Lessons Learned From My Sister A newly minted SLP’s sibling provides insights into the human side of autism spectrum disorder. First Person/Last Page
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First Person/Last Page  |   August 01, 2017
Lessons Learned From My Sister
Author Notes
  • Syd Zoll, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician and certified autism specialist based in Monterey, California. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 17, Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Related Disorders, and is an aspiring traveling clinician. jemappellesyd@gmail.com
    Syd Zoll, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician and certified autism specialist based in Monterey, California. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 17, Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Related Disorders, and is an aspiring traveling clinician. jemappellesyd@gmail.com×
Article Information
Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / First Person/Last Page
First Person/Last Page   |   August 01, 2017
Lessons Learned From My Sister
The ASHA Leader, August 2017, Vol. 22, 88. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.22082017.88
The ASHA Leader, August 2017, Vol. 22, 88. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.22082017.88
Got chips and hummus? My sister does. Trader Joe’s tomato and basil hummus dip, to be specific. Then there’s the salad with BBQ chicken, Tuscan Italian dressing, banana-and-cream yogurt, and chicken tikka masala with frozen tandoori naan. And the 12.9-ounce boxed chicken noodle soup in the cupboard, along with the reduced-guilt pita chips.
All from Trader Joe’s. Per my sister, it’s easiest to navigate—everything is located in the same general area at every Trader Joe’s—in contrast to an overstimulating, fluorescent-lit, dysregulated supermarket. How have I memorized this, you ask? I have seen the same items every day for the past two years in the refrigerator we share.
She’s 24 and I am 27—two years and 364 days apart to be exact. Which reminds me of the current time. Most would say 7:15 or a quarter past 7, but my sister will correct me and say “It’s not 7:15, it’s 7:12!”
My sister, Hannah, has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and has been attending an independent-living skills program in Monterey, California, since 2012. I moved into a small two-bedroom apartment with her when I began a clinical fellowship in Monterey in 2014—after completing my master’s degree in speech-language pathology at Sacramento State.
The learning curve for growing as a clinician and a sister to an adult with ASD was sharp. I began diagnosing and labeling each of my sister’s actions or words and, in a sense, “therapizing” her. As I dove deeper and deeper into the social-language world professionally, I began trying to teach my sister social concepts and strategies for improving conversations, recognizing nonverbal cues and engaging in romantic relationships.
One day, we were talking about having a “flexible brain” (a concept of Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking), and I explained how experiences are unpredictable and you can’t be set on a specific idea. Hannah got up from the table and said, “Well, I have to go get ready for Zumba now, see you later.”
Lesson learned: She is first and foremost my sister, not a client. Got it, almost. It’s still an area of weakness for me, but I’ve learned to separate the two worlds and try to disguise my therapy with “sister talk.”
Living with my sister provides a daily newsfeed on how to use my practical knowledge and living experience to connect deeply with my clients. I “get” and know how to react to the many social quirks of my clients, and I am instantly at ease when meeting a new client with ASD. Living with Hannah helps me understand the often-brilliant ASD mindset, and I use that awareness to talk my clients’ lingo, engage their interests, and shape individualized, client-centered treatment sessions.
We all have a personal story that led us to this amazing profession; my story is just a healthy reminder to stay connected to what drives you to be an SLP. As professionals, we should not forget the passion and enthusiasm that allow us to fully connect with our clients. My sister is a daily reminder of how to combine my practical knowledge and experience to become an effective clinician.
1 Comment
August 17, 2017
Jennifer D'Attilio
Amazing SLP!
I had the pleasure of being Syd's clinical fellowship mentor and watched as she grew into an amazing clinician, learning from her sister and her entire supportive family that she was then able to use as inspiration to guide other families dealing with communication disorders. She truly encompasses the passion and drive that makes our professionals outstanding. Excellent article Ms. Syd! We miss you!
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August 2017
Volume 22, Issue 8