Parent Turned Provider Anna Sullivan’s experience with her son’s feeding disorder and autism diagnosis propels her career as an SLP. First Person/Last Page
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First Person/Last Page  |   October 2014
Parent Turned Provider
Author Notes
  • Anna Sullivan, MS, CCC-SLP, is a school-based speech-language pathologist in Virginia with particular interests in working with children with feeding and swallowing disorders and children with autism. annamariasullivan@hotmail.com
    Anna Sullivan, MS, CCC-SLP, is a school-based speech-language pathologist in Virginia with particular interests in working with children with feeding and swallowing disorders and children with autism. annamariasullivan@hotmail.com×
  • © 2014 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Article Information
Swallowing, Dysphagia & Feeding Disorders / Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / First Person/Last Page
First Person/Last Page   |   October 2014
Parent Turned Provider
The ASHA Leader, October 2014, Vol. 19, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.19102014.72
The ASHA Leader, October 2014, Vol. 19, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.19102014.72
My son has autism. Autism. The word autism just echoes in my head over and over again. It is a constant black cloud in my mind. Sometimes I feel lost without direction. Sometimes I know where I am headed. This is our story.
My son, Cael, was born with a feeding and swallowing disorder. I was a young mother then, not yet a speech-language pathologist. A couple of months later came seizures during feeding. My son’s pediatrician ordered multiple tests. By 4 months old, Cael was drinking only four ounces per feeding. By 2 years old, he weighed only 18 pounds. I found a flyer about some feeding classes from an SLP in Virginia. She taught me so many things to help him. I am forever grateful to her.
Several months later, I found a handout about local early intervention services. They sent an SLP who specialized in feeding and swallowing. She taught me what to feed him and how to take care of his needs. His oral motor skills improved with the treatment. She knew, though, that I had to learn to feed him and improve his oral skills. She looked at me one day and told me sternly, “You can do this. You have to do this for him.” When she came back the next week, I looked at her and said, “I can do this. I know what to do. I will do this.” My instincts kicked in. My life and my spirit changed that day because she inspired me.
From that point on, our life changed. Cael attended daycare so I could attend a communication sciences and disorders graduate program at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. His daycare provided an aide for him at all meals without additional charge, modified his food, trained the staff to feed him, and slowly helped me realize that although he had very good academic skills, Cael was very low in adaptive and social skills. They encouraged me when Cael received his dual diagnosis of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—which I wouldn’t have pursued on my own at the time; it’s hard to see the deficits in your own children. They encouraged me when I became an SLP.
I am also thankful to Cael’s pediatrician for helping me. He encouraged me through the process of diagnosis and listened to my concerns. Many times I felt lost, and he would talk to me and guide me in the right direction.
Without these wonderful people encouraging me, guiding me, and pointing out the symptoms of autism and how to address the condition’s deficits, I would have been a complete mess. Now that Cael’s feeding and swallowing issues are much improved, we focus on his deficits in behavior, adaptive skills and functional communication. These affect our family and every area of our life. We spend a lot of our time and money on remediation.
Now 8, Cael is in second grade and doing well—performing on grade level. He eats a mechanical diet at school and a regular diet at home. His private tutor is paid by our family. He has therapeutic horseback riding lessons, counseling and one-on-one speech services with me every day. His medication works well.
Despite the struggles, it is because of Cael that I’ve become a better SLP. Of course all of his needs are still upsetting to me and exhausting—and we still have so much to work on—but his needs keep pushing me to be inventive. Besides helping Cael, my energy goes toward my students. I love the work I do every day and I work in a supportive school system. If parents are open to help, I do my best to encourage them, just as I was encouraged not so long ago.
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October 2014
Volume 19, Issue 10