When asked to work with patients who don't speak, but use assistive technology to communicate, psychologist Amy Szarkowski said yes.
Szarkowski, of Harvard Medical School's psychiatry department and Children's Hospital Boston, works with many clients who are deaf and hard of hearing, so she had a lot of experience overcoming communication challenges to provide therapy.
"We know the communication language is not perfect, so let's work around it," she said while presenting her work at the American Psychological Association's annual convention here earlier this month.
These new cases were a new challenge, however. (Other psychologists had already turned them down. And in one case, the insurance company was reluctant to cover therapy—because the patient couldn't speak.) One was an adult with cerebral palsy, the other a teen with the same condition. Neither had cognitive disabilities. Both had extremely limited ability to move, which made using their text-to-speech devices slow-going. The adult used a tool attached to his head to tap the device. But would Szarkowski really be able to tell what these patients thought and felt through a piece of equipment?
Before meeting with the clients, Szarkowski met with a speech-language pathologist. She realized that she would have to guess, at least a little, at what her new patients were saying—the opposite of what psychologists are trained to do.
"You don't want to put words in their mouths," she said.
Read more of Nirvi Shah's On Special Education article HERE.