Speaking up for diversity in speech therapy

Language and speech therapist Thandeka Mdlalo. | Supplied

Language and speech therapist Thandeka Mdlalo. | Supplied

Published Mar 10, 2024


Durban — For pupils with speech difficulties, the first thing that frequently comes to mind with a diagnosis is that they might have a speech impediment.

Concerned by the number of assessments which have passed by her, speech and language therapist Dr Thandeka Mdlalo has identified a more common problem: a lack of exposure to diverse languages.

Discussing her newly published book, Diversity: My Call to Action, Mdlalo said she felt this topic was relevant because she was “very concerned” with the number of assessments she had seen in which the therapist had ignored diversity factors to the detriment of the person being assessed.

“It has been a huge source of frustration for me because it has huge repercussions and can potentially change a child’s life trajectory. This makes it a justice issue for me and no longer merely diversity,” she said.

Mdlalo, who was born in Gqeberha and has lived in KZN for 30 years, is also an audiologist. She said she had been motivated to write the book because in-depth information on the topic is inaccessible to the public and often remains on university shelves.

“There is a lot of literature and academic papers – and I have written academic papers and presented locally and internationally on the subject – but I feel the information remains inaccessible to those who need it.

“I felt there was a need to provide the information in a simple yet research-based manner because the issues of diversity are critical for us who live in a diverse rainbow nation.”

Her message is that diversity means people with differences can gather, and sometimes a child might find speaking in English – often the medium of learning in schools – hard because they are not used to speaking the language at home, and not because of a hearing or speech problem.

“It is important for us to empower ourselves with knowledge to understand these differences and not label, judge and portray them as disorders or pathologies, because that can have significant negative repercussions.”

Mdlalo said writing this book was one of the most cathartic experiences she had ever had because it provided her with space to be authentic and express herself without reservations.

“The chapter on my mother was extremely difficult to write as it opened raw emotional wounds for me, but there were important messages that I needed to convey through it.”

She said she hoped the book would support, educate and empower the reader.

“I see this book as forming part of the principle which I live by: MAD (making a difference). It is an extension of my website, thediversitycentre.com, which shares the same aims.”

When Mdlalo is not writing she is a group training instructor at a gym, and an avid reader and theatre and live music lover. She also said her family and faith were important to her.

“You will find me at the Playhouse or UKZN Centre of Jazz and, when I’m not broke, I love travelling especially historical places like Egypt. I have two beautiful daughters and they are my support and inspiration. My faith is pivotal to all I do, including my book.”

Independent on Saturday