Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 31st 2016 Contents 12|
By Roslyn Carrington
SIRLON GEORGE is a Speech Lan-
guage Pathologist (SLP) with a pri-
vate practice in Vistabella. She works
with young children with a range of
disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder
(ASD), Down syndrome and cerebral
palsy. Many of her clients are under
five years old, and most have commu-
nication disorders, including not using
words to communicate or using words
but not up to their age level, or those
WOW: How did you get into this
When I was an undergrad in New
York, I wanted to work in education
and started a major in elementary ed-
ucation. I always wanted to work with
little ones. Someone told me about
speech therapy, which I had never
heard of before. So I researched it. I
then found a speech therapist working
with pre-schoolers, and asked if I could
sit in on his sessions. I immediately
changed my major, and changed
schools, from Queen's College to Nova
South Eastern University in Fort Laud-
erdale. I haven't regretted it.
WOW: What are
you doing now?
Apart from my private practice, I run
Right Start early intervention program
for children with Autism, with my
partner, Donnella Rodriguez. Right
Start is located in St. James. It's a very
small pre-school programme, espe-
cially designed for children with
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
We take in eight kids per term. They
come daily from eight to one, and like
a pre-school the kids are involved in
learning preschool skills, with modifi-
cations to the curriculum to suit a
child with ASD. We have been running
Right Start for the last four years.
I refer to organisations like CKFTO
(Caribbean Kids and Families Therapy
Organisation) and Therapy Works,
which provide Occupational Therapy. If
they get a child who needs speech
therapy they may refer them to me; if
I get a child who needs occupational
therapy, I refer to them.
WOW: What are the biggest chal-
lenges with Right Start?
Funding. It takes time and money to
run a specialized programme. Also,
finding qualified staff to work with the
kids. We are the only early interven-
tion program for young children with
ASD in Trinidad. We keep the stan-
dards up so it doesn't become a baby-
sitting service. From the moment the
kids walk in they are at work.
WOW: Is there a special age at
which parents should bring their
I believe in early intervention. The
sooner we get children into the ther-
apy they need, the better the results
in the long run.
WOW: There aren't a lot of people in
Trinidad who do what you do, are
there? I guess
because down here it doesn't pay?
Yes. Most of the SLPs in Trinidad are
in private practice. We don't have
speech therapists in the public schools
or hospital. And it's not just about the
money; it's the resources that we need
that are lacking. Whereas in the
States, UK and Canada SLPs are part
of a multi-disciplinary team.
WOW: What's the
fallout from that?
I have children coming to me in my
practice who are eight or nine, and for
the first time in their lives I am the
first professional they are seeing for
therapy. They aren't talking or their
communication skills are non-existent.
WOW: How do
Some get help from Student Support
Services through the Ministry of Edu-
cation, or the medical social work de-
partment through the Ministry of
Health. There are doctors who would
see them in their clinic, and identify
that the child has speech or language
issues. Then they refer them to me. I
see them, evaluate them, and report
that they need speech therapy. There
is a special fund that provides pay-
ment for speech therapy up to a year.
However, once the funding has ended,
so will therapy.
WOW: That's not enough?
No! A child who has, say, cerebral palsy
or ASD may need therapy for the rest
of their life. Some parents try to reap-
ply, and have been turned down. I have
parents who have raised funds
through charities, but it is a lot of
groundwork and lots for a parent to
WOW: Tell us about an
experience that left an
impression on you.
I have a little girl who suffered compli-
cations during surgery. She was brain
damaged and now has very low vision,
and is unable to eat or walk. But I
never say, "I can't help". I always ask
myself, "What can I do to help this
child be able to communicate even
basic wants and needs?" I always ask
the parents what they would want for
their child. They wanted for their child
to be able to communicate to them in
some way. So I used what is called Al-
ternative Augmentative Communica-
tion, another means of
communicating. In this case I used a
low-tech device called a talk button,
where you can record short message
and it plays back. I played and sang
"The Wheels on the Bus" for her. She
started smiling. She eventually learned
to push the button on her own. In
other words she communicated a
"want". Mom and dad were ecstatic.
Mom and Dad work very hard at
home with her. God bless them!
WOW: How does your job not make
you break down and cry?
I don't see the kids as if they have a
disability; they're kids. There is a little
spirit inside them; your disability isn't
who you are. You're a human being,
and you need to be treated as such.
Sirlon George can be reached at sir-
email@example.com or call 487-9442.
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