If I could write to the many speech-language pathologists who helped me throughout my younger years, here’s exactly what I would say.
Chances are, you don’t hear much from students or clients after you finish listening to them repeat “r” or “l” sounds for months or even years. Maybe this is particularly true of the children. You watch their confidence flourish and their speech become clearer, until one day they stop coming to you because they’re exploring the world with the language and speech tools you taught them to use.
Sometimes I wonder if you know what a difference you made.
That’s why I’m writing you this letter. Decades after we worked together, you still have a daily impact on my life. I was the timid 7-year-old whose mom brought her to see you every week because my r’s were weak, my l’s soft, and my s’s ambiguous (three little letters so crucial to comprehension).
Muscle weakness caused my speech sound disorder. You patiently worked with me, sitting in a tiny white plastic chair that looked so uncomfortable. Using a giant popsicle stick to tap the roof of my mouth, you showed me how to articulate each sound more clearly.
When I brought a storybook personalized with the names of my family members and trusted teddy bears, you graciously used it as our read-aloud material. On other afternoons I’m sure the clock ticked at least three times slower for you as I frowned and crossed my arms out of frustration. I’d think to myself: Why can’t I just go home and ride scooters with the neighborhood kids?
Exhausted from unsuccessfully practicing my r’s, I burst out with an uninhibited “grrrrr!” one day. “That sounded pretty good!” you encouraged. Sometimes my face became so twisted with frustration my headband would slip down to my forehead. You quietly and gently pushed it back into place for me.
There must have been days when you, too, left feeling frustrated. I’m sure there were weeks when you trudged to your car after work, weary and wondering if you helped your clients. Or if you made a difference like you always wanted to. I’d like to sit in the tiny plastic chair next to you and tell you how much you helped me. Without your dedicated guidance and my parents’ persistence, my life would not be the same today.
You helped me strengthen the muscles I needed to speak clearly. And you gave me the confidence to use my voice.
Kids with a speech sound disorder like me—or those who speak differently for any other reason—live in a world of furrowed brows, questioning glances, and classmates who mock or mimic them.
But you never asked me why I spoke the way I did. You never assigned an adjective to my speech (I heard “cute” and “interesting” often). You knew speaking louder didn’t make my speech any clearer. As my SLP, you also knew plenty of practice and patience would help me strengthen certain sounds.
I went on to use my voice in a number of ways, just like you taught me to. I performed in front of others in theater and choir. As an adult, I use my voice as a journalist, interviewing sources and appearing on radio and TV shows. I also speak up as the host of a speech and language podcast and encourage kids to feel confident in their own voices through bilingual children’s books about a tiger who learns to embrace her roar.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope you know the work you do as an SLP changes the world by changing one person’s world at a time. You give kids and adults the chance to communicate—often because you’re one of the first to listen.
Kelsey Kloss is the New York City-based founder of the bilingual children’s book company Malty the Blue Tiger, and host of the new speech and language podcast In Plain Language. Previously, she worked as a senior editor for national magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, Redbook, and Prevention. email@example.com