Hello from Bhutan! We have started our work at the capital city’s main hospital and also at the newly formed Ability Bhutan Society. The day starts with packing up materials for the trip (developmental checklists, wordless picture book for language sampling, PLS-4 pictures and objects, an oral mechanism kit, and the clinic’s audiometer.) I also use items from the Bailey Test of Infant Development at times brought by Dr. Johnson. Also needed are basic provisions for working at the hospital (Power Bars, toilet paper) as there is typically no lunch break and the hospital staff bathroom is bare bones. On the hospital wall you see signs “Thank you for not spitting” as this refers to the local betelnut chewing/spitting habit of many Bhutanese.
The children arrive at the hospital’s clinic every hour on the hour starting at 9am. Dr. Berman and I saw 6 children today at the hospital and then 3 each after that at the Ability Bhutan office, so a total of twelve consultations from 9-6pm. The primary complaint is often “speech impairment” but in fact, usually the kids are globally delayed with seizure disorders and CP of various types. After talking with parents and doing some basic assessment, often the kids are functioning at 25-50% of their chronological age. We also have seen a few cases of autism (youngest today we agreed was “at risk” at age 2-9). After doing two days of consultations, it is clear the main goals are to 1) support parents in voicing their concerns, 2) document need for the country to develop speech therapy options for its population, 3) give at least 3 practical tips for parents to carry out at home, 4) demonstrate some basic speech therapy techniques for para-educators/technicians who will continue to see the children after we leave, and 5) provide parents with computer access helpful websites, e.g. Hanen.org.
There is a big problem of children watching too much television in the country. Oftentimes children are left to watch cartoons all day and display some aggressive behaviors they have probably seen on TV. Another problem is lack of proper nutrition/protein poor diets. To the positive, local preschools are beginning to become more available, and there is currently a big effort on the part of UNICEF to open more “Early Childhood Centers”.
There is one deaf school in nearby Paro with 73 students ages 4-25. I met with one of their teachers who gave me several videotapes of her efforts to teach speech to HOH and deaf children.
There are a few special education classrooms throughout the country. Unfortunately students are off on winter break for several weeks so it has not been possible to view them during this trip.
The physio department (equivalent to Physical Therapy) is staffed with one dedicated therapist and two technicians. This one person is responsible for all developmental needs: orthopedic therapies, orthotics, fine-motor dexterity, feeding and speech issues. The room has a mattress on the floor, a bed, a few large toys, a make-shift paper mache chair or small plastic lawn type chairs for child seating, and stools for parents. There are no appropriate child chairs for postural support or to facilitate testing for more active children (Gosh! How much I wished for a cube chair today!) Test materials have to be locked up at night as mice will chew up various items. This was the fate of one reinforced, makeshift cardboard chair with mice teeth marks all over it.
Word is getting out in the community that we are here, thus our schedules are getting more and more jam packed. Dr. Berman is also called to do consults for very sick children in the ICU. Kie and I go have gone with him and have met very dedicated doctors who explain complicated cases (Saddest was of a 12-month-old on 21 medications, suffering from tuburcular meningitis; nonresponsive and will probably will be hospitalized for a year, with high risk of severe brain damage/neurodevelopmental problems).
Several high governmental officials and well-known Bhutanese actors are requesting that their children be seen before we leave. Tomorrow we are seeing a child of someone “very important” and our credentials/CVs have been checked and we have been “Googled” thoroughly. The pace is getting a bit frenetic here, but I remind myself that this is coming to an end for me this Friday. Dr. Berman and Dr.Johnson will continue on for another week or two.
As I wind up the next few days, I will start to generate a needs list with the help of ABS and the physiotherapist at the hospital. Dr. Berman will likely return in the Spring of 2014, and I’m sure would appreciate more speech help. We are also considering inviting one to two Bhutanese professionals to train/shadow SLPs (perhaps at SPG?) in the next year or two.
More to follow! Lisa