As a fresh-faced newly qualified Speech and Language Therapist (SALT) I was keen to get my career off the starting blocks and was delighted when I landed my first job working with children with communication problems. I worked with kids with downs syndrome, autism, specific language impairments, phonological delays, stammers, learning difficulties, hearing loss and lisps in both school and community clinic settings.
As a ridiculously young-looking 23-year-old novice it was a pretty daunting experience. I was responsible for giving advice about improving communication to parents and school staff, some of whom had been working for longer than I’d been breathing. Initially I felt like I’d read all the manuals about how to swim without actually ever getting fully into the water and had somehow accidentally found myself in the role of head swimming instructor. To add to the drama I was in a new city and still recovering from being unceremoniously dumped by my ex-boyfriend.
I think you either sink or swim in these situations and thanks to the support and guidance of more experienced SALTS, kind teachers and a wonderfully maternal pediatrician I eventually learned how to swim and after an even longer time I stopped feeling like an imposter.
I do recall seeing a young 3-year old boy at clinic with his mum. He had a few minor phonological problems which made his speech a little unclear and that was the reason his mum had brought him to see me. When he came through the door I knew something was a bit different as he simply didn’t engage with me at all and by that time I’d got the whole interacting with young kids thing nailed; afterall that’s what I was doing day in day out. His mum proudly explained that he was really good at remembering things. He knew all the car number plates of everyone who lived on his street and the numbers of everyone’s house that they had ever visited. She told me that he pretty much only played with his train set. To which I naively joked, “oh well we better work on that, we don’t want him turning into a train spotter, do we?” only to be informed, rather frostily I have to say, that his father was an avid train spotter. “Ground swallow me up now”, I begged silently to no one in particular, whilst making a mental note to never ever comment on anyone’s hobbies or interests in a negative way again. I referred that boy to the child development center for further assessments as he needed more input than simply sorting out his /t/ and /k/ sounds. That clever little boy with his amazing memory and special interests was on the autistic spectrum and although I never met his dad I would put money on him being somewhere on the spectrum too.
In his book, ‘The complete guide to Asperger’s Syndrome” Tony Attwood wrote that using strict diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s syndrome about 20% of fathers and 5% of mothers of children with Aspergers also have the same condition (Volkmar et al. 1998).Other studies which have used a broader definition of Asperger’s syndrome place the figure much higher at 50% of first degree relatives (child/sibling/parent) of someone with Asperger’s also having the same characteristics, (Bailey et al. 1998).
All four of my children have been seen by speech and language therapists in the past. How many physiotherapists have had four of their own children all needing physiotherapy? How many psychologists have had four of their own children all needing input from educational psychology? Is this my chance to get into the record breakers, I wonder?
Leila’s speech was very unintelligible when she was little and the twins both had some minor problems with their speech sounds. Edward’s liaison with speech therapy services happened a little later in life due to his social communication problems which became more evident once he was in school.
My experiences with SALT services have been really good. My kids have had the help they’ve needed and I’ve understood what to do with them at home in between appointments. It was the local SALT who decided that Edward should be referred for a full autism assessment following her observations of him in the school environment. I’m very grateful to her for pushing that through.
I no longer work with children; once I started having my own family I realised that I was the kind of person who could do kids at home or kids at work but not both. When I was on Maternity leave with Edward I made the leap into adult services and there I happily remain to this day.
I’m a finalist in the newcomers category of the BAPS SEND blogging awards!
If you enjoy reading my blog I’d be very grateful for your vote. To vote for A Blog About Raising My Autistic Son or any of your other favourite SEND blogs then click here.
Voting closes 17 March 2017.