And Miles to Go…
by Ellen Kester PhD, CCC-SLP
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Matagalpa, Nicaragua to serve as a speech-language pathologist on a medical mission with Austin Smiles. Austin Smiles is an amazing organization that takes teams of surgeons, nurses, speech-language pathologists, and other helpers to do cleft lip and palate surgeries in developing countries. The experience was incredible and I was amazed at what the team was able to accomplish in one short week, but I left thinking that we, as speech-language pathologists, have so much to do to spread the knowledge that we have attained in our field.
I’ll start with a bit about how the mission operated. We went with four plastic surgeons, one ENT, three anesthesiologists, ten nurses, two translators, several volunteers, and one amazing executive director, Kendyl Richards. We each carried a suitcase full of supplies for the operating room, triage, and recovery, toting an entire surgical suite of supplies. The day after we arrived, we boarded a bus for the hospital and were met with a waiting room (and then some) full of patients ready to go through triage. We saw hundreds of patients with a wide variety of issues.
Over the course of the week, 29 surgeries were completed. My colleague, Scott Prath, and I did speech and language assessments for the children who were heading into surgery to have either a cleft lip or cleft palate repaired. Following the surgery we met with the families to share a treatment plan for the months to come. Of all of the patients we worked with, only one was currently receiving speech therapy.
I had the opportunity to spend some time with the parents of the child who was receiving therapy. The child’s father was a medical professional in Nicaragua and he and his wife had found a speech therapist to work with their 18-month-old son, who had Cleft Lip and Palate and Down Syndrome. When I asked the parents about the goals of the therapy he was receiving they told me that their goal was for him to communicate better but they were unsure about how the therapy was helping. They proceeded to describe what the therapist does with their son. She brings cards with written words on them and shows them to him while reading the word over and over. After she does that for a while, she puts headphones on him and says words into a microphone that the child listens to. I kept probing with more and more questions, hoping to find some functional aspect to the therapy but I never found it.
This brings me to something I preach often. Have a rationale for what you do and share it with the families you work with. Perhaps there was a rationale in that therapy but if the parents are unaware of it, the speech therapist has not done their job. We shared our bilingual SMILE for Young Children program with the Nicaraguan families. It provided them with tangible, meaningful intervention techniques that they could do throughout their daily routines to improve functional communication.
We touched a few lives on this trip but I am now on a quest to figure out a way to connect with people in developing countries so we can impart the information we have gained from the high quality research in our field. Let me know if you have any good ideas about how to accomplish this.
This Month’s Featured Author: Ellen Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP Bilinguistics, Inc.
Dr. Ellen Kester is a Founder and President of Bilinquistics, Inc. http://www.bilinguistics.com. She earned her Ph.D. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from The University of Texas at Austin. She earned her Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology and her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish at The University of Texas at Austin. She has provided bilingual Spanish/English speech-language services in schools, hospitals, and early intervention settings. Her research focus is on the acquisition of semantic language skills in bilingual children, with emphasis on assessment practices for the bilingual population. She has performed workshops and training seminars, and has presented at conferences both nationally and internationally. Dr. Kester teaches courses in language development, assessment and intervention of language disorders, early childhood intervention, and measurement at The University of Texas at Austin. She can be reached at [email protected]