WSU faculty, students help orphans in China

(Mathew Sandoval, a senior in the SHS dept., modeling how to play and elicit language with children with special needs at the Hangzhou Children’s Welfare Institute)
Speech therapy is a relatively new field in China. In fact, the first department of speech therapy opened at a major university there in 1988. So, when a group of nine WSU students and three faculty members from the department of speech and hearing sciences traveled there for 10 days over spring break to train orphanage workers, they were pioneers.
“It’s experimental for us on this end, and it’s experimental for them on that end,” said Amy Meredith, an assistant professor of speech and language pathology and the coordinator of the trip.
Meredith, along with colleagues Carla Jones, clinical professor and director of the WSU Speech and Hearing Clinic, and Susan Forbes, an instructor and clinical supervisor, worked with three translators to present workshops on a variety of topics including screening for hearing loss, speech and language training for children with autism, how to feed children with physical impairments and ways to support speech through other communication strategies. In all of their workshops they were assisted by teams of WSU students.
(A classroom of children from the Shanghai Children’s Welfare Institute who are very happy to greet and pose for a picture for their American visitors)
While children in orphanages in China do have access to physical therapy and occupational therapy, Meredith said, training for speech therapists is extremely limited and tends to focus on the goal of clear speech without promoting language development.  “It’s not part of the culture to actually play with the children,” she said. “It’s more drill and repeat.”
“What we were trying to get across is that perfectly articulated speech is not going to happen for all children so you have to give them another way to communicate,” she said.
As it turned out, the WSU students provided an object lesson in how to communicate even when you can’t understand what the other person is saying.
(Julana Veliz, a post bac in the SHS dept., is modeling how to play and elicit language with children with special needs at the Hangzhou Children’s Welfare Institute)
“The language barrier wasn’t an issue,” said Tara Garland, 22, a senior in speech and hearing.  She and other students learned to count to 10 in Mandarin, and got pretty good at their colors, but much of their role was modeling animated, engaged, student-teacher interactions.
While the students enjoyed working with the Chinese children, their real focus was on giving caregivers and educators other strategies or other approaches.
At various times, both as part of the workshops and during tours of facilities, Meredith, Jones and Forbes were asked to do on-the-spot evaluations and suggest treatment strategies. While Meredith said that was a challenge, one of her students, Julana Veliz, 28, said it was a highlight of the trip.

(This is a boy at a center for children with Cerebral Palsy who is receiving treatment to help normalize the muscle tone in his legs)
“I really enjoyed watching the professors working with the clients,” she said. “We don’t get to see that very often.”
Basically, she said, it was one teachable moment after another.
And Garland agreed. “It was more than learning in the classroom,” she said. “It was experiential learning.”
Forbes, whose focus at WSU is early identification and intervention of hearing loss, said she was particularly gratified to be able to train the medical staff at the Hangzhou orphanage in how to use otoscopes (for looking inside the ear) and a screening audiometer that tests hearing.
“We felt like we were really making a difference,” she said. The WSU
group purchased and left with the orphanage five otoscopes and one portable audiometer.  Along with screening their own children regularly, the medical staff has plans to visit orphanages in more rural areas and share their knowledge and the new technology. “That was exciting, too,” she said.
Krista Burton playing with children at the Hangzhou Welfare Institute.
Meredith, who first developed an interest in China through a mentor at the University of Minnesota in Duluth, attended the First China International Speech Conference on Speech Therapy in 2007 in Beijing. (But that wasn’t her first trip to China. In 2006 Meredith traveled to Xining to adopt her daughter, Jasmine, who is now 4. Her son, Alisher, is 5.)
At the China conference, she said, the organizer of the event, Dr. Shengli Li, director of speech and hearing at Capital University of Medical Sciences, invited participants to return any time to help raise awareness about speech therapy issues.
“You always want to have an invitation,” Meredith said. “You don’t want to assume.”
That conference was in April, and by May Meredith was making plans to return. Contacts at the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation located the orphanages and clinics that wanted the foreign experts and made all of the in-country arrangements. In addition, the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation plans to do follow-up visits at the orphanage in Hangzhou to determine the long-term effect of the WSU visit.
(A group photo in Hangzhou while sightseeing around West Lake. Top row from left to right; Susan Forbes, Andrea Gates, Jessica Pope, Mallorie Olson, and Tara Garland. Bottom row: Kayla Kilpatrick, Mathew Sandoval, Krista Burton, and Julana Veliz)
Next year will be the Second China International Speech Conference, and Meredith plans to be there. She has been asked to do some consulting on adult rehabilitation, and if that works out she would like to bring one or two graduate students with her.  Even so, she would like to continue bringing undergraduate students abroad for international outreach projects such as this one every other year.
Meredith handled the logistics on this end, including making the trip an official WSU course so that it would meet the requirements of a  WSU faculty abroad program. She also spearheaded several student fundraising events that raised $8,000 for the trip. In the end, each WSU student paid about $1,300 for the 10-day trip. 



A group photo in front of the Bo Ai Centre for Children with Cerebral Palsy

in Shanghai.


Back row from left to right: Amy Meredith, Carla Jones, Julana Veliz, Mallorie Olson, Krista Burton, Susan Forbes, Mathew Sandoval, Jessica Pope, Tara Garland, Simon (interpreter) and Dr. Zhang Leyi (Shanghai coordinator). Bottom row from left to right: Kayla Kilpatrick, Andrea Gates and Erin Wims.

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