Lorna Muthamia, 31, is a language and speech therapist, she spoke to SHIRLEY GENGA about her occupation
Who is a speech- language therapist?
Although a speech therapist is sometimes called a speech pathologist, they are different from speech and drama teachers. A speech- therapist is trained to assess and treat people who have a communication disorder. Basically, mechanics of producing words, which include: articulation, pronunciation, pitch, fluency, stammering and volume, language (comprehension and expression) and literacy (writing and reading).
We can adapt school curriculums to accommodate the child who appears to be struggling. We also work with adults who have suffered strokes and help restore lost speech and language function. Speech therapists can also assess and treat swallowing difficulties in adults as well as newborns.
What else do speech therapists do?
We instruct new mothers on breastfeeding techniques. A speech therapist can also help to prepare a person for a job interview. Of all the areas in which speech therapists work in, I believe the most important is our work as educators of parents and our work in prevention and early identification of communication disorders likely to impact on overall functioning.
What is your area of specialisation?
Early intervention of the following conditions — language delays, speech disorders including stuttering, misarticulations, hearing impairment and literacy related conditions. My main purpose is to improve reading, writing skills in young children and in intervention for slow readers.
I am also passionate about educating parents on how to bring out the best in their children through parenting workshops. Speech therapy is not just for children with special needs but also for children wishing to excel in different areas. I run a parenting resource and speech therapy clinic in Lavington called HearSay and Read. For more information go to speechtherapy.co.ke.
You work a lot with kids; how is it different from dealing with adults?
When dealing with kids, you have to find engaging and fun ways of teach. We recognise the unique role of the parent in stimulating language and other developmental milestones and so we try to train and involve parents as much as possible.
The parent has the sole capability of altering outcomes for their child even more than a school can. Foundation skills learnt earlier on prevent many school problems. Most childhood communication, literacy, emotional, behavioural and social problems can usually be attributed to the parent with the exception of congenital conditions such as down syndrome, stuttering and cerebral palsy.
What is your educational background?
I attended Pwani Academy in Mombasa and Moi Forces Academy- Lanet. I did my A-levels at Curlin University of Technology in Australia between 1998-2001. I then attended Canterbury University in New Zealand between 2001 to 2004, where I did my degree in Communication Disorders, majoring in speech therapy.
I got interested in the profession because of my younger sister who is deaf. I then worked in New Zealand for about two years before moving to Australia where I worked for four years. Afterwards, I decided to come back home to make a bigger difference.
What is your biggest challenge?
Speech therapy is a relatively new field in the country yet it has potential to impact greatly on economic growth. Most people either know nothing about what we do or have a limited idea of what our scope of practice is.
There are at least eight speech therapists in the country and each with their respective area of specialisation. Whilst this is a comparatively small number for the entire population, people are slowly learning about benefits of a speech therapist. Hopefully, increased demand will encourage more people consider pursuing the field and/or facilitate the development of the course at our local universities.
If you realise that your child has a communication disorder or he/she is diagnosed with Down syndrome or cerebral palsy, the best thing to do is to get help as early as possible. Sometimes we get kids who have Down syndrome or autism and they are brought at the age of nine, which is a little too late.
The best age to bring a child is usually at eighteen months. As a parent, you need to be alert so you can know when to go for help. If your instincts are telling you something is off, just go and see a speech therapist.
What do you love about your job?
My job has put me on a platform where I can help both children and adults to maximise their potential.
Against the odds
I was born with sickle cell anaemia. I was diagnosed when I was only three years old. The tests that were carried at the hospital showed that it was sickle cell anaemia — it’s a disease of the blood. It gets its name because a person’s red blood cells are shaped like sickles (farm tool with a curved, sharp edge for cutting), or crescent moons, instead of their usual round, disc shape.