Monday, July 22, 2019

Our Students Don't Stay With Us Forever

When I first started my clinical fellowship year, I had a student on my caseload who I’ll call S.  She had significant health impairments and was involved physically and mentally.  She used an assistive technology device as well as American Sign Language to communicate, however she had poor fine motor skills and her signs were approximations.  Everyone on her team was familiar with her approximations and understood her fully.  Oh, and how S loved her team.  She LOVED us, and we loved her.  She would climb down the bus steps, look up, and grin widely as her eyes met the eyes of one of her people. 

S had her challenges.  She would get frustrated easily and was known to have outbursts.  She was the first student to ever bite me.  One time she slammed my door so hard she put a hole in the sheetrock. She would cry and yell.  She hated to be corrected.  After three years with her, I asked my supervisor for a break.  I felt guilty about it, but I justified it in my mind that maybe it would be best for her to have a speech-language pathologist with a fresh outlook, more patience, and new ideas.  My supervisor agreed, and come September, S was placed with someone else.  I explained it to her, that she would have a new SLP, but every time I heard her walker coming down the hall, I also heard it pause outside of my speech room.  By October, I had decided I wanted S back on my caseload the following year. 

Except I couldn’t, because she was gone that November.  I arrived to school one day and my supervisor called me into her office.  She told me that S had been pulled from the school and would be attending a program that was specialized for her primary diagnosis (not deafness). 

My heart dropped and thoughts raced through my mind.  S was going to be so confused.  Her guardians didn’t know ASL and would not have been able to explain to her what was happening.  Would she wonder where we were? Would her new staff know American Sign Language and understand her sign approximations?  Would her AAC Device follow her?  Were the IEP goals I had written clear and understandable with measurable short-term objectives?  What about all of those skills I was working on informally? How would they know about her love for princesses and weddings and Barbie dolls and her preference for staying inside and watching the flashing fire alarm lights rather than evacuate the building? Most importantly, would they love her the way that we did?

I never got the answers to my questions, because I never saw or heard about S again after that.  So now, I sit with these thoughts and this guilt for not preparing her for this unexpected transition.  And although I can’t change anything when it comes to her, I can make changes to avoid this from happening again in the future. 

I now read and re-read my IEPs before finalizing them.  I think about the functionality of the goals I write and make sure that they are truly stepping stones in helping my student gain future independence, job skills, and daily living skills.  I also now always include a sentence on my students’ interests.  I take the extra time to tell my students how important they are to me and how much I enjoy that they are in my life.  When they ask me if I will be their speech teacher the following year, I never make promises.  I talk about how changes happen all the time.  Sometimes that means a new classroom teacher, a new bus, or a new school.  I talk about how change can be scary but also exciting and fun.  

Most importantly, I don't take any of my time with my kids for granted. 

P.S. Looking for more speech lessons I've learned along the way? -> How A Moment In My CFY Almost Broke Me, And What I Learned From It