A couple days ago I was asked by a fellow parent at my boys’ school if I could fill a last-minute hole in the Career Day schedule at school. In the interest of full disclosure here, I will admit that I tend to skulk around on the sidelines wearing dark hooded cloaks and huge Hollywood sunglasses when those notices and emails come out about the school’s annual Career Day. Why is that? I love my job and I don’t mind talking to people, especially kids, so I couldn’t tell you. Believe it or not, I have a fundamental shyness that sometimes takes over, and this is one of those times.
But I like this mom who’s organizing it and I didn’t have anything going on that I couldn’t rearrange, so I said yes, sure, I’d talk about my job for 20 minutes to a second grade class.
Every few hours over the past couple of days I suggested to myself, You should really think about what you’re going to talk about on Thursday morning, and then promptly didn’t. Seriously, I had no idea. No notes, no particular structure to what I wanted to tell them. I had more questions than answers: Do I stop and talk about autism, or is that my whole 20 minutes and not really the point of this? What do I do? How do I put that into words for little kids? And so I truly walked in there with a head full of questions and absolutely no plan this morning.
I realize now that I probably did this because I knew on some level that I didn’t need a plan. After all, I am comfortable performing, I regularly spend many hours a day talking to large groups of adults, and I am extremely comfortable around groups of children. It’s what I do all day. I might be reticent about signing myself up for this, but when asked, it’s not actually a challenge.
So I walked in with all sorts of bubbly enthusiasm and asked them if they knew why I was visiting. The first boy to raise his hand told me, “Because it’s Caweew Day!” (No lie. Sign him up!) Next, I told them what I do for a living. Half a dozen kids yelled, “Ooooh!!” and jumped out of their seats waving their hands at me, like they had been in a secret club for years and I was their long-lost leader finally come to claim them. Those were the kids who go to speech therapy. I knew that before they told me, and so I let them tell the rest of the class what I do for a living. They did a pretty good job, describing work on /r/ and /l/ sounds, writing, letter sounds, and sign language. I talked to them about all the names for my job: speech-language pathologist, speech therapist, speech teacher. And then I told them that I prefer to be called something different. A hand shot up. “Mom?” asked one of the boys confidently, sure he had it right (I had told them that I have two children in their school). Delighted, I ran over and gave him a high-five, telling him that yes, absolutely, I love to be called “Mom” at home, and then told them that I prefer to be called a Communication Therapist at work.
I explained to them what communication is all about and the importance of non-verbal communication. I invited my little “Caweew Day” pal to come up for a role play. I had him ask me to play with him on the playground and I demonstrated how I could answer him in various ways without words, and the fact that he was watching me and understanding my facial expressions and gestures without my having to instruct him to do so. I explained how important that is, and that I teach kids to do that and to pay more attention to it. We talked about play groups and AAC devices and good toys for therapy. I let the kids who go to speech be the superstars and tell their friends their favorite speech games.
There were some wonderful questions. One girl up front raised her hand and asked me if the job is “Fun — or scary?”. I asked her what she thought might be scary, and she suggested that when a new kid comes in I might feel a little scared sometimes because I wouldn’t know what they’re like. What an astute question. I suppose it was a window into how the kids feel when they walk in to the clinic for the first time. I explained that I don’t feel scared about any kids but that if I ever feel nervous around a new student it would only be because I might wonder if I’ll be able to help them enough (although I pointed out that the longer you do the job the less you worry about this).
Next, a boy raised his hand and asked the apparently all-important second grade question: “Who’s the boss at your work?” When I answered, “I’m the boss there,” 25 heads snapped to attention and 25 pairs of eyes stared at me in wonder. Another boy shared, “My dad’s the boss at his work. You have to get there first to be the boss,” followed by a rambling explanation of his father’s career history. Okay, moving right along, then! Then another worldly wise boy asked, “So did you buy the shop?” which prompted me to describe the clinic where I work and explain the whole space rental and share set-up. (See, it’s really good that I didn’t plan anything, because how could you plan for this?) I must’ve described the environment and tone of our clinic really well because suddenly a sweet boy who’d been bouncing up and down on a slanted foam cushion the whole time made a strong association – he raised his hand and told me he goes to my favorite local OT clinic and and who his therapist was, and I told him to tell her “hello” for me. We had a moment, he and I. I loved that these kids were all proudly sharing their therapies with each other and I can tell you for sure that the kids who’ve never gone to a therapist for anything were dying of jealousy. I might’ve emphasized how awesome it is just a little bit here and there.
Before I left I asked how many of them thought they might want to be speech therapists when they grew up and at least 90% of their hands shot up. I’m guessing the response was going to be 100% if asked by the guests who came in after me – musicians with props – but given the fact that I didn’t know about speech pathology as a career option until my senior year in college, I figured this was pretty good.
Something tells me I’ll put away the dark cloak and sunglasses and volunteer to spend the whole morning doing these talks next year.