Join Robert Serianni, MS, CCC-SLP, FNAP, the chair and program director of the department of Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) at Salus University, as he moderates a podcast that focuses on The Inspiration Center, a community therapy organization in the country of Belize, where physical, occupational and speech therapists work with the families in Belize with children from birth through 16 years of age. He is joined by the students and the speech pathologists from the program who had the opportunity to cross borders to provide speech pathology care in areas of great need:
- Patricia Martin Mayro, MA, CCC-SLP
- John Rose, MS, CCC-SLP/L
- Grace Granahan ‘22SLP
- Sarah Hann ‘22SLP
- Kaci Swift ‘22SLP
A little bit of perspective from our students – why you chose to come to Salus' program?
When I was initially looking at graduate programs, I had heard a lot of really great things about Salus' clinic, and obviously classes are super important, but I'm not a big classroom learner. I'm a big experience learner. I thought if they have a really great clinic, I'm sure I will learn a lot and it would just help me gain the clinical skills to be a better SLP.
When I was researching graduate programs, what really stood out to me about Salus was the opportunities for early clinical exposure. They offer a lot of groups and volunteer opportunities outside of the classroom, and it really challenges you to develop your clinical skills, so that stood out to me. And then when I interviewed at Salus, all of the faculty was just very nice and welcoming, and they really demonstrated that they were there to collaborate with us and support us in becoming SLPs
I would agree with Sarah and Grace; the early clinical experience is really a game changer. I would also say that the layout of the program really drew me to Salus. It's a little more fast-paced, but I think that almost forces you to learn and keep up, and throws you right in with clients.
I'm going to turn to our supervisors – tell our audience a little bit about The Inspiration Center program and what sort of services we were able to provide for the center.
Our graduate students from the Salus SLP Program volunteered to work with the clients from The Inspiration Center in Belize. The Director of The Inspiration Center started our experience by giving us, both the students and the clinical educators, an orientation to the cultures of Belize, and the appropriate ways of interacting with different cultural groups in the country, which was so valuable for us because that's an experience that we really needed. We were unfamiliar, for the most part, with Belize, and we really needed an education on what the cultural groups in the country were like.
After our orientation, we then were scheduled to meet via WebEx with the families and the children who needed speech-language intervention. It was a win-win situation for us because our Salus students gained a lot of knowledge and experience working online with people of another country and another culture, and another dialect of English even.
Our Inspiration Center families benefited from accessing speech-language therapy for their children. It's very difficult to access speech-language therapy in their country because there's only one SLP in the country of Belize. So, it was a great opportunity for the families and it was a great opportunity for our students, and our clinical educators as well.
Some of the children who we worked with had pretty mild difficulty. Speech sound disorders, having trouble pronouncing certain words, things like that, while others had more significant disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder, that kind of permeated their whole ability to communicate.
We had a wide range of disorders we worked with. Some children had physical disorders, like cerebral palsy, so they had difficulty with their musculature and it became challenging in an online environment to work with some of these difficulties. But we found that we were able to coach parents on strategies to use at home.
We developed such a nice rapport with the families that they were able to ask us questions, and try as best as they could to implement things we suggested online and demonstrated to them online. It really was a win-win situation for both our Salus family and the families in Belize.
Turning to our students, what were some of the things that you were able to accomplish with your clients and their families?
One of the main things that Trish and I focused on in the summer semester was parent coaching. So, establishing a really great rapport with the parents and helping them carry that over into their everyday life. Our sessions are 30 minutes, which seems like a decent amount of time, but at the end of the day their parents are the ones who are going to be able to carry over everything we're doing in speech, into their everyday life, and eventually meet the goals they hope to.
There is one family Trish and I worked with and his mother was absolutely amazing, and she just made everything seem very easy. Her relationship with her child was just effortless, and we know he's going to do great in the future.
We had the advantage of being in the child's home because we were there virtually, and just working side by side with the parents during their daily activities, such as mealtime and providing strategies for language stimulation during those everyday activities, because that's really where the language learning occurs.
Something that really stuck out to me was the dedication and the appreciation of our services that the parents showed. I remember a caregiver who watches three other kids in their home, logged onto a session while she was trying to balance all the other responsibilities that were going on behind it, while managing a speech therapy session. That really just showed how much they valued the SLP services we were providing, because as Trish mentioned, they only have one other SLP in the country.
All of the families I worked with, they were great. Some instances, it was fun. The focus was more about parent coaching and in a way, almost counseling rather than actual therapy activities with the child. We did a lot of early intervention activities with some of my clients. It was a lot of introducing sign language, little online games, a lot of Old MacDonald and Baby Shark, and all those fun songs. But I just think the parents were absolutely amazing.
I was lucky enough to work, I think with all three of you and the creativity that you brought to these very challenging sessions, I have to compliment you. I have to say, some of these were the most challenging intervention sessions I've ever been part of. I believe we might have done a consultation with a family in a moving automobile at one point.
John, how did these TIC experiences really help prepare our students for externship, and beyond into their clinical practice?
I was really thinking about how the experience helped me. Number one, dealing with different cultures and learning about different cultures. As speech pathologists, we really take a role in learning about different cultures and communities in the U.S., but then whenever you completely go out of your comfort zone, especially virtually, it's definitely a shock. That cultural competence is very, very important, especially now.
The second thing that I really noticed, why I chose speech pathology, was it's a perfect mix of art and science. And whenever you have that third component of using a computer in multimedia to perform your therapy, that really emphasizes the art and the science behind your particular treatment.
All the students that I've worked with have been so creative and just so hardworking and diligent, but also having that ability to measure, "Okay, this doesn't necessarily work. We have to change this up." So, very flexible.
Which brings me to my third thing, flexibility. A lot of speech pathologists, I myself, have to work on flexibility sometimes. The students were fabulous, they were very flexible. Like you said, working in an automobile or working with a parent that says, "Well, I want to do A, B and C," and then giving them those techniques and skills to help their child on their end.
That was really the goal when we were creating this program to give students a cultural immersion experience, right from the comfort of our own homes. The ideas of bringing that, the clinical skills, the parent coaching, the professional skills of creativity and flexibility have really been what we've wanted to expose our students to, for them to be able to carry into their externships and their professional lives.