The joys of working in Dubai is the multitude of nationalities you meet and the various settings you get to work at. You hear different perspectives and learn ways to circumnavigate through it. Having worked across special needs centers, private centers, and mainstream schools, I’ve witnessed the inclusion curve in Dubai.
The most I’ve enjoyed working in and still do is schools. In the beginning, I was a nervous wreck to go and provide services in schools. I was stepping into an uncharted territory. The school team, parents, and children all under one roof. Talk about multi-tasking your emotions. Being present, being polite and being calm. It was inundating and exciting.
In a private center, the clients come to you because they are aware of the need for assessment or therapy. You see them in the comfort of your therapy rooms. Nevertheless, in schools the scenario changes. Most of the time, parents are not aware of their child’s speech and language challenges until the school highlights it. Reason being, schools are the learning and thriving grounds.
Then, it is a journey you undertake with them. The questions, the importance of intervention and the most relevant one being “cost of intervention”. In majority parts of the world, these services come as a by product of being a citizen of that country and is government funded. However, in this part of the world, we are mostly expatriates trying to live a safe, secure and good life. On the flip side, parents have to bear the costs of intervention.
The meaningful relationships you built in schools is instrumental in the success of your program. Therefore, my blog-post today is to share my experiences and resources that have helped me in schools and still do.
- Meet the A- Team. I always schedule a time to go and meet the school team before commencing my services. This includes the SENCo’s (special education needs coordinator ) and other faculty. Every school has it’s own values and culture. So it is worth your time to research about them.
- Behave as a “communicator” rather than a “speaker”. Speakers merely report and listen for a pause in the conversation, so they can speak again. On the contrary, communicators think out loud with and listen to content of team members and put the pieces together to create meaningful, comprehensive and collaborative plans. This applies to any meetings in schools with parents and teachers.
- Relationship with Teachers. Building a professional relationship is a process. It does not happen overnight. We have to take steps forward and backward. Find a teacher that you admire with regards to interaction with children, from whom you can both learn and impart knowledge to. If one teacher gets positive results from you, then she is likely to recommend you to others.
- Go figure. Yes, we don’t have the answers to all the questions we encounter. I’ve had the privilege to work with teachers who are there to help and acknowledge that we are not perfect. It is a relaxed and trusting relationship.
- Help teachers see you as being part of their team, rather an outsider. When teachers see that you are genuinely there to offer help and learn, they are more receptive. Notwithstanding the fact, you cannot push a teacher relationship that is not working. It is natural for some classroom collaborations not to work and that’s OK. You can still help children and keep the lines of communication open.
- Keep it curriculum based. I have found more success in keeping my therapy both individual goals based and the lessons done in the classroom on a weekly basis. The benefit has been many fold. For e.g. If the topic for the week is a story called “Handa’s Surprise”. Then, I pre-teach the vocabulary using visuals, speech sounds from the story, using hand puppets and simplified language based on the current level of the child. All this provides a multi-modality learning for the child. This differentiated work done in my session is a confidence booster for the child. Since the child was exposed to the vocabulary earlier, he/she can comprehend the story better and even participate in the lesson with confidence in the classroom. It serves the purpose of using language in a functional way.
- Parent Collaborations. They are not always smooth. Students on your caseload are parents ‘babies’ no matter how old the child is. Remember that emotions and reactive strategies can complicate communication.
- Listen with Empathy. Five minutes of active and respectful listening will enhance the clinician-parent relationship more than 15 minutes of talk. Parents will only listen to you, if you listen to them.
- Be sensitive to cultural differences. The other day, I attended an International Day Event in my daughter’s nursery. I was amazed that her small nursery had 60 nationalities. So diverse is Dubai. Hence, we respect that diversity. I’ve had parents request me not to do activities on “Birthday’s” because culturally they don’t celebrate it. I am creative enough to tweak my lessons and change the contexts to teach the concepts.
- Avoid the “Mumbo jumbo”. We all get engrossed in our professional jargon that we tend to forget that parents and other family members may not be aware of the difference between receptive and expressive language. It is important to simplify the terms. Receptive language is the language that he/she understands. For e.g. If you say “Point to a spoon”. Is he /she able to do that? Expressive language is the language he/she says themselves. For e.g. Can they say or use the word spoon, when they see a spoon?
- Sit beside parents rather than across them. I’ve found this strategy very helpful. We always tend to sit across them as though we are two separate teams. The parents Vs the professionals. Take a chair and sit beside them, because we are one team.
- Often when parents are upset, it has more to do with a particular situation rather than the clinician. Respond with empathy.
Schools are the prime places to provide speech and language services, because everyday is an opportunity for the child to exercise and sharpen their communication skills with finesse.
So always grab the opportunity to work in schools.
- The North Carolina Guidelines For Speech Language Pathology Services in School. Free downloadable PDF available online.
- The Survival Guide For School-Based Speech Language Pathologists By Ellen Pritchard Dodge