How I became a speech therapist

Lorna Muthamia’s clients are predominantly children between three years and 16 years who present with a wide variety of speech (articulation, stammering), language, literacy or learning disorders. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Speech and language therapy specialises in evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of communication disorders such as speech (articulation, stuttering), language (comprehension and expression) literacy, cognitive-communication disorders, voice disorders and swallowing disorders.
  • Besides academic qualifications, personal qualities that speech and language therapists need to possess include good communication skills, good listening skills, patience and an interest in solving problems.
  • Working with children demands creativity with lots of motivation.

Lorna Muthamia is a speech and language therapist, and co-director of HearSay & Read Clinic, a practice that was founded in 2010.

The clinic offers services such as speech and language therapy. Lorna’s interest in this area of study was piqued when one day, (she was 17 years at the time and had recently completed high school) she took her younger sister, who is deaf, to see an audiologist.

“As he examined my sister, the audiologist complained of the inadequate number of speech therapists in the country. And then he jokingly commented, ‘'Maybe you should consider a course in speech therapy’, and handed me a prospectus of one of the universities in Australia.”

Speech and language therapy, often referred to as speech and language pathology (SLP), is a health-related profession that specialises in evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of communication disorders such as speech (articulation, stuttering), language (comprehension and expression) literacy, cognitive-communication disorders, voice disorders and swallowing disorders. The ultimate goal being to improve communication.

“Since I liked children and felt just as frustrated about the lack of speech therapists as my parents were, (speech therapists work closely with audiologist), it was an easy decision for me to make. I felt that it was the right course for me, although until that day, I hadn’t considered it.”

Lorna’s parents were supportive of her decision, and enrolled her at Curtin University, Australia, where she did her pre-university. She later moved to New Zealand and continued her studies at University of Canterbury, where she studied for a degree in communication disorders and speech therapy.

DEMANDS CREATIVITY

If interested in Lorna’s career but are unable to travel overseas to study the course, local universities such as Kenyatta University offers it, but as a Master’s program.

“If one is interested in pursuing the course for their undergraduate overseas, above average performance in subjects such as English, Health Sciences and Art is essential. However, if interested in pursuing the program as postgraduate study, then an undergraduate qualification in a related field such as Occupational Therapy, Education, Linguistics, Psychology, Child Development or Social Sciences is advisable.”

Besides academic qualifications, personal qualities that speech and language therapists need to possess include good communication skills, good listening skills, patience and an interest in solving problems. Lorna adds that working with children demands creativity with lots of motivation.

Although the training one gets at the university covers most areas, Lorna explains that a speech and language therapist can specialise in any of the aforementioned disorders. Her area of interest is Literacy and Aural rehabilitation therapy, which helps children with a hearing impairment learn how to listen and communicate verbally following therapy. She is however skilled to work with many other disorders.

On a typical day, Lorna and her staff of 10 each hold individual sessions with five-seven clients with each session lasting about 40 minutes.

MEDICAL HISTORY

“Before therapy commences, there is initial consultation with the patient to obtain background information and understand the areas of concern. At this stage, we also note the patient’s past medical history or timelines of their developmental milestones if the patient is a child. An evaluation of their speech, language and learning skills is also done before we recommend a way forward.”

Recommendation could either be regular speech therapy sessions, referral for further testing by a specified professional or a home-based program. Often, thanks to technology, she offers teletherapy sessions for clients who are unable to make it to the clinic.

Lorna explains that it is difficult to estimate the number of sessions a patient requires. Each case, she points out, is unique, and depends on factors such as severity and nature of the condition, the frequency of therapy and how consistent the home therapy is. On average, speech therapy costs range from Sh3, 000-Sh6,000 per session.

Lorna observes that there is great need for speech and language therapy services in the country. “I actually think that this demand is not only in Kenya, but in other countries as well.

PREDOMINANTLY CHILDREN

“While studying in New Zealand, before I even graduated, I got a job in a centre that offers auditory training to children with hearing impairment in Auckland. I worked there for a short while then moved to Australia, where I easily got a job, working for four years before returning home in 2010.”

Speaking of her experience in Kenya, she points out that in spite of the high demand for speech therapy specialists in the country, finding a footing was not easy. “The profession was not known to many, and I found it difficult to maintain the same scope of practice as I did in Australia, where I ran a private practice. I met parents who had children with various levels of delay in speech, most of which were due to parenting skill or a wanting environment.”

This is what prompted her to invest in finding sustainable solutions that would increase awareness about what she does as well as the conditions she treats. This, she envisioned, would in turn make families whose members needed her services more knowledgeable about these conditions and how best to handle them.

Some of these solutions include training speech therapist assistants and mentoring students, conducting workshops targeting parents, and creating awareness through video for parents and caregivers.

Lorna’s clients are predominantly children between three years and 16 years who present with a wide variety of speech (articulation, stammering), language, literacy or learning disorders. Occasionally, she attends to adult clients with communication or swallowing difficulties caused by cerebral vascular accidents, stroke or traumatic brain injuries.

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