Offering a Familiar Voice After Trauma and Upheaval An SLP who emigrated from Jordan helps children of Syrian refugees, in the languages of their old and new homes. In the Limelight
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In the Limelight  |   July 01, 2018
Offering a Familiar Voice After Trauma and Upheaval
Author Notes
  • Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for The ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org
    Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for The ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org×
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / International & Global / Speech, Voice & Prosody / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   July 01, 2018
Offering a Familiar Voice After Trauma and Upheaval
The ASHA Leader, July 2018, Vol. 23, 25. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.23072018.24
The ASHA Leader, July 2018, Vol. 23, 25. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.23072018.24
Name: Manal Sabri, MS, CCC-SLP
Title: Private practitioner
Hometown: Tucson, Arizona
As a new mom, Manal Sabri wanted her daughter to communicate in Arabic, the language of her homeland of Jordan, as well as in English—the language of her adopted home of Tucson, Arizona. Sabri moved to Tucson 11 years ago when her husband landed a medical residency there. A few years later their daughter was born—and diagnosed with profound hearing loss.
After her daughter was fitted with bilateral cochlear implants, Sabri left her career as a software engineer to stay home with and support her child. Her daughter’s speech-language pathologist and teacher of the deaf (TOD) encouraged Sabri’s goal to teach her child both languages. Sabri turned her daughter’s days into nonstop language-learning sessions, as she describes them. She also translated all the materials she received from her SLP and TOD into Arabic.
“Our daughter’s therapists were both monolingual, but gave me a lot of support and resources about making sure she would be bilingual,” Sabri says. “I can’t imagine not speaking to my daughter in my first language, and their support was huge.”
Sabri and her daughter spent the following summer in Jordan to immerse her daughter in Arabic language and culture. Not wanting her daughter to miss treatment, Sabri found a clinic in Jordan claiming to specialize in patients with cochlear implants. After three sessions, Sabri became frustrated with the therapists (not SLPs) and stopped going. That’s the summer Sabri decided to become an SLP.
“I had no idea about the special ed system in Jordan and it turns out it’s rather lacking,” Sabri says. “No one I knew had any experience with special needs, and our culture is such that even if they did, they wouldn’t talk about it.”
After returning home to Tucson, Sabri took a semester of courses to show her commitment to becoming an SLP. She then applied and was accepted to a three-year graduate program for people with undergraduate degrees in majors other than communication sciences and disorders. She studied speech-language pathology with a focus on bilingual service delivery at the University of Arizona.

The multilingual mom and SLP wants to ensure these families enjoy the same privileges she does: access to services and communication with her child in her native language.

Sharing the support
Sabri worked hard to communicate with her daughter in her native language. And as she watched the Syrian civil war escalate globally—and its effects locally—she wanted families being resettled in Tucson to have the same opportunity.
“I was thinking about all the friends I had from Syria,” Sabri says. “And I knew these kids would be traumatized and have their education interrupted.”
Once Sabri graduated with her master’s, she completed her clinical fellowship at a private pediatric clinic and continued working there after receiving certification. She worked four days a week and asked if she could use her space in the clinic to see refugee families free of charge on Fridays. The clinic owner—also an SLP—agreed and helped print and post promotional fliers around the community.
“I knew the [Middle Eastern] culture would make parents really hesitant, so we made the flier relaxed—just a screening to see how your child is doing,” says Sabri. “I still only saw only the most severe cases, because only those parents would seek help.”
The hardest part for Sabri was not being able to serve any of these families as clients. The fledgling clinic where she worked didn’t accept Arizona’s Medicaid insurance, and the new SLP couldn’t justify deciding to work with some families, but not others.
What Sabri could do was listen to parents, evaluate their children, explain the nature of their child’s disorder, and prepare a report the parents could take to their child’s school. She also researched sources of funding for families if the child needed services beyond what schools provided.
“I wrote a short report in English while the family was at the clinic,” Sabri says. “I included my suspected diagnosis, recommendation for treatment, and my contact information. I was very happy how the schools reacted and used my reports to give these children services.”

“Working with an interpreter—usually a voice on a phone—doesn’t work as well as someone being there in person who speaks their language and understands their culture.”

Expanding the services
Earlier this year, the clinic where Sabri worked closed. But she will continue volunteering with the dozens of refugee families being resettled in the area. In addition to reaching families at community gatherings, school events and even their homes, she is making plans to increase awareness among local SLPs about the need to help refugee families. Sabri recently presented a session for her fellow SLPs on using stories and games that cross language barriers, such as “Red Riding Hood” and “Chutes and Ladders.”
The busy SLP also contracts with schools where many Syrian children are enrolled. Performing evaluations and providing services in the children’s native language ensures proper diagnosis and aids their progress, she says.
“These kids experience a lot of trauma and their language development and childhood get interrupted severely because of lack of exposure and unstable living situations,” Sabri says. “Trying to build rapport and earn their trust when working with an interpreter—usually a voice on a phone—doesn’t work as well as someone being there in person who speaks their language and understands their culture.”
Primarily, the multilingual mom and SLP wants to ensure these families enjoy the same privileges she does: access to services and communication with her child in her native language. Now 8 years old, her daughter speaks both languages and attends a mainstream school.
“We have to provide bilingual families the support to make them feel comfortable speaking their language with their child,” Sabri says. “And keep the diversity and all of these beautiful languages and cultures that make this a great country.”
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July 2018
Volume 23, Issue 7