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As a speech language pathologist, it just makes sense that communication is so important to Carol Edley. But it goes beyond using the latest Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) technology.
"The technology, like eye gaze, is a fantastic tool, but establishing strong, basic communication is essential for the child and the parents," Carol said.
Such a conclusion isn't arrived at quickly. Over the course of her 47 years in the world of speech therapy, Carol has employed many tried-and-true therapy methods that are still just as important as technology, such as sign language, gestures, body language and pictures. She said with a smile, "These are the 'alternative' part of AAC."
But Carol has seen the technology blossom, especially the last couple of decades, to allow for even greater strides.
"The advent of personal computers and personal devices, like tablets, has made the kind of AAC breakthroughs we see with eye gaze possible," she said. "The child and parents alike must either learn how to use it or rethink the purpose of computer or tablet as a necessary tool and not just a luxury or a fun toy. Everyone in the family is learning and growing."
Such growth for everyone involved is what Carol is most proud of her fellow speech pathologists. She explained, "I've been doing this for some time and with those thousands of children I always hoped to make a difference. What we all have in common is truly seeing a difference made by everyone working together not just for the child but for the whole family. The family is an integral part of the team. Going from nonverbal to basic requests to being the initiator of conversations is so monumental for the parents and child."
Undoubtedly, that may be more difficult in some cases than others, especially given the complexities of most of her patients. "Our team likes to say that a patient needs to have at least three diagnostics codes for me to see them," she said laughing. "While that's not an actual rule, I'm always willing to rise to any challenge and am drawn to trying to figure out how to best reach them."
Facing challenges and the unknown is nothing new for Carol as she's been stepping far outside of her comfort zone since college. "I grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, went to undergraduate university at Phillips and later to St. Louis at Washington University for my master's degree. Upon graduation, I only applied for jobs in states I never had visited," Carol recalled. "How far away? Stamford, Connecticut!"
She continued, "I think I wanted to make such a big drastic move (I love to travel) because my mother lived in and never really ventured beyond Oklahoma. I'm a firm believer in not restricting yourself and always being game for anything."
It's easy to see how that approach translates into working with her patients. She must be willing to try new things to make the progress they need and reach the potential they have. And Carol has a lot of faith in that potential.
"My wish for everyone would be for them to do the best as they can and persevere. Everyone in contact with that child must help them reach their potential and have fun on their journey to communicating."
That's the high bar that we can all reach because #WeAreCookChildrens.