Today our team spent the day with Cheshire Homes, an organization which primarily works with children with physical disabilities. We divided into teams: one in the hearing screening room and the other in the speech & language screening/play room. I started in the speech & language room. However, instead of pulling out small groups of children from the classrooms, they all came in at once. About 30 children rushed in and were very excited to see what toys and games we had to share. It was tiring to keep up with their level of energy, but their smiles kept me motivated. I met one young boy (C.), who was not verbal, but loved the bubbles. He would touch my hand and point to the ceiling to ask for more bubbles. He even started using the sign for “my turn” to ask to blow the bubbles. I was fortunate to then join Ms. Masters during his speech & language consultation with his teacher. Although I am studying audiology, I was able to contribute my observations from interacting with him. The teacher was very interested in our suggestions for incorporating sign language and other forms of alternative communication to help him be able to express himself. I could really see potential in him and hope that some our ideas will be useful.
Next it was my turn in the hearing screening room. I have enjoyed working with my fellow students during the screenings and think that we make a great team. Fortunately again, I saw my friend C. for his hearing screening. It felt like I was really able to follow his case and he did pass the hearing screening. Another aspect of interacting with these children that surprised me is the range of abilities that we saw. For example, there was one teenage girl who liked talking about music and boys like a typical teenager would. However, there were also other children who had multiple impairments in addition to their physical disability and were not verbal at all. It is important to not make assumptions about what these children are capable of since they were all very different. They all found a way to play and take care of themselves despite their physical disabilities, which was inspirational to see.
Since we finished the hearing screenings so quickly, we were flexible and came up with activities to do with the children after lunch. We started in a big group by reading a book and singing songs. Some of the children got the gestures and signs that went with the song very quickly. We then divided into groups again. One group stayed with the children to lead a sign language activity. I then joined the group that helped the house mothers and teachers think of ways that they could incorporate alternative ways of communicating into their daily routines. For example, we discussed how picture cards with a picture of the object with the word written next to it could be used by a child to point or show when they want something. We created some examples based on what foods and toys that the children typically have and talked about how they could be used in their daily routines. Many of the children that we saw today could likely benefit from this. I wasn’t expecting to be so involved in the speech and language activities and have been learning a lot from the experience.
Next was a pizza dinner with our UNZA buddies. I had a really good chat with my buddy about what we have been doing in Lusaka. I also got a chance to talk to him about his interests in special education and learned that he is particularly interested in working with students with visual impairments so that they can have an equal access to education. We also talked about the World Cup. Despite the differences between our cultures, there are also many similarities including an interest in sports. I will also enjoy the gift he gave me – a chintenge – the traditional wrap skirt of Zambian women. I have been enjoying my time in Zambia and have found everyone to be so welcoming to us. It will be sad when it is time for us to leave.