Being a Resource

This speech-language pathologist is helping provide a crucial resource to those in Haiti with communication disorders

In the days and weeks following the deadly 2010 earthquake in Haiti, speech-language pathologist Dr. Martine Elie wanted to help her native homeland. At the time, Haiti was inundated with donation and rescue efforts, and as the Clinical Director at Howard University’s Speech and Hearing Clinic she was in a unique position to provide a vital service: speech-language pathology.

So, in 2011 when Howard’s Alternative Spring Break program added Haiti to its list of places where students could travel and provide assistance, Dr. Elie saw her opportunity. Through a university-wide ongoing service-learning program, she and her graduate speech-language pathology students not only treat patients with communication disorders in Haiti, but also provide resources and tools to educators. All of this combined helps those in the country build strategies for teaching students with communication disorders.

“My ultimate passion is to bring awareness of speech-language pathology services to [Haiti],” says Dr. Elie.

In her role as Clinic Director, Dr. Elie oversees all graduate speech-language pathology clinicians, training them on how to evaluate and treat patients. That training has been a tremendous help on their annual trips to her homeland. Haiti currently has a limited number of speech-language pathologists, making the services they provide invaluable. When she, her students and program participants arrive, they are greeted by members of the community who have already drafted a list of their needs.

Dr. Elie and her colleagues work with educators at various schools, modifying their teaching strategies to serve students with communication disorders and translating all materials to their native language of Creole beforehand to ensure they are useable. They’ve donated communication boards, sentence strips, and pictures to special needs schools and trained teachers to help children communicate their wants and needs.

One of Dr. Elie’s most memorable encounters in Haiti occurred when she met a preteen boy with a cluttering disorder — when someone has a rapid or irregular speaking rate— that was interfering with how he communicated in different social settings. To help him speak more fluently, Dr. Elie downloaded a metronome app so he could listen to it and simultaneously monitor his rate of speech. Although she was unable to meet with him in person throughout the year, she made up for it by providing him with speech therapy sessions via Facebook messenger. As a result of her dedication and commitment to helping him, the boy’s ability to communicate fluently drastically improved.

“Seeing his self-monitoring skills develop and how he can now recognize when he’s going too fast” has been amazing, she says. “So far, he’s decreased his rate of speech in terms of the speed in which he talks to others.”

The needs in Haiti remain great and present a variety of challenges. Yet, increasing awareness of communication disorders and providing speech-language pathology services to individuals in Haiti is something Dr. Elie plans to continue. Her years of experience, commitment to continuing education and annually maintaining her ASHA-certification have well prepared her to address the needs of persons with communication disorders here and around the world. “We make a difference,” she says.