Giving Back to Her Hometown

Samah Saidi is living out her passion of helping parents address screen time with their kids in the same school district she graduated from.

Most readers of Nicholas Sparks are moved by the romance and drama of his novels. For Samah Saidi, she was inspired to become a speech-language pathologist.

While in college, Samah was searching for how to combine her passion for working with children and her desire to help them communicate and connect with others. After taking an American Sign Language (ASL) course in high school, she leaned towards a career in interpreting. She then read The Rescue by Sparks, in which one of the main characters’ son has a delayed speech disorder, and found her calling.

“I guess I owe it to Nicholas Sparks,” she says. “By becoming a speech-language pathologist, I realized there were so many different avenues I could take, and that really appealed to me a lot.”

As Samah made her way through her course and clinical work, she became more assured that she had found the right path for her, especially once she obtained her CCCs. It signaled that she was ready for a career in speech-language pathology at that stage as well as equipped for years to come.

“Just going from ‘CFY’ [Clinical Fellowship Year] after your name and switching to ‘CCC’ is such a special moment that you’ve made it,” she says. “You still have to maintain your certification through continuing education. Having to earn the CCCs forces you to look for and learn new information, but it shows that you’re committed to that.”

ASHA-certified, Samah went to work in the Dearborn, Mich. public school system. Not only is it the same district she graduated from, and took that initial ASL class, but it also has a large Arab American population. As a result, she can relate with students and their families over their shared experiences.

“When the kids are telling me about their holidays or fasting during Ramadan, or a specific food they eat with their families, I’m familiar with what they’re talking about,” she explains. “Sometimes, a student will know the word for something in Arabic but not in English. Being in my hometown and knowing the community just adds a whole other layer to connect with these kids and their families.”

Her familiarity and closeness with her local community also means she can communicate in a way that resonates with parents about why speech-language pathology services will be so valuable for their children to receive.

As a parent herself, she is also aware of the many challenges families can run in to when it comes to their children’s speech and learning. She watched how her oldest child was affected by screen time from tablets and television in the mid-2010s, which moved her to do more to educate families going through the same. Some families said their child was spending as many as six to seven hours per day on screens.

“If they’re hitting that many hours a day, there isn’t much opportunity to have reciprocal interaction with their families,” Samah says. “It’s the displacement theory: If that’s what they’re doing, what are they missing by doing that all day?”

This prompted Samah to form committees and teams within her community to assist families in managing popular technology with healthy behaviors as well as raise awareness by working with executives in the district and attending conferences. Along the way, she learned a great deal about best practices for healthy management of screen time and making screen time a “co-viewing” experience where children and parents watch together. 

“I truly believe that kids crave not being on screens, even if they don’t know how to verbalize or communicate it,” says Samah. “I understand that can be difficult for busy parents and they may not know where to begin, but there are other options.”

During the summer when school is out, for instance, Samah recommends finding activities for kids to do during the day to keep them off screens as much as possible. Ultimately, limiting screen time so that children can develop the communication skills they need depends on parents being able to provide creative alternatives and ensuring they have the resources to do so.

“I’m making sure I’m up-to-date and using the latest research,” she says. “If I wasn’t ASHA-certified then I wouldn’t have these resources, which I can then share with parents too.”