I’m sharing this because I feel like it might help parents dealing with their child’s disability/diagnosis, their own learning struggles, or witnessing someone who is displaying difficulties.
The reason why I became a speech-language pathologist is something that I share with anyone who asks me.
Ever since I can remember, my brother and I were inseparable. I didn’t love him when he was first born. In fact, I asked my mom to “send him back,” and almost dropped him on the floor when I held him for the first time.
As time moved on, he became the one that I spent most of my time with, the one I could boss around, the keeper of all my secrets, and the one that I would fiercely protect. I looked up to him in a way I never thought I would and he also, unknowingly, inspired me to become a speech pathologist.
From the time he started school, my mom noticed that Stephen wasn’t learning the way that he should. It took him longer to process information, the notes he brought home didn’t make ANY sense, letters and numbers were reversed, and he couldn’t remember anything she or my dad would tell him. The information literally went in one ear and out the other.
As schooling progressed, the difficulty level of the material increased and so did Stephen’s frustration level. It took he and my mom HOURS to complete one assignment. It got so bad that my dad would literally walk in the door from work and not even ask how everyone’s day was because Stephen was crying, my mom was screaming, and I had to head out the door to dance class.
My brother taught me how to be an advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.
It was at this point that my mom decided to get Stephen classified at school and get him an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Now, I was young so I don’t remember every step of this process, but I know my parents fought tooth and nail to get this poor kid classified. The school pushed back through every single step of the process.
After threatening legal action, the school finally evaluated my brother and found that he was dyslexic, suffered from an auditory processing disorder, had articulation issues, and short-term memory loss. Whoa, right?
He was immediately enrolled into speech therapy and the speech pathologist addressed these issues. It was a long, tiring, and uphill battle. Every IEP was met with resistance from the school district. Luckily for my brother, my parents pushed for appropriate accommodations and they were in his corner every step of the way. This is where I was first exposed to a speech-language pathologist and it forever made a difference in my life.
School began to improve for him, but the bullying and harassment from kids didn’t stop for a very long time. As his older sister, I wished that I could protect him every single day of my life, but I couldn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I yelled at kids for calling him names, pushed kids heads into the bus window (trust me, they deserved it), and chased kids away from my brother in an attempt to protect him. Due to his communication disorder, he couldn’t verbally defend himself – so I took it upon myself to do that for him!
Flash forward to high school and Stephen was 6’7 and towered over his bullies. Thankfully, he received modifications in his curriculum and speech therapy at a young age, so by the time he became a freshman, no one really knew the struggles of his early educational years. He learned to play the baritone, tenor, and alto saxophone and joined our high school’s marching band. It was there he found some of his best friends and allies.
He graduated high school and went to school to study photography. He would send me college papers to proofread and edit up until his graduation day. Stephen learned how to compensate for his disabilities and went on to graduate college. He currently works construction with my dad Bruce, has his own car detailing business (which is booming), and does photography shoots on the side.
My brother needed me from a very young age, but the truth is, I needed him more. He taught me how to be compassionate, caring, considerate, accepting, and to be an advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves. He inspires me every single day and I am proud of the man that he has become. Stephen is loyal, friendly, funny, dedicated, and hard working. He’s the best “little” brother anyone could’ve asked for.
I’m telling you this because no one understands the helplessness of a family member whose brother, sister, or child is struggling. Please know that you are not alone. Secondly, be a friend, not a bully. It takes ONE person. Just one person to reach out, be a friend, offer a seat. You never know what that one person will mean to someone. Finally, never stop fighting. Everything that’s hard is worth fighting for. Take one step at a time and ask for help when you need it!
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