Let’s get real right away. Speech therapists do not usually get “featured” in a lot of things (including “Speechless”.) A lot of media platforms will mention physical therapy and occupational therapy, but speech therapy seems to be (for lack of a better term) the forgotten little brother. That is until “The King’s Speech” came out. Then we finally started getting some recognition for things we have been doing for centuries. It was a nice moment in the spot light.
I do not mean to get on my high-horse about Speech-Language Pathologists (yes that is our full title) being in the lime light. In reality we rarely are attention seekers. The most famous speechies I know are known purely for their works, not from their media coverage. We are givers not takers.
That being said- again a speech therapist
has NOT been introduced on “Speechless”
as far as I know… no big deal. In my mind we are implied. J.J. is one of the characters that has a physical and speech disability. He is wheelchair bound and uses an assistive device to construct what he wants to say. He uses gestures and facial expressions to communicate as well. In a nut shell, most likely a speech therapist helped with setting up the right communication device for him and helped train his caregivers on how to use it with him.
Check out the intro video HERE
and check out what a speech therapist
does for assistive communication HERE
Whether speech therapists are mentioned or not… there are many reasons to love this show; but, as a speech therapist here are my reasons for encouraging the world to get on board with “Speechless” …
1) Finding a Voice– There is a short story embedded within the family dynamics that they are trying to find J.J. a “voice.” This is a person that accompanies J.J. and actually verbally elicits what he constructs on his communication machine. His family has been doing it for him up to this point. The new school he enters assigns a woman to him and he is less than thrilled with the “tone” of her voice and her conflicting personality. This subtle message of “finding a voice” says so much. So many people with speech disabilities are trying to find their voice and get their message across. They have their own ideas and their own expressions that they want heard. Most of them do not like their message filtered in anyway… which is true for any person. Helping people find their “voice” in one metaphor or another is what speech therapists do and what I enjoy most about the profession.
2) Family– The family featured on this show is less than perfect. The mother is controlling, the father is passive, and the two other siblings seem to be searching for fulfillment (to put it nicely). This is an honest account of the kind of “crazy” we come across in the speech therapy profession. I have had spouses answer test questions for their loved one. I have had parents lie to my face. I have had people infer that I was stupid. So I think a little more crazy and a little less normal is great for the entertainment value and to show people the whole package. Speech therapists don’t just treat the patient, we treat the family sometimes as well.
3) Normalizing Differences– If you have kids you will know what I mean when I say, in the back of every caregiver’s head is that worry your child will point at a person with disabilities while out in public and say loudly “Mommy why does that guy look funny!” I will take responsibility and say that, even as an educator of children and adult’s with special needs I do not consistently enough expose my own children to the differences of others’ lifestyles as often as I should. They would not point and make comments if I explained more often that some people walk with legs and others get places in special chairs. Quoting the U.S. Census Bureau “About 56.7 million people — 19 percent of the population — had a disability in 2010, according to a broad definition of disability, with more than half of them reporting the disability was severe, according to a comprehensive report on this population released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.” In addition, “Roughly 30.6 million had difficulty walking or climbing stairs, or used a wheelchair, cane, crutches or walker” and according to the Center for AAC and Autism “In the United States, 1 out of 88 children will be diagnosed with autism. Studies indicate that up to 60% of these children will be unable to communicate their wants, needs, and thoughts verbally.” “Speechless” helps expose everyone to disabilities in general and some of the struggles that may accompany this lifestyle.
I highly recommend these books for kids to help them be more familiar with disabilities and differences.
– “Speechless” shows the DiMeos struggling financially and emotionally. The mother admits to her family that she has had her focus on J.J. and his many needs which takes away from the needs of the others in her family. This may be more than true for families whom have a person with special needs in their home. Reliable caregivers are hard to find so a lot of family members will quit their jobs to provide 24 hour care for their loved one. Sacrifices are made when this occurs. The struggle is real people! An augmentative alternative communication (AAC) device can be upwards of $6,000. Sometimes you can get them in tablet/app form- but $300-$500 is still a lot of money. Without getting into too much debate… insurance does not always cover these devices . Here
is some funding information for AAC.
5) Humor– I love J.J.’s humor. He expresses humor nonverbally. He is hilarious with and without his AAC device. He doesn’t have to jump around the screen like a jumping bean to elicit laughter. Every look and every small gesture is strategic in his own way. I thank the show for allowing this kind of comedy.
Two Thumbs Up for “Speechless” by All-American Speech Mom!
What are your thoughts on this show and how it portrays disabilities and family dynamics? Leave your comments !!!