Recently, I had the privilege of visiting Mithra Rehabilitation Centre as part of an Edmund Rice Special Education Services (ERSES) immersion.

Mr Jon Franzin (Principal of St Edmund’s College and St Gabriel’s School), Mrs Dianne Hooke (Head of Campus at St Gabriel’s School) and I (Speech Pathologist at St Edmund’s College and St Gabriel’s School) were immersed in the culture of Mithra and of Chennai.

Initially, we were asked to support the students’ social skills at Mithra. It was immediately clear to us that the students’ social skills were exceptional. Students would constantly help each other and were so welcoming. This is a testament to the work of the Sisters and staff at Mithra, and a lesson that we have taken back to our school communities.

My attention shifted to the students who had limited verbal communication, who used facial expression, gesture and eye contact to communicate. At our schools, students also have access to communication devices and ongoing speech pathologist support.

We brought over an iPad with Avaz, a communication app available in English, Hindi and Tamil. We were able to introduce Avaz to some of the Sisters, staff and students, and found that it had great potential for improving students’ communication. Research has shown that communication has a significant impact on learning, relationships, independence and employment opportunities.

Towards the end of our immersion, we gave a presentation to the Sisters and staff and encouraged them to reflect on their achievements and aspirations. This generated discussion that affirmed the work of Mithra and conveyed several goals for the future. I saw our role as empowering a community that is already achieving despite adversity, by giving them skills and knowledge that will benefit all students at Mithra.

I am hoping to continue to work with Mithra to enable the Sisters and staff to use Avaz, so that the students with significant communication difficulties can have a voice.

– Claire Formby

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