Battling speech disorders

Battling speech disorders

Stuttering, puberphonia (a man speaking in a high-pitched voice post-puberty) and other communication disorders have a lot of misconceptions surrounding them. For instance, the notion that, stuttering is caused by a lack of confidence or a person with puberphonia is effeminate. The people ought to know that these are treatable conditions. Radhika Poovayya, director, Samvaad, says ,"Our movies depict people with stuttering in a negative light. They are often the butt of jokes and are portrayed as less confident. We want the Censor Board to ensure accurate and realistic portrayal of stuttering and other speech disorders." She has petitioned the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting through Change.org towards the cause. She is the right person to do so because in her long career as a speech pathologist, she has witnessed several adults and children struggle with faltering speech, and has treated many of them successfully.

Camps and rallies

 This is not the first time that Samvaad is creating awareness about communication disorders. It has conducted rallies against noise pollution, held camps in rural areas about early identification of hearing loss and staged a flash mob. "Creating awareness about the field, although very important, is just one aspect of our activities. We have diagnostic and therapeutic facilities for the entire range of speech and hearing disorders and offer a Bachelors and a Masters programme in speech pathology and audiology. We also conduct infant hearing screenings at local hospitals," says Radhika. Besides being a speech pathologist and audiologist, she is a trained behaviour therapist.

Samvaad was started in 2005 with affiliation to Bangalore University and recognition from the Rehabilitation Council of India. Its academic programmes are much appreciated by the students. Many of the alumni have found good jobs in India and abroad. Over the years, the institute has also seen a steady rise in the number of patients, and now there are therapy centres in Domlur and Marathahalli. With the help of local doctors, they recently conducted a speech and hearing camp in Chitradurga district.

At the institute, children with autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and communication disorders undergo diagnostic testing and then receive therapy. Auditory Verbal Therapy (AVT) is also offered to children with hearing loss, specially those who have undergone Cochlear Implantation surgery. Cochlear Implants (CI) are electronic devices that directly stimulate the inner ear and benefit even those with a profound degree of hearing loss. They are expensive and Samvaad foundation, which oversees the social service activities of the institute, has managed to raise funds for needy children, those who had not benefited from conventional hearing aids. Samvaad has tied up with the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in USA, a well-known name in the field of rehabilitation of hearing-impaired children, to train its staff in AVT.

Adults also form a significant portion of Samvaad clientele. Those with hearing loss, speech and language disorders, voice disorders or even swallowing difficulties benefit from individual therapies provided at the institute. While the above-mentioned activities are all based at the institute, Samvaad also wishes to take its services to the community itself. For this, it conducts regular speech and hearing camps. It also has outreach units at five primary healthcare centres in Bengaluru, where the staff works with grass roots level workers. A  neuro-rehab centre for stroke patients is also being run. Patients referred by government hospitals are charged only a nominal fee.

Success stories

When Jayaraman, a successful businessman, had a stroke and developed aphasia (inability to speak after a stroke) his family was devastated. Over six months Jayaraman slowly improved. With rigorous and persistent training from therapists and full involvement of the family, he is now able to speak in short sentences and has even returned to work. Geetha's daughter was not speaking or walking even at the age of three. Having been told earlier that the child has mental retardation and unable to take the child to distant centres, she had given up hope. At Samvaad, she was offered a helper's job. Now Geetha's daughter has started saying a few words and with a job in hand, Geetha is urging her previously reluctant husband to take the child to a physiotherapist. She is confident that the child will walk soon.

While success stories like these are many, there are also those who don't benefit. Seeking treatment very late or not following the instructions can result in less than satisfactory outcomes. Speech and language therapy takes time and effort. The earlier a child is brought the better. Even adults who have concerns with regard to their communication should seek professional help at the earliest. For more information, visit, samvaadinstitute.org.  

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