My three-year-old looked across the dinner table at me with a twinkle in his eye. In the middle of my sentence, he said, “Mommy, shhh.” We all stopped talking and turned our attention to Walker.
At that very moment, he loudly passed gas, then started giggling.
Shocked, I laughed, “Did you shush me so we would all hear you fart?!”
He stood on his chair with a huge grin on his little face and shouted, “YES!”
I bet you’re thinking this sounds like a regular, everyday moment for a three-year-old.
You’re right. And that’s what makes it so spectacular.
You see, Walker has autism, and just six months ago, he could barely speak a word. Now he can call me by name, make a request, tease his family, and answer a question in the affirmative.
I owe this beautiful, ordinary/extraordinary moment to his speech therapists.
Twice a week, I take my son to a colorful therapy center a few minutes from our home, and he happily bounces off to his session, hand in hand with one of his speech language pathologists. These men and women spend just 30 to 45 minutes at a time with my son, but somehow in that short appointment, they help him increase his ability to communicate.
Every single week, my child learns a new communication skill, and I get to see him beam with pride at home as he realizes he can intentionally make his needs and desires known.
We fought to obtain speech therapy services for Walker because we were watching him grow increasingly frustrated with his inability to communicate. His mind was almost 3, but he communicated like a child less than a year old. He knew what he wanted, but he had no ability to let us know. He didn’t always understand us, and we hardly ever understood him.
By the time we had him evaluated, he had started to zone out. He would go entire days without making any effort to connect. He occasionally melted down when he couldn’t make even the simplest request clear to us.
I went into his speech evaluation looking for a rescue. It felt like my baby was on an island by himself. I could see him, but I had no idea how to reach him.
Speech therapy showed my boy how to build a bridge from his island to the mainland. Now he is learning how to invite us into his space, and how to meet us where we are. He gets to be fully himself and fully engaged with us all at once. All he needed were the words to get him there.
Speech therapists, your work is life changing. To moms like me, it can truly feel like magic.
Thank you for spending years learning the science of speech and language. Thank you for the late nights in college when you pored over anatomy books, learning about every part of the body and brain that is involved in the mechanics of speech. Most of us just open our mouths and talk. We never think about how many complicated processes must go exactly right for that to happen. But you do. That’s incredible.
Thank you for having the strength to take on the hard cases. You sit with my son for a half hour every week, knowing he might wow you, but he might choose to be silent the entire time. You never treat him like a waste of your time. You give me his report, and when you promise to see him next week, I know you will take his hand, lead him to your room, and you’ll still believe in him.
Thank you for celebrating his victories with me. Your excitement about his progress is real. When he waves goodbye and says, “See ya later,” the joy on your face looks familiar to me because it mirrors my own joy. The vulnerability to let yourself invest emotionally in your clients is a risk, but you do it anyway. That is why you change so many lives.
For our family, speech therapy is what made the difference, but for others it might be emotional, physical, or occupational therapy. Whatever the case, thank you for working your magic to help our kids.
Six months ago, I laid on my husband’s chest and cried because I wasn’t sure if I bought my child a single thing he wanted for Christmas. He just couldn’t tell me. This week, he looked at a line of stuffed animals, and when I asked which one he wanted, he said, “This brown puppy!”
I know my baby in new ways now. I know what he likes, what he’s thinking, and what he wants to do next. He doesn’t necessarily speak like most three-year-olds yet, but you agree with me that appearing typical is not the goal for a child with autism. You just want to help Walker express himself, and you give him the freedom to learn at his pace while giving him the push he needs to keep moving.
As magical as it feels to me, I know speech therapy isn’t enchantment or sorcery. You work so hard. You make things that felt impossible possible.
There is one precious first that I owe to you, and I can barely type the words without tears. After a few months in speech therapy, I gathered my boy up in my arms before bed, and like I always do, I said, “I love you, Walkie.” Imagine the joy I felt when on that evening, with no warning, he pushed his long hair out of his face, looked right into my eyes and said, “Love you, too, Mama.”
There are no words beautiful enough to thank you for that moment, or the hundreds of times he has said it since. You have given my son the most wonderful gift and it has changed our lives. I can’t wait to see how he grows from here.
Speech therapists, your work might not be magic, but you do bring a little magic into our lives with every new milestone, and I will never stop singing your praises.