Sirlon George photographed at The Speech and Language Holistic Therapy Service in San Fernando. Makeup by Shenelle Escayg, photography by Mark Lyndersay

Originally published in Express Woman, April 09, 2017

My name is Sirlon George and I am a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) by profession. I studied at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale Florida, and have been an SLP for over 10 years. I have a passion and love for working with families and their young children with disabilities and I specialize in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

ASD is a social communication disorder that interferes with how a child interacts and communicates with people and their understanding of the world around them. I also work with young children with disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome and other disabilities that can and may affect a child’s ability to effectively communicate, including stuttering.

I run and own The Speech and Language Holistic Therapy Service (SLHTS) and I am the co-owner of the Right Start (RS) Early Intervention Program for Children with Autism. At the SLHTS I work closely with the families and their child on a one to one basis. RS incorporates a pre-school setting along with methods specifically designed towards the best learning outcome for a pre-school child with ASD.

Most families I see for speech and language therapy are referred by a Pediatrician. Others suspect that their child is not communicating as well as they should be, while others who have a child with a disability, feel hopeful that something can be done to help their child communicate.

When I first see a family, I do a case history on both the child and the family. The case history gives me background information about the child’s development from birth to present. I formally assess the child using age appropriate tests. If I cannot do formal testing because of the severity of the disorder, I use clinical observations and judgment to get enough information for therapy goals.

Sirlon George photographed at The Speech and Language Holistic Therapy Service in San Fernando. Makeup by Shenelle Escayg, photography by Mark Lyndersay

Sirlon George photographed at The Speech and Language Holistic Therapy Service in San Fernando. Makeup by Shenelle Escayg, photography by Mark Lyndersay. Click to enlarge.

I combine my clinical findings along with parent input to set therapy goals. Most parents want their child “to talk”, “To tell me what they want”, “To communicate just like other children”. It is important to me that the parents are part of the therapeutic process.

Therapy therefore involves the client, their parents and me doing Parent Coaching. My clients see me at least twice a week for speech and language therapy. Each session we work on the goals that were set out at the initial assessment. The parents are then given time during the session, to work on therapy goals with their own child, while I parent coach.

Parent coaching involves the parents mirroring what they see me do. I instruct and guide them while they work with their child. We video tape the session and then review, critique and decide what can be done better next time. I find that once the parents are actually involved in therapy, they grow to believe and understand the therapy process better and become vested in their child’s success.

I have met so many awesome families over the years. Kids with ASD are unique in how they present. No two children with ASD are the same. It’s a complex and misunderstood disorder. ASD affects the child’s ability to meaningfully communicate. Order and structure is very important for children with ASD. To help with order and structure, I use a visual schedule during each session.

A visual schedule shows a picture that represents each activity that we will do in therapy. It offers understanding of what is being said, it is a symbol of meaning, it sets order and predictability and it offers choices. All these elements add up to what speech, language and communication is all about! In our every day lives we use visuals to manouvre the world. Try going through a day without saying a word.

Try going through that and then imagine you are in a new and unfamiliar place and looking for the restroom. What do you look for? That picture of the woman or man on the door. VISUALS are everywhere! We depend on them more than we think.

Each family is unique and come with unique challenges. However, families all have the same wants and needs. What I have learned is that they all want their children to fit in, be accepted, be respected. We live in a culture that is now slowly understanding, accepting and trying to respect those with disabilities.

I am a keen advocate in educating the public about early childhood communication disorders and the importance of getting their child into therapy, sooner than later. Early intervention can change the way a child progresses from birth to early childhood in all areas, including speech development and social development.

The families benefit as they learn early on how to meet the needs of their child. The society benefits if we are able to treat and educate at an early age, because the young child can grow into a more independent and hopefully self-reliant adult. It is crucial that we get more trained educators and more early intervention programs to work with children with disabilities. If these things are in place, we will also need for the Ministry of Health and Education to work collaboratively.

They can both have programs and services that filter through the hospitals and schools in a systematic way that allow for our families to access to professionals and programs that will work with their child with a disability.

We have lots of work to do in Trinidad and Tobago as far as our community of children and young people with disabilities are concerned. In the mean time I will continue to do the work I know I was put here to do. I love being an SLP! I am truly blessed, honored and filled with gratitude to work with the families and children that I see on a daily basis.

The production of the Footsoldiers segment of the Lioness Project series, highlighting the experiences of 12 workers in the disability field, is supported by the Cause an Effect Organisation, the Massy Foundation and A Very Special Disabilities Forum.