Speech therapy is slowly gaining ground in Cambodia. That’s good news for children like Lin, 14, who lives in Siem Reap province and in the past has hardly said a word to anyone, including his family. He has had some speech therapy, however, and on a recent day, when asked what he was doing, he said in an unclear voice: “I’m just sitting doing nothing.”
Lin is one of an estimated 60,000 children in Cambodia who have speech problems. Cambodia is unprepared to treat them. But at an organization called OIC, 19 speech therapists have been able to help about 100 children. And they say that’s a start.
Kuy Maquis, a project coordinator for OIC, said many with this kind of condition not only have trouble speaking, but eating as well. With therapy, some are able to go to school, and many can learn to swallow better.
Lin, for example, has difficulty communicating. He understands what is being said, but cannot reply well. It may be because of his nervous system, which does not act on what his mind wants it to do, Kuy Maquis said.
Others, meanwhile, may not be able to understand or receive information, due to low intelligence. This can lead to no reply, as well, he said.
For children with difficulty swallowing, the illness is related, but it is very risky and can cause severe disease, or even choking to death, Kuy Maquis said.
Such difficulties are not the same as those for deaf children, said Hang Kim Chaun, an education coordinator for Krousar Thmey, an NGO that has provided a different kind of speech therapy since 1997. That group has helped some 500 deaf and mute children, including providing hearing aids to those that need it.
Chou Vivath, a technical officer for disability and rehabilitation at the World Health Organization, said the WHO supports speech therapy, which has been unavailable in the past, but it should be coordinated with government and non-government partners.
In Lin’s case, he was once doing well in school, but he has now dropped out, according to his mother, Chhan Lem. He does well with the right kind of teacher, she said. “Lin has been unable to talk since he was born,” she said. “And though I feel like I’m getting used to his situation, I do wish we had more doctors in this field, because it is very difficult for him to go to school, and even the teachers find it hard to teach him.”