The day was August 16, 1977. Elvis Presley died at the age of 42, the US government did a nuclear test in Nevada, and I was sitting in a basement apartment in Rock Valley, Iowa (on lawn furniture) reflecting on my FIRST DAY as a SLP! I know this because my paper journal entry from that day said, “Observed in 10 different classrooms today and saw 57 kids who can’t speak. More classrooms to visit tomorrow. Where do I start?”
The place to start in 1977 was to make all types of manual communication boards – object boards, tactile symbol boards, picture boards, and a few letter/word boards. Without the modern tools of a computer or even a photocopy machine, I had pictures drawn for me by a local artist on mimeograph paper and started running off pictures and coloring them in the evenings as I listened to my radio, sitting in my lawn furniture in my basement apartment. One of the male teachers helped me make free standing wooden frames with Lexan panels for object boards and eye gaze displays. I learned the hard way to NEVER EVER EVER cut Lexan without protective goggles and a mask (plastic dust is to be avoided in your eyes, nose, mouth, lungs.) I learned to manage all types of cutting tools to make tactile symbols from foam, wood, plastic, rubber, dry wall, carpet, and tile.
I confess that most of the time that first year, I didn’t know what I was doing. Augmentative and alternative communication was fairly new in 1977. But I was working with some amazing teachers, and other support team members who allowed me the opportunity to introduce AAC with many students who surprised us all. My first SLP supervisor (Larry) allowed me the freedom to try out new ideas and supported me through my successes and memorable failures (like tactile symbols made from dough – that got eaten by a student. The student lived. The idea was retired forever.)
In 1977, I had the fearlessness and passion of youth, but more importantly, I had a vision of what was possible if I just rolled up my metaphoric sleeves and went to work.
So, when you don’t know where to start, start where you are. Look at the resources you have right now, be creative, and roll up your sleeves! You’ve got work to do today!