Your ability to communicate is a gift, one that others may never receive. It’s a fundamental aspect of human beings. Think about that word—being. Our goals, our talents, our actions; all shape our being. Imagine if your being was dictated by a diagnosis; one in which others saw your symptoms before they saw your achievements.
This was the reality of Chris Klein, an inspiring young man living with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy as a result of complications at birth. During a TEDTalk presentation, Chris describes his communication journey using only his feet and alternative and augmentative communication (AAC). Chris prepared for this public speech, just as you and I have for countless class presentations. However, unlike us, he demonstrates skills beyond our imagination; preparing a speech using only his feet to type pre-programmed messages for the crowd on his AAC device.
Chris holds nothing back as he reflects on his communication disorder and its impact on his life. Until age six, he didn’t have a single communication system in place for him to express his basic wants and needs. Chris stated, “When you have a disability and cannot communicate, it’s almost impossible to become what you want to become.” Finally, at age six, a speech-language pathologist offered him a dynamic communication device and he began speaking in complete sentences (using his device) shortly after. His being was no longer dictated by his communication differences.
Helping Others Find Their Voice
This is the reality for many of our future clients. Those we’ll encounter in our future profession will look to us for their voice. It’ll be our duty to make certain those individuals leave us with the skills and strategies to communicate in their daily routines, often requiring assistance from AAC.
AAC is an additional support for something many of us take for granted each day—the ability to communicate. After working with clients with a variety of disorders at an assistive technology center on my university’s campus, I’ve gained a lot of admiration for those who communicate via AAC. I’ve witnessed individuals saying, “I love you,” after years without a voice. I’ve gained hands-on experience programming and calibrating eye gaze components for individuals who are unable to communicate with anything but eye movements. And I’ve partaken in the lengthy processes of writing to insurance companies for device funding and provisions. But in the most challenging cases, I’ve found the greatest reward in assisting individuals find their voice.
To those who view AAC assessment and intervention as a daunting task, I assure you it’s one of the most beautiful aspects of our profession. To be able to offer a supplement or replacement for speech output to someone who hasn’t spoken in years, or to a child who hasn’t yet uncovered his or her voice, AAC provides cutting-edge assistance to support them.
When presented with a client who uses AAC to communicate, explore research-based interventions to aide you in teaching the components of the device. Sometimes we learn best by doing; which I’ve especially experienced in the AAC realm. Be calm, be confident; your client will appreciate your efforts no matter how they’re delivered.
In the TEDTalk, Chris adds “AAC gives a person like myself the chance to be educated, build relationships, and to live a meaningful life.” Just think, years from now you could be that SLP who provides a voice to the voiceless. When undergoing the stresses of school, remind yourself that you are becoming the best clinician possible to provide exceptional services and assist others in finding their voice.