For the past two years, I have shared an article with my graduate augmentative and alternative communication class that a close colleague gave me. The article, titled “Empowering Nonvocal Populations: An Emerging Concept,” was written by Sandy Damico in 1994. Although this article is now almost 20 years old, there are certain concepts that are timeless and empowerment is one of them. According to Ashcroft (1987), an “empowered individual is one who believes in her or his ability to act, accomplish some objective, or control his or her situation.”
Each time I read this article, it empowers me to do a better job as a speech-language pathologist and continue to empower the people around me. It also always gives me perspective on why certain clients are more successful than others. It also helps me reflect on how to empower not just my clients, but my own children. At a recent lunch with a friend who has two children with special needs, we started discussing goals for our children. She shared with me that she does not have high hopes for her children because they have special needs. I talked to her about empowering her own children because if she didn’t believe in their ability, how can she expect them to believe in themselves?
Here are five ways that you can empower your clients:
- Complete a comprehensive assessment to create goals that are appropriate and attainable. If a proper assessment is not done, then the goals may not be appropriate. For example, we need to think about “What are my client’s strengths?”, “What goals will be most functional for him/her?” On the other hand, focusing on goals that have already been attained previously will not empower a person. If a child or adult feels that a person doesn’t expect anything from them, then why try? We need to challenge our clients but in a way that is attainable with appropriate and functional goals.
- Tell your client, “You can do it,” and believe it yourself. This is a simple tip but has worked for me time and time again. There are two parts to this statement. Saying “You can do it,” and not believing it in yourself will not empower your client. We need to tell your client this statement, but in our hearts know they can do it. There have been many evaluation and therapy sessions where others have told me “He can’t do anything,” “He is very low functioning and doesn’t communicate,” etc. I strongly believe that everyone communicates in their own way and it’s our job to find that way and expand on it.
- Empower your client’s family. This is a very important tip. Some families may feel defeated or have given up on your client’s ability to communicate. They may have been told time and time again that their child can’t do this, can’t do that, etc. After awhile, a person can start believing it. Empowering families and giving them positive feedback and suggestions about their loved ones is key.
- Teach your client a new skill that will change their life (e.g. cooking, etc). Teaching a child or adult a new skill that can positively affect their life can be extremely empowering. I currently see a client who is independent in many aspects of his life as far as hygiene, transportation, etc. However, one skill he was lacking was his ability to prepare food for himself. He was limited to microwaving unhealthy foods because he did not know how to cook simple dishes. To empower him, we decided to use cooking as an activity to meet his speech and language goals. I am a true believer in increasing independence because with independence comes empowerment.
- Don’t give up. Reach out to supervisors, colleagues, etc. It is important to reach out to others if you feel that your strategies and/or techniques are not working for an individual. If you feel defeated with a client, he or she will sense that and in turn feel disempowered. It may just take one or two sessions with some help from a supervisor or colleague to change your entire perspective of your client. If you still feel that you cannot meet their needs, it may be appropriate to refer your client. Also, use outside resources. I find many excellent posts written on one of my favorite websites (written by Carol Zangari and Robin Parker).
Rebecca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist, author, instructor, and parent of two young children, who began her website www.gravitybread.com to create a resource for parents to help make mealtime an enriched learning experience . She discusses the benefits of reading to young children during mealtime, shares recipes with language tips and carryover activities, reviews children’s books for typical children and those with special needs as well as educational apps. She has worked for many years with both children and adults with developmental disabilities in a variety of settings including schools, day habilitation programs, home care and clinics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can follow her on Facebook; on Twitter; or on Pinterest.