Often parents ask me about my credentials when they entrust their child to me. Whether it be for weekly speech therapy or each Sunday at church where I run the special needs program. I can rattle off my credentials, the settings I’ve worked in, etc. But this doesn’t tell the whole story. This doesn’t tell anyone how I got to be where I am today. Seeing as today is World Autism Day, and I specialize in autism … it seems fitting to share my story.
I never planned to specialize in autism. I never even planned to be a speech therapist. I began my college career in Northern Virginia, attending a local community college for my first two years of college and final two years of high school. When I transferred to Indiana University of Pennsylvania my junior year, I was on my way to being a deaf education teacher. It took me a while to pick this degree and it was the only way I could figure out how to combine my loves of sign language and children with special needs. But I knew something wasn’t right, something wasn’t resonating inside of me. I enjoyed my courses, but I wasn’t passionate about them. Honestly, the thought of an entire classroom entrusted to my care gave me an upset stomach. Then the day came that I sat down in Dr. Robertson’s Language Development class. She was a friendly professor, very down to earth. She wore a purple pantsuit, used an overhead projector, had a Midwest accent like mine and sat cross-legged on the front table. I sat through that class unmoving, completely consumed by her every word. It struck a cord down deep in my soul. As I walked out of that class I literally felt as if electricity was shooting through my veins. I switched my major that very week. All through undergrad and grad school I still planned to specialize in deaf/Hard-of-Hearing, but now as an Speech-Language Pathologist and not a deaf education major (insert huge sigh of relief here). I even did my graduate internship with an SLP who worked exclusively with students with hearing losses in the schools. My first job was in a special needs preschool in Urbana, Illinois and I anxiously hoped for some students with hearing loss on my caseload. No luck, though it seemed I had every other disability possible on my caseload that year! But that is where I realize what God had created me to do – reach students with autism. A passion was ignited, and there has been no looking back. Often people ask me what I do and, when I tell them, I get some comment related to the super-power level patience I must possess. But, for me, it doesn’t take any more patience than a neurotypical child would require of me. I often tell people "my heart beats to another drum … the same drum my students dance to…" I love figuring out how their brains think and meeting them there. I care wholeheartedly (and probably too much sometimes…) for each and every one of my students. I love every story their parent shares with me. My heart breaks with their difficulties, my heart rejoices in their successes … as I teach them, they teach me. So much. Every single day.
- Tara, SpeechyKeenSLP
[Flickr image By hepingting]