Vijay Aggarwal, a speech pathologist at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), enables people overcome problems related to one of the most basic functions of the human body — speech. Aggarwal diagnoses and provides therapy for different speech, voice and language disorders, including stuttering, articulation, difficulties due to a cleft palate, laryngectomy (removal of the larynx), as well as neurological speech disorders, stroke etc.
The numbers are big. In India, thousands suffer from speech-language disorders, many of them unaware of the treatments existing for them. “The estimated of number of persons having speech-language disorders of one kind or the other varies,” says Dr Ashok Kumar Sinha, recipient of the National Award for the welfare of persons with disabilities (2002), and reader in audiology and speech pathology and assistant director, Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped, Eastern Regional Centre (Kolkata), “but generally it can be accepted that at least six per cent of our country’s population need the services of speech therapists. The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) in its 48th round of survey in 2001 estimated that one million people in India suffer from one or the other kind of speech-language disorders. However, these numbers will be far more as only severe and obvious forms of speech disorders were identified by the grass root survey staff almost a decade ago.”
And the number of affected cases is soaring. At AIIMS, on average, one clinician gets to see 15 new cases every day, says a graduate in audiology and speech pathology from the hospital (the study programme is no longer offered). “The employment prospects are good in India.” Speech therapists can work in government as well as private hospitals, special schools, non-governmental organisations focusing on the speech and hearing disabled. They are much in demand in several developed countries.
In India, you can study both speech therapy and audiology together at the Bachelor’s as well as Master’s level. Postgraduate programmes with specialisation either in speech-language pathology or audiology are also offered. Says Sinha, “The demand for undergraduate and postgraduate studies in speech language pathology and audiology has been increasing. More and more colleges are being set up in different parts of the country. However, not many choose this as a career option due to lack of awareness about speech-language disorders.”
And that untouched populace makes it a high-potential area.
What's it about?
Speech therapists diagnose and provide treatment/counselling to people with speech, voice and language (and hearing) problems due to various causes, such as intellectual disability, autism, cerebral palsy, strokes, accidents and cancer. They may work with children, adults or the elderly. Institutes offer degrees in speech-language pathology, or speech therapy coupled with the audiology course at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. However, some conduct PG programmes either in speech-language pathology or audiology
A speech therapist’s average day at a tertiary-care hospital:
9 am: Start dealing with patients referred for speech problems, in the OPD
1.30 pm: Lunch
2 pm: Attend specialised clinics/in ward patient
3 pm: Attend to patients with special needs
4 pm: Complete file work/reports
5 pm: Pack-up for the day and return home
The starting salary depends on whether a speech-language pathologist holds a clinical or teaching faculty position in a hospital or at any training centre. The initial salary may range from Rs 20,000 to 30,000 a month. In the private sector, earnings depend on work settings and your expertise
. Scientific aptitude
. Strong interpersonal skills to work with patients of different age groups
How do i get there?
The eligibility criterion for the Bachelor’s in hearing and speech and language pathology varies. Even the different centres of Mumbai-based Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped ask for varying subject combinations (including physics, chemistry, biology, maths, English, computer science, amongst others). Check the details with individual institutions
Institutes & urls
. Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped, Mumbai and regional centres in Kolkata, Secunderabad and New Delhi
. All India Institute of Speech & Hearing, Mysore
. BYL Nair Hospital and Medical College, Mumbai
. Dr SRC Institute of Speech and Hearing, Bangalore
. Dr MV Shetty Institute of Speech and Hearing, Mangalore
More details are given on www.rehabcouncil.nic.in, the website of the Rehabilitation Council of India, New Delhi, which governs all institutes imparting training in speech therapy, and on http://ishaindia.org.in/ of the Indian Speech and Hearing Association, a national professional organisation of speech therapists
Pros & cons
Satisfying work of helping people overcome speech (and hearing) problems
Demand-supply gap; huge potential in the field in India
Job opportunities in several foreign countries
Not much awareness about speech-language disorders and the treatment available for them
You help people overcome challenges
A senior practitioner talks about the scope
What do speech therapists typically do? What conditions and disorders do speech therapists in India deal with? Is there any new area where their intervention is useful?
Speech therapists’ work is three-fold. First, they help to develop speech and language in children who for various reasons fail to develop normal speech and language, as in those with hearing impairment, intellectual disability, and autism or cerebral palsy. Secondly, speech therapists help to improve communication for children and adults by helping them to have age and gender appropriate voice, articulation and rhythm in their speech which is disturbed due to faulty learning or some pathological defects in the speech organs. Thirdly, they help adults and the elderly to acquire different modes of communication which is lost due to medical problems like strokes, surgical removal of larynx due to cancer, accidents or neurological disorders disturbing voice, articulation and prosody in speech.
Recently speech therapists have become actively involved in voice and speech recognition which finds a number of applications in forensic science. A speech-language pathologist may play an important role in the prevention of communication disorders by interacting with young parents, children and adults in the community.
At what stage is this profession in India? Is its reach still limited to large hospitals/organisations in the country? What are the employment prospects of speech therapists in India today? Other than hospitals, private practice, and schools, where do they find work?
It can be said that speech therapy is still in its infancy as the number of qualified speech therapists in India is very small. Only in the recent past, a few training programmes have started in non-governmental set-ups in India. Not many leading hospitals and clinics and very few schools in urban India have speech therapists.
The job prospects are tremendous. The services of speech therapists, apart from the hospitals, private practice, and schools, are available in community-based rehabilitative programmes, special schools for persons with disabilities, departments of physical medicine, old age homes, training institutes and research institutes.
What about job prospects abroad? Which countries have opportunities for Indian speech therapists? Which countries are Indian speech therapists working in?
Speech-language pathologists and audiologists have job prospects within and outside the country. Many students, mostly postgraduates in speech pathology or audiology, find placements in the USA, the UK, Canada and Gulf countries.
Dr Ashok Kumar Sinha Interviewed by Rahat Bano