Before I was a Speech Language-Pathologist (SLP) I didn’t really interact with kids with disabilities. Honestly, in my life, I may have met just enough that I could count on one hand. Even worse, I may have met these kids but did not engage with them. I was not exposed to disabilities growing up in my family or at my school. I think a lot of kids may notice the kid in the wheel chair or those being taken out of class every week but don’t really ask why, including me. It wasn’t until I was in college that I engaged in this other world. People always ask my why I became an SLP. I know a lot of SLPs who get into this work because they have a family member with Autism or know someone who has a different disability and want to do their part to help others. But for me, it was a different story. Maybe a simple one but it led me here. When I was in college I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to help people. I knew I liked working with people. I just didn’t know I’d end up with wonderfully wild and beautiful crazy kids everyday. Someone I knew recommended this field and I was always fascinated with the brain and languages. I quickly realized that so many people and families live with way more struggle than I could ever imagine. Before I worked in this field, I had a black and white version of kids; ones who scream and are not behaved well, and those who are cute and listen all the time. Unrealistic I know. Trust me I see it all differently now. Now I work with kids from basically a couple months old up until adulthood. I see it all. Difficulty latching during feeding session, inability to talk at 5 years old, brain injuries that max all the words seem jumbled when a kid talks, and even those kids who know what they want to say but for some reason it can’t come out. I see kids who scream uncontrollably. Kids who don’t do well with transitions. Kids with sensory disorders and are sensitive to light, touch, texture, new people, new environment, etc. Kids who can’t separate from caregiver. Kids who hit, scream, cry, rock, bang, run, and hide. I think I used to think maybe parents don’t know how to control their kids or that they don’t care. Again I USED to think this. A long long LONG time ago.
Fast forward 8 years of interacting with special needs kids. Now, I rarely interact with typically developing kids. Every kid that walks through these doors has something they want or need to work on. The need ranges from a lot to just a little. And that is okay. Each kid is beautiful in his or her own unique way. I can’t speak as a parent because I am not one, but I can imagine that parenthood is probably completely different that maybe you had previously imagined and envisioned, especially if you have a kid with special needs. Maybe you never imagined in your life that you’d have a child with Cerebral Palsy or Down Syndrome or Hearing difficulties. Maybe you were also someone who never interacted with other people with disabilities your entire life. I have become so accustomed to a wide range of disabilities everyday that I now see screaming uncontrollably a normal part of my everyday life. I expect to get bopped in the face a few times most days. I also expect to get boogers splattered all over my hair, my clothes, and my face. It’s funny that when I am now around “typically developing” children, my mind thinks”‘what’s happening with this child? why are they so calm? what’s going on? why are they talking like an adult?” I’m accustomed to all types of kids that hitting and screaming is my new normal. And maybe it is for you too. It can be so difficult you yourself want to scream at the top of your lungs. But at the end of the day, each child, disability or not, is exactly who they are supposed to be.
Life is the most unexpected miracle. It tests us. It challenges us. It teaches us in the most difficult ways. Sometimes it feels like you’re the only one with struggles. Or that you struggle more than everyone else around you. Sometimes it’s hard to enjoy the little things like going out to dinner or celebrating holidays.
But remember, everyone struggles. No one has the perfect life. We all must live the life we have been given. We can choose to wallow. We can choose to be sad. We can choose to give up. We can choose to just exist.
And yes, it is perfectly normal to feel all the feelings when they arise. In fact I recommended it.
But, we can also choose to really live the life we have been given. We can choose to fight. We can choose to persevere. We can choose to be happy. We can choose to use our lives to help others. We can choose to really be who we are to love those around us and know we are exactly where we need to be. It may not be what you expected but it may be your new normal. It is mine.
Written by: Liana Martinez, M.A. CCC-SLP