LISTEN UP!

I’ve gone down a rabbit hole or three thousand, these past few weeks. It’s a rabbit hole anyone even remotely connected with disabilities NEEDS to pass through (like a rite of passage). And based on my wanderings….

… I’ve had a bit of an epiphany. I’ve discovered that disabled people (or people with disabilities , whatever floats your boat) grow up and become adults. Adults with opinions. Adults with valid opinions formed based on their experiences.

I’ve also discovered that disabled people are allowed to say no. They’re allowed to say that they don’t want to do some particular activity today. That they’re too tired for it. That they’re too overwrought or too bored of it. That they aren’t required to provide a reason every time, apart from ‘they just don’t want to.’

And that doesn’t mean they have to come out and say it in the language that we all insist on inflicting upon them. If they cry, they’re saying no. If they turn their heads away, they’re saying no. If they run away, they’re saying no. AND THAT COMMUNICATION OF NO IS JUST AS VALID AS SAYING THE WORD “NO”.

In any form of therapy, and ESPECIALLY speech-language therapy, it’s none of our business to “make” them do what we want.

We have no business holding down their hands without their permission. Even if it’s a two-year-old. So a two-year-old pinched you out of frustration. Most likely you didn’t listen the other twenty times he tried to let you know that he was uncomfortable and thus was going for violence. That’s communication. You pinching him back? That’s ABUSE. You holding down his hands and screaming “No pinching!” in his face? ABUSE.

Yes, I call it abuse. No, it’s not “for his own good.” No, your actions aren’t going to teach him not to pinch people. Instead, they’re going to teach him that he is powerless. That adults can do whatever they want to him and his attempts to communicate will go willfully unheard. That his body is not his own, and is instead some kind of marionette for adults to handle freely without his consent. Think especially about the long-term consequences of that one.

…and no, for God’s sake, your job is NOT to “make them talk.” Your job is NOT to “make” them use their AAC system. Your job is to empower them to communicate. You know as well as I do that communication is a two-way street. SO IF THEY’RE COMMUNICATING , IN WHATEVER FORM, THEN YOUR JOB IS TO LISTEN.

Listen to the children. Listen to the adults. Listen to them if they have “low IQ”. Listen to them if they have “high IQ”. Listen to them if they’re “engaging in stereotypical behaviors”. Listen to them if they’re “not cooperative”.

AND. Listen to them if they’re compliant. Listen to them if they do everything you tell them to without complaint. Listen to them if they don’t protest at all. Listen to them if they’re a little too “well-behaved”.

Just listen.

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The weird ones

We SLPs tend to chatter on and on about our clients (withholding confidential details of course, because we’re ethical professionals, always) . Usually we’re either ranting, or, gushing, or chortling about their weirdness. But ‘normal’ folks can be just as weird. And when you least expect them to.

I’d been encouraging the dad of one of my clients with autism to bring along his allistic daughter who was my client’s twin sister, with the idea of introducing peer learning and all.

Miss twin turned out to be an absolute chatterbox and was very enthusiastic with questions. Also surprisingly mature and a bit of a stickler for rules. This was quite cute because she was more or less me as a five year old.

Then one fine moment when I was explaining something to her dad she turned to me and solemnly asked, “Are you and my Papa best friends?”

Said Papa got a decidedly deer in headlights look on his face. Enter the suave speech therapist, aka me.

“Well, sweetie, we’re very good friends,” – – couldn’t really deny that to the kid as she’d been watching him listen to me lecture him at length for nearly ten minutes and just casual acquaintances don’t do that in a five year old’s world. “But we’re not best friends. Who’s your best friend? Your brother? Okay that’s great! Did you hear that, A? Your sister said you’re her best friend. Who’s your best friend, A?”

A topic changing Master, if I do say so myself. All those flighty digressions in my writing had to be expressed as talent somewhere, right?

Another day I’d ordered something from a food delivery app and I was apparently later in going out to the hostel gate and receiving it than he’d expected, because when I came upon him, Mr delivery person was quite intent on trying to walk along the single file of bricks that separated our pedestrian area from the vehicular area, arms outstretched like a particularly intent eagle.

