As Jessica Clark was learning to talk, her brain would send a message to her mouth to speak, but all that would come out were grunts.
When her parents took her to speech therapy and began treatment for speech apraxia, they were told their daughter would always be an introvert and never able to do much. Clark didn’t begin talking until the age of 2, according to her sister, Jackie Poss.
“My family was great,” said Clark, a Puyallup resident. “They didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. They interviewed speech therapists and found one that I still keep in touch with to this day. You can’t judge what a child will accomplish at that age.”
Now a speech pathologist at Good Samaritan’s Child Therapy Unit, Clark knows firsthand what it is like to be a child with a speech disability.
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Poss says her sister’s job as a speech pathologist is more than just that for the 32-year-old Clark.
“She epitomizes what it means to live and breathe a life calling that continually gives to others,” Poss, who lives in Portland, wrote in an email. “She is selfless and patient in a role that can oftentimes be challenging and sad, and even so she embraces it with such positivity and warmth on a daily basis. Her life satisfaction is highly dependent upon the success of her patients and their families. It is rare to see a young woman so dedicated, committed and inspired by her work. She really just wants to help people — no matter what.”
As Clark was working with a patient last week, 1-year-old Claire Howell, she picked up Howell and began talking to her just as if she was her own daughter.
I was given a very lucky opportunity to be put in the child’s position to understand how difficult it can be.
“I was given a very lucky opportunity to be put in the child’s position to understand how difficult it can be,” Clark said.
Clark began volunteering at the Oregon Health and Science University during the summer while she was in college. She recalls watching a training video for speech therapy and seeing a small child on the dated film. She realized it was her.
“I still use that video to help train parents,” Clark quipped.
In her eight and a half years at Good Samaritan, she’s used the video to help train parents in feeding and speech therapies. Since Clark has gone through similar speech therapies as her patients, she knows just how far to push a child, and the importance of involving the family in treatment.
“I wanted to give back to the families in the same fashion that so many in the medical profession gave to me,” she said. “Living it, you can help connect with and tell the stories for the family.”
Clark recalled a time that when her own mother was in town from Oregon, a patient’s mom asked to sit down with Clark’s mom and ask her questions about raising a child with a speech disorder.
“I have people who stop by and use me as an example, that if you really focus and do your homework, you can be successful,” she said. “While everyone is different, I’m very fortunate.”
Not only does Clark have experience in overcoming her own speech disorder, she’s also been on the parent end of therapy.
Her 7-year-old daughter Abigael was born four weeks early, and her early arrival meant difficulty feeding for Clark and her then-newborn.
“I got to experience the feeding point of view,” Clark said. “I realized that some of the things I hadn’t been telling my patients weren’t working. I started telling my patients, ‘You have to tell me what works best for you. If I’m not able to get that feedback, I can’t serve you.”
Between her own experience and her struggles in trying to feed her daughter — combined with her time as a speech patient — Clark knows what it takes for a child to be successful in therapy.
“I love getting to work as a whole with the family,” she said. “It’s my job to provide the tools. My favorite part of my job is getting to be part of the team that helps the child be successful.”