The Gift of Speech

10th April 2013

The Gift of Speech

One thing each and every one of us takes for granted is the gift of speech. Speech is our ability to communicate with others, build relationships and express ourselves - yet have you ever wondered what life would be like if you lost this gift?

Dr Sneh Latakabra is the Speech Pathologist at SDMH and for the last 16 years has been restoring speech to those who suffer various speech afflictions such as stuttering, inability to produce vowels and other impediments to a person's fluent speech in Rajasthan.

As I sit in her office her face weaves a concerned look as she tells me of the problems that cleft lip and palate sufferers face in relation to speech.

"Prior to surgery, cleft patients experience severe hyper-nasality (air escaping through the nose as they speak and sounding overly nasal), they have poor articulation and language delay." She explains.

"Our first step is to do an assessment and identify the lagging areas in speech in the patient." Dr Latakabra outlines.

"Parental counseling is often important and we teach parents various techniques and exercises that they can do with their children whilst at home." She said. Exercises range from blowing, palate and tongue exercises, including vocabulary expansion.

"For example, it's important for parents to make sure they do not respond to gestures and that language is used to communicate to ensure patients practice."

But exactly how does speech therapy work and what do you do? I ask. She struggles to adequately express and describe how she works with various patients and decides it is best to call one in and show me.

Ashok Sant enters the room and in the most gentleman-like manner, greets me through stuttered words. Ashok is a 16year old Computer Science Student from Jaipur who has a debilitating and isolating speech disorder, including stutter, language delay and misarticulation.

As he introduces himself and asks me questions in Hindi, I am amazed at the clarity Dr Latakabra evokes through simple rhythmic gestures to get him to slow his speech, put words together and think through their articulation. His speech clears miraculously and his beautiful words flow out seamlessly.

Already there is a marked change in his confidence, his pronunciation and his ability to connect with people around him. And this is only his 2nd speech therapy session - this is the power of the therapy!

When asked why she is driven to dedicate her life to restoring the gift of speech to people, Dr Sneh breaks into a broad smile.

"It makes me feel good about helping someone."

Patients at the Comprehensive Cleft Care Centre in Jaipur receive post-operative speech therapy as a free service, thanks to the combined efforts of SDMH, Operation Smile and the Rajasthan Royals. 

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