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Five minutes with... Maeve McCutcheon, Speech Language Therapist, India

In July 2011, Maeve, a speech and language therapist, was immersed in a multilingual environment and a culture different from her own. What follows is an outline of her current role as a speech and language therapist working with Action for Autism (AFA), New Delhi.

In conjunction with VSO I am spending a year working with AFA. AFA is a dynamic, fast-moving and energetic workplace. Founded in 1991 by parents of individuals with autism, its goal was to "put autism on the Indian map." We provide a range of direct services including clinical and educational programmes, and engage in advocacy and research.

The goal during my placement is to strengthen the organisation's service delivery by providing speech and language therapy to individuals with autism. In order for a sustainable impact to be achieved my role encompasses a strong focus on skill sharing.

A hands-on experience

I am very busy on a day-to-day basis. I work Monday to Friday and the occasional Saturday. We work from around 9am to 5.30pm. Lunchtime involves lively work related discussions where progress, problems and practical matters are debated. I move between the services offered by AFA. Mondays and Fridays I meet with the adults with autism attending Adhaar, a vocational centre, for “discussion time”, where there is always a surprising contribution from one of the adults! On Thursdays I spend time with families and children who are attending the parent-child training programme. This is a three-month programme during which a group of parents train together daily along with their children with autism, gaining a greater understanding of their children and autism.

I provide information workshops on communication, speech and language development, I meet with parents on an individual basis to provide information, support and advice and I contribute to the children’s individual education plans. I work collaboratively with the teachers to support them in their work, focusing on the development of communication skills. In the afternoons I work with children who attend mainstream schools but access support services at AFA. Skill sharing has occurred during lunch time discussions, meetings, and collaborative working in structured workshops. Skill sharing has definitely been a two-way process and I feel like I will leave India with a wealth of information and experiences.

New ways of working

Working in a multilingual environment has not been the daunting experience I expected. No barrier has been too great that it couldn’t be surmounted. I have benefited from the many visual approaches taken when working with individuals with autism. I have learnt some Hindi and Indian Sign Language but have also benefited from working closely with special educators and AFA staff who have acted as linguistic and cultural interpreters.

So far I have really enjoyed my time in India, working in a multilingual environment and learning about a new culture has been a positive experience.

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