
I am a speech pathologist. All that playing and sliding and jumping and being silly has a purpose, and that purpose is to prove to these precious children that they, too, have a voice. They have something to say to the world, and they can use words—spoken words or signed words or words on an AAC device—to communicate.
So I “win the prize,” you say? Let me tell you what I won this week. A child who spent the first month running away pretty much every time he saw me came up to me as soon as I walked into the room this week. He looked into my eyes, held up his hand for a high five, and led me over to the mini-trampoline where we played “jump-jump-jump-jump-stop!” a lovely game that looks just about like it sounds. I said the words, he followed along. By his actions and his eye contact, he invited me to play, indicated when we were changing activities, took turns, and asked me to continue this game. It might have been a one-day fluke except that today was very similar—we just played a different game. When he ran off squealing in delight, he actually looked back to make sure I was tagging along. This, my friends is HUGE
Am I worried that looking silly on purpose is going to get the kids focused on me and not on “ doing speech”? Not worried at all. In fact, I’m counting on it.