Being an Autistic SLP

Being an Autistic Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) means working with students/clients with whom I identify more closely than I do many of my neurotypical (NT) colleagues.

Being an Autistic SLP means seeing descriptions of lectures and seminars that look like this, because speakers assume I’m in on the joke:

Being an Autistic SLP means sometimes having echolalia with the word “echolalia.”

Being an Autistic SLP means cringing internally and bracing myself every time I collaborate with someone who has a background or interest in ABA.

Being an Autistic SLP means that Pragmatic Language therapy usually feels like something I should be receiving rather than providing.

Being an Autistic SLP means I am hyperaware of the difference between social communication skills that are necessary or functional and ones that are merely play-acting in order to blend in with a NT world.

Being an Autistic SLP means that a unique communication profile is so fascinating to me that I could have a one-sided conversation about it for a long time if left unchecked.

Being an Autistic SLP means I will target “looking at a communication partner,” but I will not demand eye-contact. It also means I understand why the difference is significant, likely better than my NT colleagues do.

Being an Autistic SLP means that burnout is a very real and constant threat. Being Autistic means I need to pace myself or I will crash, that the act of pacing myself is itself an expense of energy. Being an SLP means that pacing myself is discouraged at almost every turn.

Being an Autistic SLP means reducing the stigma of using fidgets because I allow myself to use them during speech sessions.

Being an Autistic SLP means I know how to use a person’s stims and special interests to motivate, inspire, and develop skills, instead of forcing them to constantly suppress.

Being an Autistic SLP means I understand and acknowledge the difference between wanting to play alone and wanting to play with peers but not knowing how. It means I know exactly why this difference matters.

Being an Autistic SLP means that without Google Calendar and its Task Pane, I would never get anything done on time.

Being an Autistic SLP means I hyper-empathize with people I work with, including coworkers, students/clients, and families. If I let myself, I will feel each problem as if it affects me personally, and I will have a difficult time extracting myself from it.

It also means that from time to time I may appear not to empathize at all, because I’ve taken on so much that I need to disengage or I will melt down.

Being an Autistic SLP means that I’m doing at least twice the emotional labor that my NT coworkers are doing just to get through a workday in which we have the same or similar tasks.

Being an Autistic SLP means working so hard to mask while I’m conducting therapy, consulting, or attending meetings, that I rarely if ever socialize during work downtime. It means NT coworkers may see me as shy at best and unfriendly at worst, when in reality I am prioritizing how I spend my limited emotional energy.

Being an Autistic SLP means that I lack a thick skin; at best I can pretend to have one until no one is looking. It means if a parent yells at me during a meeting, I may not be able to conduct therapy for the rest of the day.

Being an American Autistic SLP means belonging to a professional organization that holds a very strong bias against people like me. It means being part of a culture that does not believe I exist.

Being an Autistic SLP means that if a student/client or family member is trying not to cry, I will likely remain unaware until the first tears fall. It means that if I’m talking when this happens, I will blame myself and perseverate on everything I said and did for a long time after it’s over.

Being an Autistic SLP means that adapting to sudden change is difficult or exhausting for me. I do it because I have to, but I may need to compensate in ways that seem strange or unrelated. When you pass me in the hall and I am looking at the floor while flexing my fingers instead of smiling and saying “Hi,” it may be because three students were unavailable and/or I’ve been called in to a last-minute meeting or observation.

Being an Autistic SLP means I will email caregivers instead of calling them whenever I possibly can.

Being an Autistic SLP means that not only will I insist that you give students/clients time to process what you’ve said, but I will also find ways to get you to do that for me. It means that if I really trust you, I may even ask directly.

Being an Autistic SLP means that I show up for meetings exactly on time because I don’t have the energy for the small-talk that inevitably happens before they start.

Being an Autistic SLP means that you may very well find me pacing, gesturing, and/or whispering about anything from the development of voiceless fricatives to effective word-retrieval cueing techniques to the importance of Core Vocabulary on a communication device. It may not even be relevant to someone I work with; I just like thinking and talking about it.

Being an Autistic SLP means that I needed this game in my life ten years ago, and I am anxiously awaiting its release.

Being an Autistic SLP means that interacting with Autistic students/clients is usually easier for me than interacting with NT coworkers or caregivers. It is probably related to the fact that I am more comfortable with Preschoolers than Middle or High Schoolers.

Being an Autistic SLP means that occasionally I am too dysregulated to conduct therapy, and I’m going to need you to trust that when I make that call, it’s for the students’/clients’ good as well as mine.

Yes, being an Autistic SLP means that things that NT colleagues find intuitive or effortless are difficult or downright impossible for me, but it also means that I will see things they don’t. I will feel things they don’t. If they can trust that I exist and I can trust that they won’t pathologize me, we can learn a lot of valuable things from each other.

7 thoughts on “Being an Autistic SLP

  1. I am an SLP with autism and this is the first person who I have me whose world resonates with my own. Thank you. Now I don’t feel so alone.

    Like

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