September 1, 2013 Columns

E-luminations: Why I Am an SLP

A thank-you letter from a graduating student was just what this school-based SLP needed at the end of a long busy year.

Nita Watts, MA, CCC-SLP

After a long and exhausting school year winds down, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and defeated by all of the IEP meetings, evaluations, and endless documentation that stand between you and your summer vacation. Working in a secondary school with 4,200 students, it is also easy to feel like just another number—one of hundreds of adult faces that will be quickly forgotten by young minds filled with the anticipation of summer adventures and new beginnings in the fall.

At our school, there is a long-standing tradition that the last official assignment a senior must complete before graduating is writing a thank you note to someone who has made a difference in his or her life. In the final days of the school year, following a long day of meetings and paperwork, I sat down at my desk and looked up to see a letter on my keyboard, addressed to me from one of my seniors.

Mrs. Putnam,

I'm graduating soon and I needed to say: thank you. Thank you so much for all that you've done for me. Never in my life have I ever had the level of confidence that I have today, and I have you and my previous speech therapists to thank for that.

Speech is more than 'just talking' to me, as other students put it; it's communication and it's the primary way you and I transmit information between one another quickly and face-to-face. You've helped me to control my stutter and realize my (somewhat ironic) passion for language and I can now communicate ideas and thoughts without the fear of taking too long. I'm going to college to become a linguist and polyglot, contrary to my previous aspiration of being a physicist, and I can confidently say that I have no fear that I will not stutter in English, Arabic, French, Swedish, or Chinese, thanks to you.

Knowing that I stutter kept me from trying to make friends. When I met someone new, and the first thing they would notice about me was the fact that I stammered and repeated sounds, made me reluctant to seek out meeting new people. Since meeting you and attending therapy, I've met my best friend, begun to sing, got two jobs that involve talking to and interacting with people, and am learning Arabic via speech over Skype with Arabic- speaking friends of mine from the United States, Egypt and Libya.

There is no teacher or mentor that has influenced me more than you in my six years at our school. I think I speak for all of your students when I say: My life has been changed completely and my experience since then is beyond words.

After reading this letter I was overcome with emotion. I had sat down at my desk feeling defeated, but now had a renewed sense of triumph!

I began to reflect on my time with this student. I had worked with him for four years during his time at my school. He had previously been in speech intervention in other states and with multiple SLPs, and had been dismissed from treatment years before moving to our school. When he first came to my office, he had very little self-confidence and was reluctant to speak in his classes. He was able to recall some of the techniques he had learned in previous treatment, but was rusty and, in his words, wanted to "brush up." We used a combination of stuttering modification and fluency-shaping strategies.

Given his strong musical background, he had great success in using linked relaxation rhythm and easy onset. He would bring class presentations with him to treatment sessions and I would video-tape him presenting his assignments. We would then play back the videos to critique what he did well and what he needed to work on. I watched his confidence increase dramatically, and soon he was no longer hesitant about speaking up during classroom discussions, or even participating in fast-paced debates in his higher-level classes. As a senior, he was able to openly discuss his stutter with his teachers and let them know how they could help him be successful in the classroom.

This student and his kind words helped to remind me of the reason I went into this field: success stories! These little moments of success are the source of my passion for working with students with speech-language disabilities. It may take years to see progress, but seeing that smile and sense of accomplishment on a student's face gets me every time. I am sad that my time with this student has come to an end, but I know that many new faces and stories of success await me as school starts back this month.

Nita Putnam, MA, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist with Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools. nitawatts@yahoo.com

cite as: Putnam, N. (2013, September 01). E-luminations: Why I Am an SLP. The ASHA Leader.

  

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