For Ajit Harisinghani, becoming a speech therapist had never been an obvious career choice. He was forced into this alternative profession after failing to make it to any of the MBBS courses. But it did not take him long to develop a deep interest in this challenging and hugely satisfying field. Today, as the director of the Speech Foundation in Pune, Harisinghani’s professional graph is peppered with several accolades and interesting experiences. He has written several articles, authored a book and shot two short films on stammering. His trips to various countries helped him pick up fluency development techniques, which he has introduced in his own therapy. Working as a speech therapist, he helps people overcome speech disorders.
Much to his amusement, he was once even called a godman by villagers after he restored the lost voice of a village woman. “It was quite easy. I just tricked the woman into coughing and then it was easier to make her say a few more things,” tells Harisinghani.
Like him, you too can make a difference in the lives of many people. Speech and language therapists diagnose and treat people with hearing problems and speech impairments
Speech disorders can be of various kinds — delayed speech during childhood, stammering, disorders arising from injuries or congenital defects such as autism, cerebral palsy and cleft palate.
A speech therapist has to first assess the problem and then begin treatment. “It is not a tailor-made therapy, rather a custom-made one. For instance, for a child with a stuttering problem, we begin with the exercise of lips, the tongue and the jaw, along with breathing techniques. In about 15-20 sessions, we manage to get the flow of speech,” says Sanjiv Adlakha, who runs a speech clinic in south Delhi.
Speech therapists have to maintain records on the progress of patients. They often need to develop and implement personalised treatment programmes based on inputs by the physician and psychologists. When there is a psychological reason behind the disorder, therapists also have to counsel patients and family members. “The progress is usually gradual. So it is very important for a speech therapist to be patient, persevering and dedicated,” says Adlakha. It helps if you have good communication skills, speech clarity and good diction.
Today, there is a great demand for speech and hearing professionals in India as well as abroad. They can work in hospitals, schools, special schools, rehabilitation centres, in universities or even open their own clinic. Multinational companies (MNCs) that deal with cochlear implants and hearing devices also appoint speech therapists. “MNCs are a regular feature at our campus interviews,” says J.C. Gupta, assistant director of the Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped, Delhi branch.
While a speech therapist at a hospital begins with a salary of Rs 5,000 to Rs 7,000 a month, a fresher at an MNC could draw anywhere between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000 a month.
The speech therapy course is offered in India at both the diploma and degree levels. You can either opt for the composite BSc programme in speech and hearing or a bachelors in audiology and speech language pathology (BASLP). The postgraduate programmes include an MSc in speech and hearing (MASLP), MSc (audiology) and MSc (speech language pathology). Some of the best institutes are the All India Institute of Speech and Hearing, Mysore University; the Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped, Bandra, Mumbai; the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh; TN Medical College, BYL Nair Charitable Hospital, Mumbai; University of Osmania, Hyderabad and University of Madras, Chennai.
All these courses include a year of internship. “Students are exposed to many hours of clinical training at the out-patient department of the hospital,” says Dharam Vir, tutor of speech and language therapy, PGIMER.
Of course, the best part of being a speech therapist is the immense satisfaction that one gets on seeing the progress made by patients. “In fact, my patients are my biggest motivators,” says Adlakha.