Don't Forget About Your Real-Life Community
I grew up in a large extended family that took over our small Scarborough street. Our dentist, doctor, and orthodontist, were within walking distance; each knew all the members of my family and often felt like a part of our fold.
I was educated in NY state, returned home to work for a year, then left with my partner for Australia. We lived in a small town and I worked at a local hospital seeing in-patients, out-patients, and doing community visits. At the beginning, going to the bar on a Friday night and seeing the parents or children that I had worked with was very unnerving and uncomfortable (for me). I would try to blend in the background and avoid chit chat. Soon though, it was a pleasure to run into families outside of work. I began to understand and appreciate that we were neighbours, had a working relationship, and that I was an important person in their child’s life. I moved from wanting them to see me as “professional”, to seeing me as a neighbour who was knowledgeable in speech, language, and who used these skills to improve their child’s communication.
After a year, we returned home, and I began the journey of being self employed by contracting with a larger company who provided a client base in Toronto. I did home visits, and continued to work with a variety of people. It was overwhelming, and I didn’t fully grasp that I wasn’t an employee. Nobody was going to fix my computer, hold me accountable for my documentation, show me how to organize my files, or give me a policy manual. I should have been lonely, but I was too overwhelmed. The learning curve was steep and painful, and at night while doing the nitty gritty, I asked myself why I continued to choose this path. It was because every day and every appointment, when I stepped into a home to work with a client, I was stepping into new relationships with parents, caregivers, and siblings. Helping to improve the quality of life for people I cared about won every day.
Being in someone’s home allows me to create very specific opportunities in sessions, incorporate friends, family members, pets, favourite toys, games, and activities. Making therapy functional and motivating is only possible when you know what’s functional and motivating to each person; working with families and being in someone’s home is a glimpse into their inner workings, and a privilege.
A few years later, all at once, I had our daughter, and we purchased and moved into our first long-term home. I faced the many decisions about setting up our place, budgeting, meeting neighbours, checking out our new neighbourhood, and wondering how I was going to make life work with a home, a family, and working. I couldn’t find a job that I loved and also offered the specific hours and flexibility that I needed.
As I began to meet neighbours and become more familiar with our community, I realized that an amazing opportunity was presenting itself; using my skills and professional experience to serve my community, creating relationships with neighbours, and a solution to not “finding” a job. I started very slowly, and see clients 2 days a week (I’d never call it working “part-time”). I haven’t had a successful flyer or advertisement yet; most of my paediatric clients have been from my new friends and neighbours sharing my information with friends and family. We recently upgraded a room in our home to my office, where I’m able to see clients in person and via telepractice.
Being self-employed has nudged me to take risks and put myself out there. I now run social-skills and communication play groups for children in the neighbourhood, where kids with autism, anxiety, and language difficulties connect and play in a supportive and fun environment. I’ve developed and grown my practice with adults in the trans community by collaborating with Sherbourne Health Centre to offer a group voice modification program, unique in Toronto.
If I went to a “job” everyday, introverted me would have no motivation to step outside myself and build the incredible community connections that I have. The nitty gritty tedium of learning to build and maintain a website, SEO, marketing, finances, and documentation is far outweighed by the value of each experience with clients and families that I know I may run into in the grocery store or park. My colleagues and network are the people who’s lives intersect with mine on the street and over a glass of wine in the evenings, and it is very fulfilling.
Sarah Cassel is a speech-language pathologist in East York who works with children and adults in the areas of language comprehension and use, speech sounds, voice, stuttering, brain injury, and strokes. You can learn more at casselspeechandlanguage.com.