As a therapist, I have been chosen to work with many different children, and my job is my passion. I have the responsibility of educating parents and children about a disability, teaching parents how to interact with their children, providing parents with activities that help increase skills, and giving the best possible intervention. I am good at this part of my job. The children I work with may not be my own, but I still love them, want them to succeed, struggle beside them, and rejoice with them.
On many occasions, I have been the first person to tell a parent that there is an issue of some kind with their child. If a child isn’t developing the way they are expected to, I have suspicions that there is a more serious problem than the parent originally thought, or sometimes I have to tell a parent that I don’t have the answers as to why their child is having difficulty. I have a passion for children and I want to ensure that parents know there is help even if I don’t have all of the answers. I am still able to help your child.
One of the most difficult aspects of being a therapist is when a parent asks, “When will this be fixed?” or “When will he be normal?” I admit, I am not good at this part of my job. It is not my favorite part of being a therapist. Sometimes I am able to provide a definitive answer, but most of the time, I do not know. It breaks my heart when I know that a child will need lots of intervention but what most consider “normal” will never be the outcome. It is hard to tell someone those things, and it is also hard to hear them.
Someone once told me, “Normal is a setting on a washing machine, not a child,” and I agree. “Normal” shouldn’t be the goal; what is best for a particular child should be what we’re working toward. If they meet the first goal, set another one, and then another one, and keep on going for as long as is needed. Acknowledging that your child may never achieve the elusive “normal” but continuing to press onward to reach the child’s personal goals is acceptance, not defeat.
Because of the unique relationship I have with my patients, I can’t help but think of them as “mine” on some level. There will be times our children will not progress. There will be many times our children will make tremendous gains. It’s important to celebrate the progress, but keep moving forward. It is important to continually work toward improving a child’s skills and help them function in a way that creates some type of independence. As a therapist, I want all of my children to become better versions of themselves and to not need therapy one day, but most of all, I want them to have joy and success – however it is defined for them. “Normal” may not be a part of it, but that’s okay.
All of my children are marvelous in their own way. All of my children have struggles. They are each wonderful human beings. I get to watch their personalities come out, figure out what works or doesn’t work with them, and make them laugh. I also see them struggle, see them cry because they are frustrated, and console their parents when they have no idea what to do anymore. Sometimes we don’t know what will help our children, but we try and try again until we get it right.
The road is not easy. It is a rough road and there will be many breakdowns. When this happens, we get up, we keep going, and that is enough for now.
Jessie Nelson Willis, M.Ed., CCC-SLP