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A day in the life of a volunteer Speech Therapist, by Olga Woodward

Our skilled volunteering placement

After a busy week training and supporting the staff here at the learning centre for children with autism in Hyderabad, we are excited to be training the parents this weekend. So far our focus has been  on developing baseline communication skills in children with disordered and delayed language development. Our ultimate aim is to empower parents so that they can be confident that they are doing the very best thing for their children through using these techniques. And for them to learn that play is indeed work for our children!  There is a tendency in India for adults to ‘teach’ in a directive manner, and the biggest challenge for Madhavi – the founder of the learning centre – is transitioning from these methods to embrace a child-led approach.  We are very keen to deliver the message that ‘questions test whereas comments teach.’

Sharing our knowledge with parents of children with special needs

The two day parent training course will focus on the fundamentals- this morning we will address creating a ‘Total Communication’ environment; including the use of Makaton signing and visuals as well as the spoken word (at the correct level for the child).  After lunch, we will teach the parents about parent-child interaction strategies; and general best practice for developing children’s speech, language and communication skills.  

We had a great turn out of around 40 parents.  They all participated actively and asked relevant questions.  We invited questions on post-it notes too, which we then addressed between presentations.  A recurring theme in parent concern was the challenging behaviours of their children and how best to approach these. This opened up the opportunity to teach the power of visuals and schedules for reducing anxiety levels when children don’t know what is happening next, or are just struggling to process the auditory information and require a visual input.  Most parents agreed that their children were visual learners, and they seem keen to go and put these total communication strategies into place.  We also discussed the value of creating consistency across the centre and home, so that the children know that all forms of communication are valued and accepted, rather than only the spoken word.

Lunch was provided by Madhavi’s Mum for all of us, and was delicious as ever!  It also allowed time for the parents to chat and bond.  I really hope that these relationships will continue to develop; it can be so empowering for parents of children with special needs to realise they are not alone in their daily struggles.

Learning and Impact

Our visual ‘Tree of Language’ was great for the parents to understand that the fundamental skills of play, social motivation and attention and listening are the first priority.  Many up until now had been concerned about expressive language and speech sounds.  I think they now realise the developmental order of these skills, and have some insight into how we prioritise our input as therapists.  Until a child can focus and attend, and ENJOY being with us, they cannot learn to understand or express themselves.  

Tomorrow, we plan to address how children’s attention and listening skills develop, and how this development differs in children with Autism Spectrum conditions (ASC).  We will then go on to teach and practise some specific strategies for children with ASC, including Intensive Interaction; for developing joint attention and shared enjoyment, and the Picture Exchange Communication System; to teach the very principles of communication.

Olga spent two weeks in Hyderabad, sharing her skills as a Speech Therapist. By facilitating staff and parent learning sessions, her and her colleague were able to introduce a new approach of therapy at the centre.

Do you have skills that you can share to support a local organisation in India to achieve their long term vision? Contact us today to discuss how your skills can make an impact.