James looks past me when we pass each other at school, as if I’m an unexciting piece of furniture in the hallway. I’m not normally surprised by this. Some of my students and especially past students are embarrassed to know the “speech teacher” in front of their friends. The older ones in particular may even look at me with a prayer on their faces as if to say “Can you please just pretend we don’t know each other?” I comply. With James, however, it seems more like a lack of enthusiasm toward the work itself than a pitch for social acceptance. Speech is hard. It’s drill. It’s redundant. There’s Ms. Laserson. Yawn.
James is a fourth grader who struggles. He struggles with behavior, attention, mood swings, anxiety, and a moderate to severe articulation disorder. The resulting disruptive behaviors are not intentional of course, while surely a challenge.
James’s parents work as a formidable team to get their only son help for all of his issues, a long process. Some speech therapy sessions are effective from the start. Others begin as a stand-off between the two of us. We get through it with a mix of productive and wasted minutes shaped by the strategies we’ve sharpened through trial and error over the past year and a half.
I admit it. Sometimes I have wondered if James’s articulation problems are best left untreated in the context of his other challenges, only because he is not able to maximize his time with me. Then I am reminded that his speech has improved with therapy, that he is more intelligible than he was, that we have more to accomplish, and so we march on.
It’s Wednesday at 1:00 pm. I gather up the requisite energy and enthusiasm for my mission. Today James and I will target his speech goals yet again, but this time with the help of my new TikTalk. He comes in and sits down. Yawn. (Him, not me. I’ve had plenty of sleep). I pull the new TikTalk out of the box, and he is immediately intrigued. But alas it’s slower to start-up today. “I think you got ripped off” he says with a classic w/r substitution as we wait. My hopes are deflating fast, but I crack up because let’s face it: That’s hilarious.
Then the TikTalk play starts like an easy train ride in an amusement park, and we’re off! James is commenting, experiencing, smiling, squealing, and marveling, all while happily practicing target after target after target. The session whizzes by for the both of us. I jump in surprise when I notice that time is up, “I have to get you back to class!” I’m amazed at how much we accomplished with such ease.
A few hours later, I pass James in the hallway. He greets me with an unsolicited smile and a happy wave. “Hello!” he beams as if to say “I know you. We shared something fun together.”