The Diagnosis Doesn’t Define the Person, the Person Defines the Diagnosis

As a speech-language pathologist, there’s a saying that I say to myself on a daily basis and it just might be my most favorite saying in the history of all sayings. The saying is the diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis. I’ve been hearing that saying for years. It first started to wiggle its way into my world when I was in graduate school and ever since then, the saying has resonated with me a TON!

But I’ll be honest with you, sometimes I forget about the saying.

For example, not too long ago I was working with a student who had a difficult time properly articulating the /R/ sound. We all know that the /R/ sound can be quite tricky for some children. And to make matters trickier, this child had a rather unique way of attempting to make his /R/ sound. So there was a lot that I needed to think about when figuring out a plan of action to help this motivated youngster with his articulation, as it related to perfecting his /R/ sound.

Invisible speech therapy toolbox to the rescue!

So here’s what I did; I busted out my invisible speech therapy toolbox and I tried all of my usual articulation tips, tricks, and strategies.

And what happened?

Well, not much happened. With everything that I was throwing his way from my invisible speech therapy toolbox, NONE of it was working. I was both confused and frustrated (and so was the child). But here’s the real kicker – I actually caught myself thinking, “How is all of this stuff not working? This is an /R/ student. You know /R/ students. /R/ sound, /R/ student – you’ve been there, you’ve done that. Get yourself together! Come on, Raj! Get in the game!”

Shame on me for saying things like that to myself!

When I was saying that stuff to myself, it hit me, I was making a VERY real mistake. I was forgetting about my most favorite saying in the history of all sayings – which is the diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis! What I was doing was automatically categorizing that child as an “/R/ student.” (Big mistake!) I was actually looking at the diagnosis and was like, “Oh yeah, the diagnosis, clearly that’s defining the child.” (Again, big mistake!) When in reality, THE CHILD defines the diagnosis, not the other way around. I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten about the saying of the diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis. (How embarrassing!)

It’s all about the individualized approach!

We, as SLPs, really do understand the power behind individualized approach and the idea that we should always view the person in front of us as an individual, not as just a diagnosis. So, in my temporary moment of insanity, when I was actually looking at that child as an “/R/ kid,” I took a step back and I said to myself, “Yo, Mr. Raj, get your head where it needs to be.” I collected my thoughts and looked at that child as an individual, free from that “/R/ kid” label. Then, I re-tried some of the stuff that I pulled from my invisible speech therapy toolbox because I knew I was in a much better headspace, at that moment in time. And low and behold, within a few minutes, he was actually able to make a bit of progress! He wasn’t cured, but he sure was showing me much more of what I was hoping for. His /R/ sound was moving in the right direction!

How did you get closer to having him show you a more improved /R/ sound?

Here’s what I think: it wasn’t necessarily because of the tips, tricks, or strategies – for me, I believe I got him there because I reminded myself that the diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis. That was THE foundation that needed to be in place for any of my tips, tricks, or strategies to actually work. Reminding myself that the diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis, was HUGE for me and I want it to be HUGE for you, too. So, say it with me so you can continue to memorize it. The diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis.

In closing . . .

The saying of the diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis, can be applied to so many aspects of our field. And that’s why I love it so much. It’s a saying that rings true for every single person that we have on our caseload. Whether you work with preschool-aged students or senior citizens, or anything in-between, the saying of the diagnosis doesn’t define the person, the person defines the diagnosis, will always place you on the correct path. Always.

The Diagnosis Doesn’t Define the Person, the Person Defines the Diagnosis

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