Crossing Over

by Susie Jones, Idaho H&V

Many parents of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing have been inspired to take their “career” one step further and turn professional—sign language interpreter, audiologist, counselor, teacher of the deaf, or speech-language pathologist.  Here, we’ve asked Susie Jones to tell her about her journey into the professional side of raising deaf kids.  - Lorna Irwin, Idaho Hands & Voices

I tried to talk myself out of it.  I took baby steps at first.  I was hesitant to commit, so I simply flirted with the idea instead.  One class this semester, another one or two in the Spring.  I could still juggle carpools, volunteer in the elementary school, get dinner on the table, right?  Could I really do this?  Was it worth the time, energy and money?   Wasn’t I too old to begin a new career? 

Thankfully, with much reflection and support from family and friends, I put aside my fears and made the commitment. I entered graduate school full-time to become a speech-language pathologist (SLP), and began my journey to “the other side,” from parent to professional.

Like many parents of children with hearing loss, I spent countless hours after my son’s diagnosis in ‘therapy” sessions, workshops and seminars.  I wanted to know how to help my son listen, learn and grow to become a successful individual with hearing loss.  Many of the professionals I observed and who guided me were an inspiration.  One in particular led me to pursue my graduate degree in hopes that I, too, could help families and children overcome the challenges they faced from hearing loss.  

Choosing a communication option was a stressful time for my family.  We were faced with conflicting information and recommendations from professionals.  We didn’t know who to trust and had no prior experience or knowledge to fall back on.  All of the professionals we encountered were very caring and patient yet seemed to have their own agenda that wasn’t necessarily one we shared. But somehow we fumbled through and gained confidence in our decisions along the way.  These experiences, both good and bad have helped shape my approach to counseling families.

Now that I have “crossed over” I recognize more than ever the value and importance of the Hands & Voices motto: “What works for the child is what makes the choice right.”  One choice isn’t right for everyone.  Whether it’s soup, salad or fries, or ASL, auditory-verbal or cued speech, nothing is a perfect fit for all.  Now I don’t mean to compare communication options with side dishes, but the point is, there are many ways to achieve the same goal, be it satisfying our hunger or raising a WASK (Well-Adjusted Successful Kid.)  We all have preferences based on our lifestyle and strengths.  No one choice is wrong or right, simply different.

As a parent, I had a bias based on my son’s experiences.  But as a professional, whose focus is the success of all children, I can acknowledge my bias, set it aside, and deal with the child and family who are in need of support and guidance.  How do I do that?  First, I listen.  Then I ask a few questions and listen some more.  I do make recommendations based on the child’s history, strengths and weaknesses and the goals of the family.  If I don’t have the skills to work effectively with a child/family based on their communication choice, then I recommend other professionals who will be a better fit.  I also encourage and welcome collaboration with others in the field who can add to the services I offer. 

As parent of a deaf child, and now an SLP, I like to believe that I can offer a unique perspective and help bridge the gap that often exists between parents and professionals. My journey to the “other side” was a long trip, marked by occasional indecision and hard work.   But in hindsight, I have no regrets.   ~

Reprinted with permission from Idaho Hands & Voices Wavelengths, April 2007.

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