“The most Gracious (Allah)! He has taught (you mankind) the Quran (by His Mercy). He created man. He taught him eloquent speech…” (Ar-Rahman 55:1-4)
Indeed, Alhumdulillah, for most of us talking and hearing comes naturally. In fact, we don’t even consider it an extraordinary skill. let alone a blessing to be grateful for. However, in Pakistan’s population of over 155 million there are approximately 20 million people suffering from communication, swallowing and/or hearing disorders.
How does it feel not to be able to hear the birds sing or the waves lap against the shore? What does it mean not to be able to enjoy delicious Biryani or Haleem? Can we understand the frustration one feels, when he or she is unable to express, let alone talk or sing? No, we don’t and most of the time we offer some pity and move on with our lives.
However, there are some individuals who could have done the same but Allah chose them to serve His creation – and that’s exactly what they are tasked to. An extremely busy man, Dr. A. G. Billoo, has a prominent name in the pediatrics world and also chairs the position of Vice President at Speech & Hearing Association of Pakistan (SHAP). Ziauddin University and SHAP have established the first ever Speech Language Therapy Training School (SLTTS), where clinics have been operational since May of 2006.
Nestled in a corner stands SLTTS’ modest building near Ziauddin Hospital, Clifton. You may have driven past it several times without noticing it probably. I know I had. It is the people and their purpose that make it so remarkable. Once inside, you will learn that it is a sound treated and air-conditioned custom built structure, occupying a 5000 square feet of space and offering multiple opportunities for the disabled.
I arrived at SLTTS at 3:00 pm as per my appointment, anticipating the usual wait that would follow. Surprisingly, almost immediately I was ushered into the quiet and serene passage leading to many rooms. Here, I was warmly greeted by a beaming Amina Asif Siddiqui – the in-charge coordinator of SLTTS. Hailing from Mumbai, Amina is a renowned speech language therapist and audiologist, who has helped hundreds of patients overcome multiple speech, language and hearing related challenges.
Right away, she led us into another dimly lit quiet passage with chairs lined up against the wall and facing a huge see-through glass, where a class was in session. However, this class had just one patient – an old gentleman working along young Dr. Mariam H. Syeda, an MSc. in speech language pathology from Boston. The class participants were not aware of our presence due to the tinted glass in between; however, we could observe them quietly.
Amina explained that this was their observation gallery, where family members of patients were seated to observe the teaching skills and techniques that the therapists applied to their patients. After class, the patient’s relatives (parents, spouses, children, etc.) would apply the same teaching methods at home as an extended day to day learning. Eventually, over time they themselves would become equipped for effective communication with the patient. In case of young patients, sometimes therapists sat in the observation gallery to observe how parents communicated with their kids.
For children, they have a specially furnished space with toys called Play Therapy Room for the purpose of providing experiential language skills. The therapy offered here helps parents to transfer and carry over the learnt skills into day to day life
Our next stop was at the Audiology Room, another sound proof room with double wooden doors to ensure that all external noise is blocked. With specialized equipment and techniques, Dr. Najum-ul Haq, a clinical audiologist from Australia, ascertains the auditory thresholds of patients. This is followed by the language therapy recommended to the patient.
Amina explains: “The sooner a child’s disability is diagnosed, the faster we can get to work. In foreign countries, hospitals are equipped to test babies at birth for speech and hearing related deficiencies. Unfortunately, in Pakistan the youngest baby that can be detected of such disorders at SLTTS is 6-7 months of age. Indirect therapy may be commenced as early as 3 months of age – the baby’s parents can be taught appropriate strategies of communication. 1 ½ to 2 years is the most suitable age to work with for successful results in therapy. But most of the time parents bring their kids much later than that, and it is difficult to train kids, yet not impossible, as miracles do happen.”
Speaking of miracles, I asked: “How does the team remain so dedicated and motivated?” Dr. Maryam answered: “The patients’ families fight against all circumstances. It’s their love for the patient and trust in the therapist that make miracles happen. There have been patients, who were hit in the worse imaginable traffic accidents and were reduced to a flattened body. With uncompromising patience and months of hard work the patients get revived and recovered. From a limp and lifeless body to a newly restored person – Allah (swt) grants them a new life!”
A very significant part of their therapy also comprises of pulling the patients out of depression and trauma, especially in cases, where patients were not born with disabilities but gradually developed them or suddenly met with an accident. They were fluently speaking and simply stopped talking one day. It’s like losing an ability instantly and learning to develop and use it all over again.
Patience is an integral part of their therapy. Dr. Maryam shared a case, in which it took her six sessions to get her patient just to lick a blob of ketchup sitting on his upper lip with the help of using the tip of his tongue.
Lastly, we visited the Voice Therapy Room with equipment imported from abroad through donations of individuals from our community. This highly specialized equipment is used to evaluate and treat disorders of voice and speech, such as inappropriate pitch, nasality and even stammering.
I was also informed about a monumental milestone of SHAP and ZU, which is a collaboration to establish and conduct the first four-year Bachelor’s programme in speech language therapy in Pakistan at Ziauddin University, Clifton, Karachi. Their aim is to increase awareness in the general public of the strengths and needs of people with communication difficulties.
Young girls and boys with completed A levels or HSC (pre-medical) and fluency in written and spoken English and Urdu have a promising future here. The students would receive clinical training at the hospital premises and in community settings along with a strong theoretical grounding. Upon completion, the students will be able to assess independently a variety of speech/language and swallowing disorders in adults and children. They will formulate functional goals and implement therapy procedures to facilitate communication skills and improve swallowing.
This programme will also offer SLTTS its future therapists, increasing the number of faculty members to meet the current demand. An additional objective is to offer therapy also in regional languages.
SLTTS has great aspirations and a qualified and diligent team. The community should come forward to help them reach those aspirations especially in case of finances. The equipment for therapy and evaluation costs Lakhs of Rupees. SLTTS has the expertise, and they strive to bring it to all those disabled individuals out there regardless of financial stature. They do offer therapy to the under-privileged class too thus enabling them to live an independent and more fulfilling life. Please, support them. That’s what Momins do!
“-Say it is He Who has created you, and endowed you with hearing (ears) and seeing (eyes), and hearts. Little thanks you give.” (Al-Mulk 67:23)
Speech and language services offered by SLTTS
1) Aphasia (e.g., language disorders after stroke)
2) Articulation and phonological disorders
3) Communication deficits due to:
4) Autism (PDD), cerebral palsy, cleft palate/lip, Down’s syndrome, mental
5) retardation, hearing impairment
6) Communication after Laryngectomy
7) Cognitive / language deficit due to traumatic brain injury
8) Cognitive rehabilitation (attention, memory, awareness, Alzheimer’s, degenerative diseases)
9) Dysphagia (swallowing difficulties in infants and adults)
12) Voice disorders
Address: Plot # BC-06, Block – 1, KDA Scheme 5, Clifton, Karachi
Phone: 021-6011164 / 111-335-111