He didn’t notice when I walked right up behind him, so I backtracked into a turn and stomped a bit in my flip-flops for the few steps coming out to the gate again. At this point he jumped down hurriedly and frantically posed as though he’d been leaning on his motorcycle using his phone all along.

I didn’t let on to him about the moment, but the moment made me happy. I was smiling goofily on the way back inside the hostel (and not because I was going to eat any particular delicacy… I’d specifically ordered ridiculously bland food because my stomach was a bit upset).

Those moments of lost inhibition, in which you’re as weird as you can get (with intact sobriety so you actually remember them later) are so amazing. Sometimes I wish I were a good photographer so I could capture those moments. As it is I’m a dunce both in front of as well as behind the camera, so nope. I’ll just have to make do with rambling about them in here. Long live the weird ones!

The five stages of public outrage (International Women’s Day special)

Bad things have been happening lately in my country, first on the military front and now on the domestic front.

In a town quite close to the place I consider home a group of individuals have been caught who have allegedly (the newspapers’ favourite word, I think) been luring women into friendships on social media, then blackmailing them into performing sexual favours. Apparently there have been at least 50 victims that have been suffering from this for years. The reason this has taken so long to come to light is apparently because the women were afraid of their families’ and the society’s reactions to their confessions.

From what I saw, social media went through the generally accepted stages of grief.

One: there was denial. (“All the claims are false! It’s just like those false rape cases where a woman pretends to have been assaulted in one of the most brutal ways possible to get back at an innocent male!”)

Two: Anger. My newsfeed started becoming cluttered up with depictions of bruised, furious (or both) goddesses. People raged about the inhuman-ness of the assaulters in a country that deifies women. Angry citizens proposed medieval methods of torture and execution to be dealt out to assaulters.

Three: Depression. The furious goddesses slowly morphed into weeping goddesses and eventually, desolate-looking silhouettes. People shared articles about how people in other countries were sending out warning emails to their citizens against visiting this country because it was unsafe. Bleak bar charts about crimes against women and poetic laments to anyone who cared to scroll down were the order of the day.

Four: Bargaining. Now the wall was full of well-meaning people cajoling women to do more to protect themselves. Begging them to stay away from strangers, to not go out alone, to tell their fathers and brothers every detail about their lives, to cover up, to get off social media. To basically erase all traces of themselves from the internet as well as real life To avoid going out with male friends. To avoid going out with female friends. To avoid going out with friends altogether.

Five: Acceptance. Social media has now decided that the upcoming central government elections were the culprit all along. The least favourite candidate is apparently behind all of this (or if the poster is on the opposite side, the other party has manufactured the tragedy specifically to paint their precious candidate in a bad light). Surely all of this ridiculousness is just the natural, inevitable effect of a bunch of political parties coming to a head. Speaking of which, social media asks, which way do you plan on voting? (Hint: there’s no right answer)

things and Things

In my country, things have Happened in the past few weeks. I say Happened with a capital H because it seems to fit the occasion. Anyone living in my country or in one particular adjoining country knows that things have Happened. Now that things have Happened, people are now saying that sooner or later, Things will start Happening. Not things, those have already Happened, but Things.

As is often the case with me when it comes to opposing views, whether they are on things or Things, I feel conflicted. Some people say that now that things have Happened, the natural, logical, and even desired consequence is that Things should start Happening. Perhaps we ourselves as a country must initiate Things, even, because it’s necessary, they say. Other people say that Things are extreme measures that incur more losses than profits and that we all ought to put a stop to the idea of Things, not just in a patriotic way, but in a patriotically neighbourly way. Often it’s our neighbours who say that we shouldn’t let things come to Things.

So why do I feel conflicted? Perhaps conflicted isn’t the right word. Perhaps ‘inexperienced, out of my depth, and ignorant’ are somewhere more along the lines of how I feel about Things. I guess my parents’ generation has lived through its fair share of things (and Things, possibly… I’m not great at history). I’m not really sure I have. And therefore, I have no idea where to draw the line between things and Things. What changes, both as as a country and as neighbourly (or not?) nations between things and Things. What changes in regular, everyday life between things and Things.

