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The Easy way forward

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

The Easy way forward

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Some people are just born to do the jobs they do. Take 25-year-old Shareka Bentham, who is a speech and language therapist and absolutely adores her job.
Though she admits it wasn’t part of her initial professional plan, she found herself unexpected drawn to speech therapy.
“I originally wanted to get into clinical psychology, and I shadowed a speech therapist a little bit and I fell in love with it,” said Shareka, the Commonwealth Scholar whose first degree is in psychology.
“I do a lot of work with children on the autistic spectrum, and you’ve got to do a lot more with them when you’re doing speech therapy.”
While some people would shy away from working with children with special needs, Shareka found that it gave her a chance to be creative along with being fulfilling.
“It’s just something that has drawn me to working with them. I find that a lot of people shy away from working with them because it can be challenging [due to] their special needs,” she said.
“But when you start to understand them and start to love them, you just see so much potential and you can get so much out of them.”
So far Shareka has managed to carve out a niche for herself in the field. Along with working with special needs children at the Sunshine Stimulation Centre, she also works privately with children along with adults.
She says that it’s important for parents to be vigilant with their children in the early stages of their development to check for speech delays and problems.
“From the early milestones if kids are not talking then parents should be concerned,” she said.
“From an infant not being able to [react] to sound or turn to the mother’s voice, or if they reach over one year old and are not saying that first word, it should start to raise red flags with parents because it could signal a language delay.”
Shareka says that she has parents who call with two-year-olds that are only saying five words when they should be saying 250-500 words.
“I work with children with a range of speech and language difficulties, those who stutter, if they’re not talking at a certain age, children with Down’s Syndrome and cerebral palsy,” Shareka said.
“I also work with adults with stroke rehabilitation, accident victims, as well as those with degenerative diseases.”
Shareka doesn’t mind switching gears working between children and adults – it all enhances the work she does every day.
“Sometimes you can get into a routine too much so when you’re switching back and forth, it helps,” she said.
“It’s good sometimes to be able to take a break from rolling around the carpet and making animal sounds, and then to have an adult conversation.”
What drives Shareka to excel and get better at what she does is her passion.
“I love what I do . . . it drives me constantly,” she said. “I don’t switch on at 8:30 and switch back off at 4:30; it’s something that’s constantly happening for me.”
Shareka also makes networking on the social media sites like Twitter an integral part of what she does for networking purposes with other professionals.
“I really enjoy making my job fun and I’m always trying to think of ways to make it fun and a great experience for the child.”
That desire led Shareka to create an app for the Apple iPad for speech therapy.
“We’ve realized that the iPad is so useful in therapy and it creates that link that you don’t get, especially with children on the autism spectrum because you have them engaged for the longest time. So I said I can do this myself,” she explained. 
“I had done another app before with a bunch of other speech therapists, but for this project I contacted Kevin Hinkson of Coral Stone  Developers and it started as a PowerPoint presentation.
“I created an iPad app for speech pathology sessions for teachers in the classroom, parents and children to use on their own and enjoy,” she said. “Children have to touch the [screen] according to what’s being said.
The app boasts vibrant underwater settings, animal sizes and underwater sequencing along with instructions from Shareka. With speech being such an integral part of life, Shareka wanted to make sure the app was visually appealing and functional to achieve its objectives in getting children to communicate.
After making revisions to the app over a three-month period, Shareka was finally ready to send it off to Apple for review.
“Apple had to review it, which took forever,” she revealed. “I got so frustrated waiting but then they finally gave their approval and the app, Easy Concepts, was released to the iTunes store on November 1.”
“It was just so unbelievable to see it there in the iTunes store, I’ve probably looked at it five million times. So far the app has sold close to 200 [copies] in countries like Japan, Britain, United States, Canada, Switzerland and Greece, and the reviews have been great.
“I created a Facebook page – people are saying thank you for doing this for children with special needs. It just touches me every time.”