I’m sitting here thinking about my 64 years as a sister of a Down Syndrome brother and my 48 years as a speech pathologist. It has been a journey. It’s years of making mistakes, learning how to admit it and toss away my ego, finding ways to connect in innovative with my clients and families, and finding the strength to serve my clients and families with the energy they deserve. It’s all a process.
I learned the innovative piece by always stretching my creative nature to utilize all I’ve learned in the arts, history, sports, and life. Age is not a definitive force that provides you with knowledge. Believe me not all older people have wisdom. However, if you use your experiences and mistakes to build a body of work, it enables you to continually learn and provide care in a meaningful way.
I started in Fairfax County School District in northern Virginia in 1970. I’m now in my 39th year in private practice in Philadelphia. I should say it all started when I was 5 years old and my brother was born. It created a new universe for me. I don’t think I ever appreciated how much he influenced me until he passed away October 5, 2017.
I remember playing with him. Teasing him. Yelling at him when he perseverated so much that you needed to leave the room or the house. Laughing with him as he acted in his silly way. Dancing with him in the living room as he watched Bandstand or listened to music on his radio (which he carried with himself all around the house). He also carried baseball cards in a shoebox from room to room.
As a young girl I took Bobby to the beach, walked endlessly on the beach with him, and walked around Marvin Gardens with him. He watched me play golf tournaments, play in basketball games, and went to the driving range with me. He cheered as I hit shots good or bad. It was a connection.
He was lower functioning, but did have a wry sense of humor. That was noted as he aged and evident when he was in the nursing home his last 6 months. They diagnosed him with Downs Dementia, but I’m not certain that was it.
Anyway I look back on how he influenced my decision to be what I am today, a speech pathologist. I enjoyed the intellectual properties of “language”. I enjoyed the theories of language development and how to use “language” in different ways to improve the language capabilities of my clients. “Language” is the entrance of our brains acceptance of the arts, communication, and life. We use it in several forms. We use it as we paint, as we create music, as we dance, as we laugh or yell, as we cry or weep. It’s all language. It is the structure of our intellect, it is our voice in good times or bad, in happy times or sad. It’s how we display ourselves in public or private. It’s the “all” of our being. We always find a way to communicate our losses or gains. Our anger or happiness. Our emotions are evoked through our language system whether it be words or gestures. It’s all language.
Now that’s what I’ve grown into as a speech pathologist. I accept all forms of language and all uses of it. With that knowledge I grow daily as a therapist. It’s all about acceptance.
I learned how to accept Bobby when I was a little kid as he intruded into our prior quiet family life. It all changed. The dynamic of having a handicapped child in a family can never be understood unless it happens to you. It’s all about acceptance.