Mrs. Alka Hudlikar is a speech therapist with a difference. At the age of 60, she is just as active as she was when she started and with all the experience behind her she has an affect on her patients in more than one way. Having graduated from St.Xaviers College, Mumbai, Hudlikar decided she wanted to be a speech therapist and went onto study at the Audiology Research Center, Mumbai. She then worked as a teacher at the EAR where she eventually became a supervisor. She has worked at the Nayar Hospital, Mumbai and has assisted in setting up schools for the deaf at various towns around India.
At present Hudlikar and her husband are settled in Pune, where she continues to teach children suffering from speech problems. She says, “I think I know the pulse of the society better than anyone else. There are people who come to me from all walks of life. I attend to all, rich or poor, there is no criteria for me. I charge Rs.300/- a month, for all my patients irrespective of their financial status. I am totally booked from Mon–Sat, there are so many children that need help. I have to work with children when they are very young in order to get optimum results from them. I try and equip them to deal with the day to day chores”.
Mrs. Hudlikar says that she needs the child to come for therapy from as early as 2 yrs. “The process to get help should not be delayed, as speech and language skills are learnt between the ages of 2–5 yrs 7rd. According to Hudlikar speech therapy works most effectively when the child is young because it is still developing. “I have to specify that children should be brought at the earliest possible age, as not much can be done on a teenager since the maturity level has reached an advanced stage”.
However the most interesting aspect of Hudlikar’s therapy is her approach. I believe the parents have to be capable of helping their children in more ways than one. I insist on parents attending the therapy sessions and work specially with the mothers. They should learn, as well as know about their child’s disability. Not only the patient but the entire family has to deal with the condition all their lives. Small day to day chores become tiresome and the child cannot go about those jobs because he doesn’t have the advantage of speech. “Speech is an imperative medium in order to communicate. Communication in itself is an attribute in expressing one’s self. Without that how is one expected to either talk or be talked to?”
Hudlikar helps her patients to overcome the permanent condition that they are in. One of her patients came to her when he was 3 yrs old. Now he is 18 yrs and has attained an aggregate of 80% in his SSC. Exams. He aspires to join the agricultural college in Pune. He was born deaf and can now converse with people. “This again has been an achievement for the parents and the child. I am very proud of him, he has set an example to all the disabled” she says.
“The main problem that I face in my practice is with the officialdom. The government schools are useless. The grants given are not streamlined in the right direction. The teachers are underqualified and impart wrong training”. Hudlikar holds very strong opinion and is determined to take steps in order to bring about changes within the country’s educational system. She believes that the government schools for the deaf and dumb are a waste of revenue since they do not manage to help the children at all. She further states, “The kids who go there remain the same all the lives and do not show any progress. Lacks of rupees are wasted on these institutions and no results are seen”.
She told us that the doctors do not even give basic advise to families, especially in rural areas. “One such case came to me. The parents had six children, all of whom were deaf. I refused to take the oldest who was 14 yrs since not much therapy would’ve worked on him. However, I knew that the youngest who was 4 yrs old would gain with my help. After producing two deaf children any doctor would have understood that this was a genetic problem. But no doctor informed them of this condition, neither were they informed about family planning”. These issues should be brought to the notice of doctors not to run down the medical profession, but to focus on the negligence of such professionals who realize that they are responsible. And yet they do no think it necessary to be held accountable.
Hudlikar feels that some action needs to be taken to help the disabled kids “There is an urgency for public exposure”. Speech therapy, according to Hudlikar has been infected with the incompetent government systems. But if more and more people show concern about such children, she says, “WE CAN and WE WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE”.