I See You in There

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This book is a collection of personal stories of people I have come in contact with over my life but mostly over the last 23 years of my career as a Speech-Language Pathologist who specializes in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). For those that don’t know that vocabulary, I usually explain my job by saying “think Stephen Hawking.” He is the most famous person I can think of that used AAC to communicate, and he is also the best example of a person who is highly intelligent but struggles to communicate verbally. He is a hero because he very publicly debunked that verbal ability and intelligence must go together.

My road to this career was anything but straight. I had the honor of attending the University of Washington for my Bachelor of Science degree in speech and language. I then attended Western Washington University and received a Masters of Arts in Speech-Language Pathology. Right from the start, I realized that even those in my field struggled to define what it is we “do.” Are we scientists or artists?

The field of speech and language cannot agree as to whether or not the degree is an Art or a Science. Whole colleges have decided it’s an art. Other colleges feel strongly that it is a science. Some that are more drawn to the educational and pediatric population, often consider it a Masters of Art. Those on the more medical side of things, and possibly more focused on adults, have often labeled this a Masters of Science. What is communication? Is it a science? Is it art? What is the facilitation of communication… The role of the actual therapist? Is that a science? Is that an art?

It is data-driven for sure. Anything researched has to be science, right? For sure those that are not functionally verbal have significant medical diagnoses to explain this phenomenon. Traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, autism, syndromes, and genetic anomalies, and advances in medical technology that has helped us preserve life in the face of prematurity, all contribute to the cause of speech and language impairments. All of this is science. Certainly, the physiological and neurological components of speech production are scientific. But what is language? There are nouns and verbs and frequencies of those words. Parts of speech, verb conjugation, and sentence structure that follows rules within that language and dialect. There are phonemes and all different kinds of sounds in all different kinds of languages that can be thrown into a chart for analysis. Is that science too? But the purpose of communication is human connection. Connecting with other humans is so individual it cannot be anything but art.

Actually, in so many things within our lives, we struggle between the balance of science and art. Think about weight loss. There’s an absolute science about calorie intake, calorie-burning, protein versus carbohydrates, even science that disproves the other pieces of science. But your weight, your eating habits, your preferences, your food preparation, or your social experiences around food, is all of that, not just human expression and therefore an art?

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