The Giver of Hope
I have the best job. I work with the families of children under three years old who have a suspected speech and language delay. They come to me for monthly parent education sessions where I provide language strategies, resources, and support through the early years of their special needs journey. My goal is to provide tools that families can use and will get them results for their child but my purpose involves so much more than that. My purpose is to encourage, to support, and to reassure families they are not alone. Most importantly, in that first session, my purpose is to give hope…
As families arrive at the first session with their children, they each carry expectations from previous experiences they have had with other professionals, well meaning family members, and with the world in general. They often enter hesitantly, appear nervous, and are reticent to share much at first. Though their faces are all different, there are many things they share at that first session. They all come with the same worry in their eyes, tremor in their voices and the questions that are many times unasked but as detectable as if they had spoken them aloud: “Will my child be ok? Is this my fault? Can you help me?”
As the session begins, I get to play with the child. We talk about why the family has come to see me. The concerns are as different as the children are but to most parents it comes down to the same reason for coming to see me, “My child isn’t talking”. We then have a discussion about communication versus speech. I go over the communication pyramid and explain that speech is only a small tip at the top of the pyramid that is reliant on everything below. I explain that functional and meaningful speech cannot occur without the solidity of those foundational layers. This is always new information. To some, it is a relief while to others, it compounds the worry but, to most, it sheds light on the communication process. We go over what some of the prerequisite skills are and which ones their child already possesses. We talk about meeting their child where their child is and building from there.
As I watch the child interact with family members, I point out all of the things that they, as family members, are already doing right within their interactions with their child; their instincts to play silly social games, to model vocabulary, or to provide visual cues to increase their child’s understanding. Every family is doing SOMETHING right and they need to hear it. I teach simple strategies that they can add into their already existing routines. As I describe using them, they begin to see how these strategies create opportunities to work on attention, engagement, and communication. As I model the strategies and they try them hesitantly and receive feedback, their eyes light up and they often say something like, “oh I can do this” or “I never thought about that before.” It is always at about this time that the magic of that first session happens. The energy in the room changes. Though the families are all different, the magic is the same if I have done my job right. The worried expressions begin to relax and are replaced with optimistic smiles. It is palpable – it is magical – it is transformative. It is hope.
I know from that first session that some families are in for a longer, more difficult road than others and that there will be tough conversations in the sessions that follow. However, empowerment has begun to replace hopelessness and simple strategies have begun to replace overwhelm. It’s a start. If I have done my job well, they will leave with hope. Hope helps families rise up to challenges when they need to and face disappointments as they come. Hope enables families to carry on with purpose and invokes the strength to try once more… I am a speech-language pathologist and I love it but, for that first session, I have my most important role – the giver of hope.