Lessons Learned from having Laryngitis
Every year or two, I get laryngitis. Either my allergies act up and take my voice, or it’s from being sick. Each time I am amazed by how eye opening it is to not be able to communicate clearly. I am a speech/language pathologist. I should totally understand. I work with so many students with a variety of communication challenges. I talk about their individual challenges and try to explain that they are not “lazy” or that their behaviors are really based in communication. It all makes sense, it all sounds good, but it’s hard to act on. We just want them to communicate clearly right?! Then I get laryngitis and it reminds me how hard they each have to work every second of every day.
When people couldn’t hear me, I had to put in extra effort to get my message across. Preparing dinner, instead of yelling out “How many pieces of sausage do you want?”, I had to walk around the house to each person, get their attention, and ask them individually. I had to make loud noises with my hands or stomp my feet to get attention. During dinner I slammed my hand on the table to get everyone to let me get a word in. Scared the heck out of everyone, but since my condition was temporary, we got a good laugh out of it. The kids I work with might find themselves in trouble for doing the same thing. On multiple occasions I reached out and grabbed the person I wanted to talk to as they walked by, to get their attention. Again, temporary situation, so they quickly got over the initial startle of me grabbing them. If one of my students grabs a peer or adult, trouble follows. Yes, I have “hit” the people next to me. Maybe starts as a nice tap, but if they ignore me, I am eventually hitting them a little harder than what would be perceived as “normal”. More trouble for my students. I had to take my oldest daughter on errands with me because I needed an interpreter to interact with the store employees. Lost some independence. We ran into friends while out. What would have normally been a 5-minute conversation catching up, turned into a quick wave and an apology. When my daughter and I split up and she was going the wrong way, calling her name didn’t work. I had to clap in the middle of the aisle to get her attention. I also got the attention of every other shopper. The second time I did it, she yelled “stop”. Happens to my students often. I asked her what “fruit” she wanted at the grocery. She thought I said “food”. I had to repeat “fruit” 3 times, and then spell it. I chose my words carefully when I spoke. I left off words that didn’t really affect the meaning of what I was trying to say. Instead of “Hey girls, Dad is home”, I said “dad home”. They knew what I meant; it was too much work to say it all. This is when my students might be labeled “lazy”. I had to miss two days of work because it’s a little hard to do my job as a speech therapist without a voice. Many jobs require a voice to demonstrate that you know what you are doing. Actions don’t always speak louder than words, sometimes you must use your words to explain your actions.
The first day, I used all of my effort and made sure I was still fully involved. By the second day I found myself withdrawing from situations and keeping to myself. When I did talk, my own children whispered back without even thinking about it. I chuckled because they didn’t realize they were doing it, but imagine if people “mock” you unintentionally all day? It gets old quick.
I chose social activities carefully or just canceled. Talking in the car or on the phone? Forget about it! I imagine trying to communicate in a classroom full of kids would be so frustrating. My communication partner needed to stop what they were doing and give me their full attention to understand what I was trying to say. Again, for a temporary condition, people will do that. For my students, life moves fast, people don’t always stop and give their full attention. Not because they are mean, life just moves fast. By the end of the day, I was exhausted from working so hard to get people to slow down, pay attention and listen to me. I had to think extra hard about how to choose my words to make sure my message was understood. Even spouting off two-word phrases was exhausting.
So, for me, getting laryngitis was a blessing. It reminded me to slow down. It reminded me that even though I cognitively know it, and say it, my students are not lazy or behavior problems. They work hard every second of every day to communicate. They have a voice and want to be heard. However that may be! It is my job to help them find that “voice”, whether it be pictures, words, communication devices, sign language, etc. In this fast world, lets slow down. Lack of verbal skills does not mean a lack of intelligence. There are many “voices” battling hard every day just to be heard.
As my friends in Elizabethtown, KY say, JUST BE KIND! Slow down, listen, be honest if you can’t understand, don’t pity, be patient, be supportive, show respect.
written by Erin Hofmann, M.A., CCC/SLP