Therapist speaks up about experience

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Calvin Ru

DBHS speech therapist Mary Hamilton chose to come out of retirement two years ago in order to help high school students who have Autism Spectrum Disorder with their language, communication and social skills.

Amy Miyahara, Editor-in-Chief

Most workers look forward to retirement, but Diamond Bar High School’s speech therapist Mary Hamilton has such a strong passion for students and her work that she decided to come out of retirement and do what she loves–help autistic students enhance their speaking abilities.  

Hamilton works with 18 students in the Autism Spectrum Disorder program.  She uses  language activities to help the students, individually and in small groups. She also goes into the larger class setting to give lessons on social skills, focusing on conflict resolution, problem solving and conversational skills. Some tools that she uses to work with the students include social stories, discussions, videos and role playing activities.

Hamilton also attends Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings for her students, in which the members of a student’s IEP team discuss the strengths and needs of the student.  

Although this school year is Hamilton’s second year at DBHS, the teacher previously worked for 35 years as a speech therapist at various elementary schools in the Magnolia District in Anaheim, where she dealt with articulation and stuttering. After her time working with elementary schools, Hamilton retired for two years before returning to work at DBHS two years ago.

“I was very nervous coming here because I had no experience with high school [students], and I thought I would be intimidated, but I’ve really enjoyed it,” she said. It’s completely different, but I like it a lot. You can do a lot more things and have more adult conversations.”

Hamilton attended Cal State Fullerton as a speech major, with an emphasis in speech and debate, but had taken a speech science class as part of her major and enjoyed it.

When she realized that there was not many  career options in her major, she decided to switch to speech therapy.

Hamilton has raised two daughters who are currently in their twenties and are now teachers. Hamilton says the experience raising her kids has helped prepare her for working with high school students.

“Having [raised] teenagers and had a relationship with them [has] really helped me here, because I try to remember a few years back when they were in high school,” she said.

Ultimately, Hamilton says that creating relationships and getting to help the students is the most rewarding aspect of her job.

“When I’m working with the students, I like all of it. That’s why I came back,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t know the effect you have on a student until later…the most rewarding [aspect] is just helping them, and when you can develop a really good rapport with them and that ease of conversation, and you know you’re making a difference.”