I’m not one to disregard recommendations, especially not strong recommendations. But in grad school I was so convinced that I was heading towards the adult acute care population that I was one of two or three people in my cohort who didn’t include the strongly recommended school setting into my clinical practicum. So, it’s crazy to think I’ve already completed my first year as a speech therapist at the International Christian School of Budapest. It has been a year filled with great blessings and great growth.
All of my post-graduate work experience has been with children, but coming into this year, I had a pretty low opinion of my skills as a speech therapist. I felt like the school was getting the raw end of the deal as I stepped into a bit of a dream job working internationally in my field. However, with a relatively small caseload and some extra time on my hands, I’ve been able to read, study, and research enough to feel I am giving each kid on my caseload the best possible therapy I can give them. I even earned the ASHA ACE award for completing over 70 hours of continuing education in a three year period. I’m really proud of that and what that says about my commitment to growing my knowledge and skills in the field.
This year hasn’t been without its ups and downs, though. I went into a parent meeting early into the fall semester thinking it was going to be far more informal than it was and I just bombed the whole thing. I stumbled through an explanation of assessment results, making it painfully clear how under-prepared I was for the whole meeting. And yet, my co-workers met me in that failure with grace and compassion, which made me feel so safe and allowed me to thrive, knowing I wouldn’t be berated for every misstep as I navigated my first year as a school speech therapist.
One of my greatest points of pride from this year was my work with Grant. Grant is Jonathan and Corinne’s son and he has autism. By the end of last school year, he was being completely homeschooled and only coming into school for therapy sessions, due to difficulty engaging in a classroom setting. This added a lot to Corinne’s already full load as mother, wife, field treasurer, student, and now teacher. We tried to start the school year off with full days but quickly realized we needed to pull back to just two mornings a week with me.
Despite my training as a speech therapist, I needed to work through a lot of preconceived notions with Grant, and we had some really rough mornings. Grant has high functioning autism and is both highly intelligent and highly communicative. As such, I saw his behavioral outbursts as just that, poor behavior. So, we both dug our heels in and got nowhere. As the year progressed, I learned more about the huge role the sensory system plays for children with autism. When Grant’s sensory system is out of whack he doesn’t need me reasoning with him, he needs sensory input to help his body calm down. I learned to head off potential outbursts by talking through possible problem areas with Grant when he was calm and able to have a discussion. We created a visual schedule and established a motivating reward system, while also trying to build some intrinsic motivation. Most importantly, we built trust with each other, so I knew when I could push him and he could trust me to back off when he needed it.
By the end of the year, Grant had increased to three mornings a week at the school and he was participating in most specials like gym, music, and art with his class. He was able to participate in Family Field Day and go on a field trip with his class as well. I even got to square dance with him for the Spring Concert! I am proud of the way Grant has grown and started to enjoy school this year. We are looking with anticipation at next year and hoping for even more participation in the classroom. I am also glad for the direct impact I am able to have on the OMS Hungary team by allowing Corinne just a little more space and time to tackle her own to-do list. However, I still think I got the best end of the deal, because every time I see Grant, you can guarantee I’ll get a big hug and hear, “I love you, Anna” at least once!
– By Anna Long, OMS Hungary Team Member