I was a speech language pathologist for seven years before I became a mother. I love our field and the chances I get to bring positive change to the lives of children and their families. As a parent, being an SLP helps me be more attuned to my children’s developmental milestones.
My professional skills also allow me to provide my children rich language input, particularly because they are growing up in a bilingual home. I consciously employed language strategies such as narration, expansions and recasts in our everyday interactions. So now, when my 6-year-old daughter says, “Mommy, I made an observation about rainbows today,” or when my 4 1/2-year-old son says, “Alvin was being irresponsible” when talking about Alvin the Chipmunk’s many mischievous behaviors, it affirms that, yes, purposeful, engaging play builds language! Yes, consistent book sharing experiences build vocabulary! Yes, attentive caregiving builds confidence in children!
As a mother, I’ve also stopped judging embarrassing tantrums, senseless meltdowns and stubborn non-compliance at the worse times. How easy it is to judge without experience. My recently learned lesson is aptly summarized by a mom whose son has autism. In her witty and honest blog, Carrie Cariello states, “I don’t want to focus so much on the what and when and where and how that I forget about the who.”
This reality is tested in my own life with my son, who began to stutter at around age three. As an SLP, I always try to convey to parents that what children are communicating is far more important than how they communicate it, and that who they are inside is far more valuable than any outward challenges. In other words, we seek to value and see the person, not the disorder. What an easy thing to say when it’s not your child.
A few months ago, I remember approaching our van in a Wal-Mart parking lot one afternoon feeling teary, overwhelmed, and helpless after hearing my son significantly struggle to communicate fluently. I looked at his sweet face with despair and thought, what if he doesn’t outgrow this? And in that moment, I realized the truth of what I’ve “preached” to parents for many years…the who is what matters.
If the stuttering persists, my son is still the same cuddly, sensitive, funny, smart, and active little boy I love. He’s still a gift I am privileged to enjoy every day. He’s still the one who follows me around the house and says for no apparent reason at the most random times, “Mama, I love you so much!” And even if he continues to stutter, he’ll know he’s loved, he’s special and that what he has to say is important to us.
Lastly, I realize more fully now how much effort it actually takes to make needed changes in the home in order to help our children when they struggle with communication. For my son, it forces us to slow down transitions, to give him needed thinking time as well as curb our tendency to interrupt his talking time, especially when his sweet and chatty sister frequently attempts to cut into his sentences. It means coaching my husband on altering his pace, reducing interruptions and valuing the message.
So when we as professionals make recommendations for environmental changes in the home or in communication styles, we must be very patient and really clear on what that actually looks like, because at the end of the day, the who is what matters.
Ana Paula G. Mumy, MS, CCC-SLP, is a trilingual speech-language pathologist who provides school-based and private services. The author of various continuing education eCourses, leveled storybooks and instructional therapy materials for speech/language intervention, Ana Paula also offers free resources for SLPs, educators, and parents on her website The Speech Stop. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.