First Words

The tragedy in Tucson and the miraculous recovery of Gabby Giffords has me thinking about first words. Is there anything sweeter than hearing someone’s first words? The world is waiting to hear what Gabby’s next words are. For her, the words that come next will be with the help and expertise of a speech-language pathologist. Every day I turn on the television with the hope that we will hear about Gabby’s words that come next. Not her first words, but even sweeter.

Indulge me for a minute and consider the news we have heard about this tragedy. I’m reminded of my training about concussion injuries versus a gun shot, anatomy and physiology of the brain and the amazing strength of the human will to survive such a tragedy. What sticks with me is the simply stated importance of communication. This tragedy has pulled us into the extended friends and family of well-wishers for Gabby. Vicariously, we are living the caregivers’ experience. We are hoping and praying for her recovery, for those next words. Waiting. We don’t want to hear about how likely her recovery is. Her family, and the world, wants to know what we can do to help. How her caregivers can provide an environment that will help her to communicate and recover to the full extent possible. The importance of what we do can only be measured by what the family, caregivers and patient actually hear and understand. As professionals, we can tell them all about the neuroanatomy of why a recovery may or may not be likely. But, I would argue that our time with them is better spent telling them about what they can do to help make that recovery happen.

I have faith in the expertise of the team of professionals working with Gabby. I know that they have what it takes to make her recovery the best that it can be. In the meantime, as Gabby’s extended caregiver, I know I stand united with SLPs as we collectively wait to hear those first, still as sweet, next words.

Andrea “Deedee” Moxley is Associate Director for Multicultural Resources at ASHA. She worked at Montgomery County Public Schools prior to coming to the National Office. Deedee is responsible for responding to technical assistance questions, developing resources for working with diverse populations and co-managing the S.T.E.P. Mentoring Program. Her areas of interest include cultural competence, bilingualism and health literacy.