volunteer doing speech training with child

Ling and Phearom have gone fishing

Dec 3, 2014

With a makeshift rod, Phearom catches one of the cards lying facedown on the table in 12-year-old Ling’s home. She describes the animal she sees on the card. “It has a long nose, it has big ears, big everything.”

“A frog,” Ling guesses, but that’s not it.

“It’s in Angkor Wat.” Phearom gives another clue, referring to the famous temple not far from Ling’s house in northern Cambodia.

“An elephant!”

This time Ling is right, and so it’s his turn to go fishing and describe what he sees. He makes an “ooo-ooo” sound to demonstrate the sound the animal makes, concentrating hard on making the right shape with his mouth.

Phearom still isn’t sure what the animal is though, and so Ling explains further. “When the rain comes, they make a sound.”

“A frog.”

Ling has cerebral palsy, and as a result has trouble communicating. Phearom, his community worker, explains that this game helps Ling learn new words, practice explaining concepts, and practice making clear sounds.

This game is one of many that community workers incorporate into their therapy with children with communication and swallowing disorders.

“It’s not about winning or losing (although the therapist usually loses!). It’s about confidence building, interacting with each other, rewarding a great effort and providing motivation to come back for more work in the following session,” said Dr Chyrisse Heine, OIC Cambodia’s Senior Adviser, Speech Therapy.

Workers like Phearom play many speech therapy games with children to keep them engaged in their therapy, including games developed by Cambodian workers like Phearom at an OIC training session not long ago.

Another popular exercise is blowing bubbles, which helps children with their muscle control. Children love playing with bubbles, which is important to the therapists.

Six-year-old Tai blows bubbles with her mum’s help.

“If it’s not fun, no participation,” said Rithy, a staff member with CABDICO, a local partner NGO of OIC. “We are always thinking about that.”

This approach to therapy is progressive in Cambodia, where the education system emphasises learning by rote rather than learning through play.

For children like Ling, it’s paying off. He views his therapy less as therapy and more as fun, brushing away questions about how the fishing game works.

He doesn’t want to explain it; he wants to play it.