Helping Your Child With Articulation Problems
Maraheb Al-Qallaf is a speech-language pathologist specializing in identifying and treating children with delayed speech and language, as well as feeding and swallowing disorders.
Maraheb has worked at multiple hospitals and speech, language and hearing centers during her studies, leading her to develop a special interest in working with school-aged children.
Her areas of expertise include articulation disorder, cerebral palsy, auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, global developmental delay, and genetic disorders. Maraheb is also a certified member of the American Speech & Hearing Association, where she received the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC-SLP). We had great pleasure interviewing Maraheb this month for our readers and learn more about her profession.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I am Maraheb Al-Qallaf. I am a speech-language pathologist. I am passionate about my work, driven to help my clients, and determined to achieve my goals.
Tell us about your education.
I completed my bachelor degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders in Boston, Massachusetts. Then, I moved to New York State to earn my Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology. I am also certified by American Speech-Language and Hearing Association where I received the certificate of clinical competence.
Studying in such diverse cities helped me to appreciate different backgrounds and cultures, especially to make more individualized treatment plans for my clients. Studying abroad has arisen an interest in learning languages. I broadened my horizon by learning the dynamics of some languages, and understanding how bilinguals and multi-linguals are able to use all of the languages they know.
What inspired or motivated you to choose this as your area of study?
As a child I was fascinated by medical and healthcare sciences and humanitarian work. Fortunately, Speech-Language Pathology gave me exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to make a difference in a person’s daily life, quality of life, and also help others to communicate and express their wants and needs.
What exactly is Speech and language therapy? What are some of the disorders and conditions that your address?
Language includes comprehending incoming information; How we understand a speaker’s message, how we understand written information, facial expression, body language, and voice tone. Language also includes expression which means how we use words and voice tone to make meaningful sentences or ask questions. Unlike speech which has frequently been confused with language. In our field, speech means how we pronounce sounds in words and say fluent and flawless sentences.
As a speech-language pathologist, I see many speech and language delays caused by medical conditions such as ear infections, especially in children. We work with cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), genetic disorders like Down syndrome and more. We also work on pronunciation errors and disfluencies such as stuttering.
Speech therapists who work with adults usually try to restore the ability to communicate after brain injuries due to car accidents; In addition to neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s and strokes, and surgical removal of the voice box.
Do you cater to all ages?
Speech-Language pathology service is available for all ages. However, I work mostly with children as it is my passion ever since I got into the field.
What is your area of specialization?
I specialize in early identification of language delays. I believe that screening language skills at an early age is very critical. A child’s brain is similar to a sponge; it absorbs information instantly and can be reshaped flawlessly. The sooner the onset of intervention creates a higher chance to improve. Unlike the “wait and see” method which reduces those chances dramatically.
Parents who are new to the world of speech therapy can often feel pretty overwhelmed. What advice would you give to them?
Taking the step to come for speech therapy means that parents took the right decision willingly with courage. It is a big decision to ask a specialist for guidance to understand what they faced and what they will face. It is healthy to feel overwhelmed and it is healthy to feel stressed and lost because we are talking about a child with an indefinite future. Therefore, It is our job as therapists to support children and their families and prepare them for handling bigger decisions.
Over the course of a week what is a normal number of patients or individuals that you would interact with?
I roughly see 40 children a week including their parents. I usually see the same child twice a week.
Kids tend to progress best with a combination of speech therapy sessions and at-home speech therapy activities. What types of activities do you encourage parents to do with their kids at home to encourage speech and language development?
Kids want their parents to be “loving parents” not teachers. Therefore, I prefer that they engage in fun and natural home activities such as baking cookies, making pizza, art and crafts, gardening, doing laundry…etc as we can incorporate therapy goals within. As an example, we want to teach a child opposites like big/small, clean/dirty, wet/dry, hot/cold… we can add the concept while doing the activities by saying “This cookie is hot out of the oven” or “Would you like a big pizza or a small pizza?”
How much of a child’s success do you think is dependent on the parent and how the parent is involved?
Success rate increases with parental involvement. Children spend most of their time with their caregivers at home. Attending speech therapy would be technically an hour a week. Therefore, I encourage parents to accompany their children so I could give them feedback on how to practice therapy goals at home. At times, I observe parent-child interaction to give feedback on how to fix errors.
What are your thoughts about group therapy vs. one-on-one? Which works best for which types of kids?
Depends on the child’s skills and needs. Teaching the skill individually is perfect because the attention is on the child only, no distraction. As an example, a child is working on “taking turns” during conversations exclusively with his therapist. The child can generalize this learned concept in group. He/she can either join group therapy directed by a clinician or simply practice it in school with his friends (still considered as a group). The child can have an opportunity to observe others taking turns and eventually participates. The combination of both would be the best action to fully achieve the skill.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Every patient I treat is interesting. I treated an amazing boy who started speech therapy when he was only 3 years old. I remember he used echo me whenever I said something- he repeated exactly what I said. We worked together on understanding instructions and understanding statements and questions. We also worked on developing vocabulary words to make short sentences and to answer questions. Currently, he reads books independently and discusses many topics. I am very proud of him and proud of his supportive parents. This boy is 6 years old now and promoted to Grade 1.
What would you say has been the most difficult part of your job?
During my studies in the United states and working experience in Kuwait, I interacted with many people from different cultures. They are all different but we all agreed that we needed to support their loved ones by getting high quality intervention. Therefore, the hardest thing to do is trying to change the mindset of others to accept the current situation and function with the available options- it is like going on a rollercoaster ride of accepting and not accepting the decision that children can be different.
What is the most rewarding part?
My reward as a therapist is seeing my clients say their first words and see their families happy with the therapy results. Enrolling into speech therapy program is a journey that needs patience, commitment, appreciation and flexibility. It is an indescribable feeling.
How do you manage work and life balance?
I make sure to have a routine everyday. I set my priorities by planning and managing my time. I stay active physically and socially to enjoy my time and have fun with my friends and family.
What are some of your hobbies?
I like to use all of my senses to fully engage in baking ,making natural soap and play jigsaw puzzle. Those are my favorite things to do to relieve stress.
What message would you give to parents who are raising a hearing-impaired child?
Embrace your child. Show your child your unconditional love. Every child is different and I am definitely sure that your child has a special talent but needs your guidance to release it. Keep supporting your child by following up with his/her treatment plan and intervention.
Your message for us at CP magazine.
Thank you for giving me this amazing opportunity. I would like to encourage every parent to overcome their fears about their children. Trust your gut to address your concerns with a specialist. The sooner the better 🙂
INTERVIEWED BY: JAMEEL ARIF (@jameelarif)
PHOTOGRAPHY: RIYAS (@riyas.photokw)