October 1, 2013 Columns

Speaking of Associates: When Weaknesses Become Strengths

Inspired by her students, a speech-language pathology assistant who struggles with a learning disability returns to school—twice—to realize her dreams and goals.

Lauren Collette, MA, CF-SLP

For as long as I remember, I knew I had an auditory processing disorder. I remember asking my mom, "Why am I not like the other kids?" My parents tried to explain it to me in simple terms: "It takes you longer to understand and comprehend things," "Sometimes you can't process all the information given to you," and "This is why you have to work harder."

All I knew was what I had to deal with. I was the only kid who didn't know the alphabet, I didn't read well, spelling was challenging, and using the dictionary was almost impossible. I spent many hours doing homework, often resulting in frustration and tears. My dad tried to encourage me by saying, "Your weaknesses will become your strengths." After a lot of hard work and determination, I graduated high school in 2005, but I had no idea what my skills were or what direction to take my life.

So, I decided to attend Pasadena City College. I worked full-time at a gym to pay my way through school, and college classes were not easy. Again, I studied long hours and went to every campus tutoring session I could find. I had no idea what I was working toward—I just knew that I could not work at the gym for the rest of my life. I started to use strategies that could compensate for my disability.

I recorded lectures; made a buddy in every class so I could compare notes; studied with my classmates; went to professors' office hours; made colorful outlines and flashcards; recorded myself reading my notes and replayed the tape as I fell asleep; drew pictures to help remember complex concepts and vocabulary; and used my college's programs and services for students with disabilities. I knew that most of my classmates were making better grades than I, with only half the effort. It didn't matter—all I could think about was graduation, even though I did not know where it was leading.

One day a co-worker mentioned she was thinking about starting the speech-language pathology assistant program at PCC. I told her that I had received speech-language treatment as a child. I told her everything I knew about it from my experience. She never signed up for the program—but I did.

I graduated from the SLPA program at PCC in 2009 and immediately started working in the field. I felt like I was finally done with school! Or was I? I couldn't believe I was considering going for a bachelor's degree.

As I worked as an SLPA, I fell in love with helping people. I worked with many kids who have auditory processing disorders and felt a strong connection to them. I understood all their frustration coupled with a desire to be successful, and I enjoyed seeing the kids achieve their goals. 

I enrolled in the communication disorders program at California State University, Los Angeles, working just as hard and using the same techniques that I had at PCC. All I could think about was graduation and being able to say, "I am an SLPA with my BA." I continued working as an SLPA throughout my bachelors program. I was motivated to keep working, to graduate and to be done with school. Or was I done with school? I couldn't believe I was thinking about continuing on to get my master's.

My love and passion for my work was worth the struggle. I knew I wanted to help more people by becoming a speech-language pathologist and conducting research.

I was accepted into the speech-language pathology graduate program at Louisiana Tech University and, once again, getting through school was not easy. I made sure to always sit at the front of the class, ask questions and participate in discussions. I graduated in May 2013 with three departmental awards and as the only graduate student to complete a thesis. I presented a poster on my thesis at the Louisiana Speech-Language Hearing Association's annual meeting. The department head told me, "You should continue to get your PhD ..."

I learned early in my college career that if I was going to succeed I had to become my own advocate and take responsibility for achieving my goals. In the most challenging moments, I reminded myself that this was not forever, and graduation would come as long as I stayed on track. The SLPA program at PCC shined a light on a skill I did not know I had. During my two years at PCC I learned good study habits, how to set goals and, most important, that I could be successful.

I now understand what my dad meant when he said, "Your weaknesses will become your strengths." I feel so honored to help others and grateful for the opportunity to give back to my community. I am starting my clinical fellowship at an elementary school in Southern California. I will continue to work hard and dedicate myself to helping the kids I work with.

Lauren Collette, MA, CF-SLP, graduated in May from Louisiana Tech University. lauren_collette@yahoo.com

cite as: Collette, L. (2013, October 01). Speaking of Associates: When Weaknesses Become Strengths. The ASHA Leader.

  

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