I had a friend in middle school once from our maybe-neighborly-maybe-not nation. Of course, at that time we were both living in a different third nation that was then fairly neighbourly with both of our nations. She and I very pointedly never mentioned Things. Not to each other, not to the fifty billion tactless people each day who asked us about Things between our countries, not even to ourselves. Then again, we were twelve, I think. The concept of Things was probably waaaay over our heads. Also, living in the aforementioned third country, neither of us was particularly aware even if things or Things were Happening. Our parents never gave either of us a talking-to about choices in friends (well, mine didn’t) so perhaps no Things were Happening. Our parents were probably somewhat out of touch with the news back home in our maybe-neighbourly-maybe-not nations, so they may not have known if things were Happening.

Now? People are asking everyone opinions about things that have Happened and the possibility of Things Happening. I, for now, will take the easy way out and say that I know nothing about noThing. Like Socrates. Or was it Plato?

The much-delayed exposition

I realised that although I’ve cluttered up this blog with posts related to my line of work, I never actually came out and explained what precisely it is that I do, apart from parenthetical asides every now and then. So this one’s to put things across clearly to everyone.

I did my undergraduate degree in a field related to medicine, but not quite medicine, i.e. in allied health sciences. As a result, I am not a medical doctor. I’ve learned some things relating to medicine, and I did study at a medical college where patients called me doctor more often than not simply because doctors were the majority, and I did (and still do) wear a white coat during clinical postings. The difference lies in the fact that while our professionals often are consultants in a patient’s line of management, they don’t prescribe medicines.

Specifically, my major was actually a double-major in audiology and speech-language pathology.

Audiologists diagnose and treat problems related to hearing. This can include hearing loss and other problems. The difference between an ENT doctor and an audiologist is that while an ENT doctor can detect an ear infection and give medicines the audiologist can’t, and similarly while an ENT doctor can maybe suspect a hearing loss, they can’t tell which part of the ear is affected, which kinds of sounds the patient can’t hear, and how severe the loss is. An audiologist can do all these things and also prescribe hearing aids—they can’t just be bought from a store and used, but have to be programmed specifically for the patient’s problem.

Coming back to me for a moment, I decided that after my undergraduate degree I wanted to narrow my focus into the other major: speech-language pathology, which I’ll describe presently. So now I’m doing my master’s degree in speech language pathology in a central institute in India. I could still practise audiology in India if I wanted to with just a bachelor’s degree, but I would be better qualified for speech language pathology.

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) diagnose and treat problems in speech, language, and swallowing. Speech problems may include stuff people have heard of like stammering (remember ‘The King’s Speech?’) or a lisp, and also can include defects because of a cleft lip or palate (remember ‘Smile Pinki?’), or something neurological like Parkinson’s disease, or voice problems. Language delays can occur in young children, and may or may not occur along with other issues like autism or ADHD. Some aspects of learning disability (remember ‘Taare Zameen Par?’) also come under our domain. Also, people can develop a language problem after a stroke or because of neurological diseases like dementia. SLPs also work with identifying and managing swallowing problems that can happen because of cerebral palsy or because of surgery, injury, or something neurological.

This field is simultaneously exhausting (you would not believe the sheer volumes of paperwork involved, and dealing with people in general rather than machines also presents its own unique set of challenges), heartwarming (plenty of sentimental happy moments to look forward to, especially among the paediatric population), and, dare I say it, possibly even fun at times.

So, yeah. Hope this helps. I really should be studying right now.

The Speech Therapist

This is an old piece of fiction that I’m quite proud of, and so am sharing with the world at large.

It’s fiction, definitely, but every single one of my colleagues or classmates can attest to the fact that we have all had at least one experience similar to this. It’s what keeps us going.  Continue reading

Post-a-day for 15 days: #15

Today is the final post of my fortnight-deal with myself. I’ve been surprisingly productive. I’ve also not written ridiculous rambling litanies just for the sake of a post as often as I thought I would. That’s pretty good. I’m done with my summer hols now and go back to college on Monday. I hope to carry forward this semi-diligence with me in this final year of my formal education. I’ll definitely need it because the next year is going to be chock full of demands on my time and attention from dissertations to exams to research publications. I hope to do justice to all of these and also do justice to my own sense of principles this year and thus set the tone for…pretty much the rest of my life.

I’ve also set myself a challenge similar to yesterday’s post in this final hurrah. That’s why I’m really not able to go on and on and so I’m going to end this here.

…the challenge? Not a comma in sight today!