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What happens when the parachute fails? A lesson in belief.

Melinda Cassells

Have you ever wondered what happens when the parachute fails to open? Most of the time you die. On a very rare occasion, you live. 30 years ago I met the couple who shaped how I work and my beliefs about speech therapy. I was a student speech pathologist at The Prince Alexandra Hospital in an acute ward. His parachute hadn’t opened, and he plummeted to earth. It was a miracle he lived. When I met him, his therapists and doctors were telling his wife that he would never walk or talk. I remember the passion, the determination in her voice when she responded so vehemently “You do not know us. You do not know what we can do”.

Has a therapist, Doctor, Paediatrician, teacher, or family member told you that your child will never…

  • never talk,
  • never have a friend,
  • never go to a mainstream school,
  • never learn to read,
  • never get invited to a party,
  • never have a relationship,
  • never work,
  • never live independently.

The power of belief.

If you as a therapist do not believe that a child can achieve or become ??? then you will never give them the opportunity to learn. You won’t find the strategies, teach the skills and show the micro steps that they require to achieve their goal.

I’ve seen it so many times. When I’ve set a goal for a child and the school has said they won’t be able to do that. A paediatrician said a child will always have to sound out and never read fluently. He’s now an avid reader. When a severe speech child was learning to speak clearly and their OT said they wouldn’t ever have normal speech. He did and he achieved the goal before year 1 when he started therapy could only say “eeee”. Today you would never know he had a severe speech disorder. I had a dad tell me that I wouldn’t be able to engage and talk with his son because he had autism. My initial session with him was one of my best sessions getting into his son’s bubble and connecting with him within minutes.

“You have to believe. Otherwise, it will never happen.”

Neil Gaiman

It happens when I’m teaching a child to read. I set the goal to learn to read one-syllable words and the school team says they will never be able to do that. The very next year I set the goal to read three-syllable words and again they say the child won’t be able to do that. The next year my goal was to teach them to read five-syllable words and again they said they wouldn’t be able to achieve it.
Would that school that didn’t believe they could even read one-syllable words have ever given them the opportunity because they truly didn’t believe it was possible? Today she reads books like twilight and Harry Potter and giggles at all the right times and shares with her mum Listen to this part mum. It struck me how when somebody believes you cannot do something they do not give you the opportunity to learn

For some of my parents that I work with the battle to have someone believe in their child starts at the time they are born. They are told even at the hospital your child will never… don’t expect your child to go to a mainstream school, go to university or drive a car. Some are even given a diagnosis of Intellectual disability without an assessment just because they have a genetic condition.

I also see this when kids are diagnosed later in life when parents ring me in the car on the way home from the appointment in a flood of tears my child just got diagnosed and I say they are the same person who they were when you went into the appointment then they are right now They still John or Mary Scott or Thalia install

As professionals, we can take away a belief that a child can, and the most powerful lesson is – that isn’t your job. Your role as a Speech Pathologist is to believe they can, to find the strategies that work for them, to develop their skills and provide the micro steps they need to achieve what they want to achieve I’m not asking for my clients to be neurosurgeons but I want them to live their best life.

Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”

Theodore Roosevelt

So what happened to the guy whose parachute didn’t open? In the acute ward they were telling his wife he will not walk, he will not talk. I met him two years later at the Prince Charles outpatient clinic and I was teaching him to read and write because he could already walk and talk. I remember that determination and that belief that his wife had for him and their life and I can tell you that it wasn’t just belief but they followed it through with action and they did the work.

What does your child need to achieve? What do you want them to do? What can your child achieve with the belief, the strategies, the skills and the micro steps and with the practice and determination that you bring? I don’t know where they will end up but I do know that:

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

Henry Ford

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