Speech pathology for kids in India

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Flinders University students prepare for a volunteer trip to Himchal Pradesh

In September this year, a group of ten students from Flinders University Bachelor of Speech Pathology program will be going to Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, on a volunteer clinical placement for a period of three weeks.

They will provide volunteer speech pathology services and health education to children and their families living with disability.

Services will focus on improving the children’s access to communication, using communication aids, educating carers and family and enhancing social interaction skills.

The students are in their 3rd and 4th years of the speech pathology degree. They hope to give kids with speech disorders or delays, communication skills that will give them a voice they may not have at the moment. Their goal is to help teachers and carers facilitate communication skills in the children. Services will be provided at two centres for children with disability in Palampur, the Harmony Through Education Centre and the Rotary School for the Disabled.

This is the first time the volunteer placement has been organised, and for the students, it is the first time they are visiting India.

Adam Caruana, one of the students, is excited at the prospect of learning how to work outside the conventional framework of speech pathology.

“I don’t really know what to expect from India, though,” he confesses, “other than that it will be an assault on the senses!”

The group also plan to raise awareness in parents, families, and the community about different ways to communicate, and also what speech pathology can do for children. This will give the kids greater access to their own future.

“We will also be encouraging good oral hygiene and assisting the children in developing safe swallowing habits, to help prevent the development of conditions such as pneumonia that are quite common for children with certain conditions,” Adam said.

The program requires participants to volunteer their time and cover all associated costs of the trip. In addition, students are required to anticipate, source and develop any resources that may be required for speech pathology and educational purposes whilst in India. Since there is no speech therapist at the Centres, the students do not know what resources are available there. They hope to use locally available resources or make aids with materials available. But being there for only three weeks, it is all a challenge. There are budget issues too.

So the students, off their own bats, have been seeking sponsorship to help enable them to deliver services to these children and families in Palampur, including donations in the following forms:

  • Speech pathology resources
  • General education resources, including books, educational toys and games
  • Oral hygiene resources
  • Health resources, including awareness posters
  • Stationary, both to donate to the children and for the purpose of creating resources for the children prior to departure
  • Monetary donations, to purchase any of the above items/materials either in Australia or in India, with any remaining funds to be donated to the centres

They have also negotiated with the airlines for allocation of extra luggage for the purpose of transporting resources. They are organising fundraisers and trying to contact people and organisations for donations including for their Book Drive.

Adam says, “As we will only be in India for three weeks, it will be unrealistic for us to deliver intensive speech and language intervention and expect dramatic improvement in children’s skills in such a small period of time. Instead, our aim is to provide the children with greater access to communication – through verbal means, visual/picture boards, gestures, simple signs – any method that helps each child to get their intentions across and be ‘heard’ by those around them”.

Why books?

“Books can play an extremely important role in communication development. They can be interactive and enjoyable for children, and help them to develop skills such as joint attention and turn taking that do not always come naturally. Books provide exposure to rich language, but the reader can also choose to adapt stories based on the pictures if the language is too complex. Lastly, children can learn important social skills through the stories that are read to them”.

The Indian Community Radio in Adelaide is helping the group with the book drive, helping them collect books especially Indian books which the children and their families can relate to. It does not really matter which language the books are in, but books in Hindi would be an added advantage. The students also hope to make contacts in India who may be able to purchase resources in the bigger cities and send to Palampur.

So, as they set off on their big Indian adventure, combining study with volunteer work and using the skills they have learnt so far for the greater good, and we wonder what their expectations are, whether there are any fears.

There seems to be a bit of trepidation since no one has done this placement before and so they don’t have any existing guidelines to go by. However, they are all quite excited (even with the fact that they might only be eating dal and roti for 3 weeks!) and are sure it will be a life-changing experience.

They will probably learn to improve their own communication skills, build up their awareness of Indian culture and no doubt to have a great time too. Indian Link wishes them luck!

If you have books or other resources to donate, call Adam Caruana on 0430 923 856 or email him at caru0043@flinders.edu.au