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Mentor for the Mentor

Posted Apr 20, 2022 - 2:28pm

By Hannah Foley, PRC-Saltillo Blogger

The world is big and not one person can possibly navigate it alone. We all need someone to guide us and show us the way - that person is often referred to as a “mentor”. When we talk about mentorship in the world of AAC, we are often referring to individuals who are successful and proficient AAC communicators mentoring younger and/or emergent and context-dependent communicators. This is an incredible opportunity for all individuals involved to learn and grow. However, what about those who use AAC and are independent and proficient communicators? Do we assume that because they can proficiently use AAC, they know how to navigate the real-world and challenges that humans naturally face themselves? Are they exempt from requiring a mentor to guide and support them through life and professional adventures and challenges?

I have been a mentor to others who use AAC for years and it is an incredible experience. I enjoy demonstrating the power of AAC to younger people, relating to what they are experiencing, and helping them through the challenges that come along with using AAC. There is nothing better than seeing the results and impacts of my work unfold right before my eyes. In these mentoring situations, it often appears that I have my life together and everything figured out and that I can navigate life independently, just because I am a proficient independent communicator who has a considerable amount of educational and professional accomplishments within the relatively short time I have been on this earth.

Behind each of my accomplishments are people who guide, mentor, and help me achieve those accomplishments and have shaped and continue to shape me into best version of a person and professional that I can possibly be. They push me out of my comfort zone and challenge me in many ways so I can learn and grow. They are an example for me to strive to become in my life and career. They are there for me through the good and bad to not only celebrate my achievements, but to also pick me up when I am down and pick up the pieces when they fall apart and listen to me rant about all of my problems and constantly support me. These people not only include biological family, but they are also special friends and colleagues for whom I am forever grateful.

I recently emerged from a major life-altering chapter in my journey of life: college and post-graduate studies. That chapter had its unique challenges and I did not get through them alone by any stretch of the imagination. I had an inner circle of people (who often stayed behind the scenes) who guided me through the challenges and who saw me and genuinely understood me. As I go into this next chapter of my life, which is my professional career, I have some of the very best and amazing colleagues who are mentoring me and guiding me through the triumphs and challenges alike.

I think sometimes when experienced professionals see a person who uses AAC proficiently, they automatically assume that all of the other natural life challenges are somehow miraculously eliminated, such as navigating the professional world just like anyone else. Although there are additional challenges when you have a disability and use AAC. We can’t leave them out to dry and fend for themselves - we need to see them for who they truly are and what skills, experience, and knowledge they possess and help them harness them professionally while providing them with new experiences and opportunities for them to further learn and grow, which may require creativity, patience, and authentic understanding.

I have been in a post-graduate assistive technology certification program since last January. As I complete the required coursework next month, I will be embarking upon a new chapter that revolves around building a career. Although I am not sure what the future holds for me, I am assured that I have some of the best people supporting and guiding me through this new journey. The person who I portray outward and who those external to my inner circle see is more than just me. Instead, it is a product of various people supporting me through the good, the bad, the celebrations, and the struggles that occur behind the scenes, which in turn, creates the version of myself that is portrayed for all to see. Included in those people is of course my mentor who is a critical part of my journey and the person who I am today and the person I will become tomorrow (and far into the future).

Regardless of how “successful” and/or a proficient independent communicator one who uses AAC is, they still experience challenges and hard times that life naturally presents which may or may not be unique to using AAC. They may be the “mentor” in certain situations and contexts, but they also are and need to be the “mentee” in other contexts and situations. Individuals who are categorized into the different levels of AAC communicators experience novel challenges along their life journey - some are apparently visible to the general public and others are deeper than what is visible to the general public, especially proficient independent communicators. They need a mentor who sincerely and authentically cares about, understands, and sees them as a person to support and guide them through life, and its triumphs and challenges alike.

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Communicators In Action   -    aac, college, employment, mentor, university, communication, independence