My name is Jenna Kobara and I am an occupational therapist (OT) who recently returned from my third trip to Ankamu, Ghana where I had the opportunity to work with children with disabilities. I was part of a multi-disciplinary team led by my mentor, Bonnie Nakasuji, an OT, who recently received an international service award from the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) for her work. Since 2003, Bonnie has led a multi-disciplinary team comprised of therapists (occupational, physical, speech-language pathologist), OT students, teachers, health professionals (e.g., optometrist), as well as other volunteers to work with children with physical and mental disabilities at the Mephibosheth Training Center (MTC). MTC is a boarding school founded in 2005 by co-directors Pastor Joseph Jehu-Appiah and his wife, Andrea Jehu-Appiah, who is a physical therapist from the United States. The goal of the school is to teach children with physical and/or mental challenges to become productive members of society by providing them with education and training in academia, activities of daily living, and vocational skills. MTC serves over 70 students ranging from 7 to 25 years old who present with a variety of suspected diagnoses including cerebral palsy, post-polio syndrome, Down syndrome, and autism spectrum disorder. While at MTC our team provides rehabilitative treatment for students and educational support to MTC staff, in addition to assessments, consults, and equipment repair for adults and children with disabilities within the surrounding communities.
Each year, our team brings donations of shoes and clothing, basic school supplies, medical supplies, and therapy equipment such as orthotics, adaptive feeding utensils, walkers, and wheelchairs. This year we were fortunate enough to have received a generous donation from TalkTools that included bite tubes, Honey Bears, flex straws, straw kits, and horn kits to use with the students at MTC. Prior to the trip our therapists were invited to participate in a free TalkTools’ Three-Part Treatment Plan to Oral Placement Therapy course to prepare for using the treatment materials. Melissa Sun, an SLP, joined our team this year for the first time and took the lead with introducing the TalkTools equipment to the students and community families. Many of the children at MTC have limited mobility, poor control, and reduced strength in their upper limbs and head/neck. As a result, drinking water is a difficult task and often requires peers to assist with drinking from an open cup. This practice exemplifies community support and kindness, but leaves children dependent on another person and subject to unsafe swallowing and aspiration. To help remedy the situation, our team used honey bears and flex-straws in existing cups to promote independence and safety when accessing drinking water. In addition, some of the children presented with poor intelligibility and saliva management, specifically as a result of poor lip closure and decreased oral awareness. The horn and straw kits were motivational and helpful tools for increasing oral awareness and introducing concepts related to oral placement for speech production. Within a week, students demonstrated improved response to verbal prompts and visual cues to demonstrate increased lip closure and rounding in speech production tasks. Even the MTC students who presented with functional speech production also joined in the fun, especially with the horns. Things got a little loud at times, but their laughter and smiles were worth the noise.
In our community assessments, we found that some of the children presented with oral motor weakness impacting both feeding and speech production. Many of these children did not appropriately use their teeth to chew, and instead mashed foods using their tongues or waited until the food dissolved. To help these children, we provided education and instruction to their families using bite-tubes, foods wrapped in tulle, and placement techniques, such as a slow feed, to demonstrate appropriate placement of foods on back molars for mastication. We also taught families how to provide oral sensory input using a Nuk brush to increase oral awareness and manage tactile sensitivity. Although our two-week trip was not enough time to see significant results across all of the children we worked with, we feel that the resources and materials that TalkTools provided helped us to introduce skills and techniques that will serve as a strong foundation to supporting the speech production and feeding skills for future trips to come. Our team will be going back next year and we will continue to work on these same goals! Thank you TalkTools for your generosity and support!