What happens when the parachute fails? The power of belief.

Melinda Cassells
lesson in blelief

Have you ever wondered what happens when the parachute fails to open? You reach for the reserve parachute and it too fails.  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 at The Prince Alexandra Hospital in an acute ward. His parachute didn’t open, and he plummeted to earth. It was a miracle he lived. His therapists and doctors were telling his wife, that he would never walk or talk. I remember the passion, the determination in her voice, the power of belief when she responded so vehemently “You do not know him.  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.

Have you laid awake worrying about whether they will ever …

The power of belief.

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

Neil Gaiman

If you as a therapist do not believe a child can achieve 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. A paediatrician said a child will always have to sound out every word and never read fluently. That child’s now an avid reader who is never without a book. When a severe speech child’s Occupational Therapist said he would never have normal speech. He did and he achieved the goal before year 1.   Today you would never know he could only say “eeeee” when he started therapy. I had a dad tell me that I wouldn’t be able to engage and connect with his son or get him to talk 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 for the entire session.  Establishing engagement, back and forth flow and copying. He even attempted sounds in the first session.

Action follows belief

Your belief determines your action and your action determines your results, but first you have to believe.

Mark Victor Hansen

Your actions follow your beliefs.  If you don’t believe you will not take the action required, you won’t even consider the possibility and explore the potential.  It strikes me how when somebody believes you cannot do something they do not give you the opportunity to learn.

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 say they will never be able to do that. The 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 the school that didn’t believe a child could read one-syllable words have ever given them the opportunity because they truly didn’t believe it was possible? Today that child now reads books like Twilight and Harry Potter and giggles at all the right times and shares with their mum “Listen to this part mum”.

When belief is scarce

For some of my parents, the battle to have someone believe in their child starts at the very 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.

This happens when children 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”.  The devastation they feel as all their dreams for their child fly out the window.  I remind them, their child is who they were before they went into that appointment.  They are still “Johnny” or “Mary”.  The goals we have set are still the goals we will work towards.   They are the same person who they were before they went into the appointment.

Countless times I have heard parents say “Well they’ll be an athlete, a dancer, a hairdresser, or a tradie when a school says their child has dyslexia”.  The label creates barriers rather than opportunities to rise up and achieve.   The label destroys belief and with it comes preconceived ideas of what they will become.  The truth is the diagnosis indicates that now is the critical time to focus on developing their literacy skills, utilising their unique way of learning and overcoming their challenges. 

What you believe

Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”

Theodore Roosevelt

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.  I’m not asking for my clients to be neurosurgeons but I want them to live their best life. 

Beliefs → Actions → Results

“Our beliefs determine our actions and it is our consistent actions that will produce results”.

Billy Cox

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

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, 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:

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

Henry Ford

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