The experience of growing up as a big brother to a sibling with autism sent me down a path towards wanting to work with people with developmental differences. At least, that is the direction I took after I learned that the paths to becoming a rock star or a male model were solidly blockaded. I didn’t always know, though, exactly how I wanted to support people with developmental differences. I volunteered, I spent some time as a respite care provider working with a young man with autism, and I eventually ended up as a paraprofessional aide in a high school special education classroom. I thought the job was rewarding and fun, but I did have some concerns about having to live paycheck-to-paycheck – which is easy to do when you are making twelve grand a year. One day, near the end of the year, the assistant superintendent called me into her office, and told me that, despite budget cuts, there would be a job for me next year. But, if I stayed on, they would have to fire a co-worker who was hired after me. She then attempted, and succeeded, in steering my life onto a new path.
The assistant superintendent asked, “Have you thought about going back to school? You could, you know, for example, pick a major which would actually be employable for professions besides washing dishes or being a paraprofessional” (I picked English with a Creative Writing emphasis my first time around).
I knew that for my brother, and for many children and adults with autism, the use of language and communication represents a significant challenge. When I was employed in the school district, I worked directly with a speech-language pathologist, whose job it was to address the children’s ability to communicate their wants, needs, protests, and joys. Sounded perfect to me, and so I enrolled in the Speech-Language Pathology program at Western Washington University. Without question, the Master’s level classes were profoundly more difficult than my old English classes – it is much harder to write a 25 page research paper than 5 haikus, for example. But I think of how rewarding my professional life is now, and I know it was worth it.
Posted by: Andy, Speech-Language Pathologist