A Career Becomes Personal

How one speech-language pathologist lives out her work and her clients’ everyday challenges in her own life

You’d be forgiven if you thought Vivian Sisskin brought her work home with her, given the overlap between her personal and professional life, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. As someone who has focused on stuttering and autism throughout her career, she’s finds joy that she is met by the areas she is most passionate about when she walks in her front door.

“People always ask me if I went into the field because my husband is a person who stutters and I have an adult son with autism — no, they came afterwards,” Vivian says. “It’s the luck of the draw.”

Vivian, an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist, Clinical Professor at the University of Maryland, and owner of the Sisskin Stuttering Center in McLean, Virginia, has made it her life’s work to help those with these conditions, whether it’s teaching courses in autism or stuttering at the University, working with clients at her practice or under her own roof. 

Already established in her career and an expert in her field, it was when Vivian’s son was born that she gained a whole new perspective on her work and what it’s like to be in a parent’s position with a special-needs child. 

On one hand, personal experience caring and advocating for her son gave her certain insights that could help her in her work, such as navigating the Individualized Education Program (IEP) when he was in school, making life choices as he transitioned into adulthood, and being immersed in the community and culture around autism; but, on the other hand, she also had to recognize that her perspective wasn’t universal. 

“I see it as a huge advantage to have that window to understanding what it’s like to be a parent with a child with communication challenges,” she says. “[But] a disadvantage could be you see everything through your own parental eyes, and you think the experience you have as a parent is everybody’s experience.”

“It’s so untrue: Everybody has their own experience and perspective,” Vivian adds.

Ultimately, for Vivian, it’s about doing what best serves her clients, their families and the community. She values her ASHA-certification because it represents standards that impact the people she treats and those who support them; to her, it means “you have gone above what is required to be the best you can be.”

“I can’t imagine not holding my CCCs,” says Vivian, who has been ASHA-certified for nearly 40 years. “It is most important for the people we work with. They can be assured that they are working with a professional who has been vetted by a body guided by clear standards for knowledge, skills and ethical behavior. Our clients know they are working with someone who is qualified.”

Vivian is one of the ASHA-certified professionals featured in ASHA’s Value of the CCCscampaign ads. The Value of the CCCscampaign encourages hiring managers to seek out ASHA-certified professionals to ensure their patients receive the highest standard of care.

It’s through the combination of professional certification and experience, along with her personal understandings, that she is able to meet the individualized needs of her clients. She loves that she has been able to devote her life to this work and will continue to do so for as long as she can.