Cristina Sakthivel

Clinician Profile: Cristina Sakthivel, Speech-Language Pathologist

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Cristina Sakthivel, Speech Language Pathologist, LIH Olivia's Place Shanghai

Cristina Sakthivel, Speech Language Pathologist, LIH Olivia’s Place Shanghai

Cristina Sakthivel, MS CCC-SLP
Cristina is an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist from California, US. She holds a B.S. and M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology from California State University Sacramento, and has completed training in PECS and PROMPT methods. Cristina has treated adults and children with speech and language needs for the past 6 years in a variety of settings, including medical/skilled nursing, public schools, and as a private practitioner. Cristina specializes in working with individuals with complex communication needs and multiple impairments. She served as an Augmentative & Alternative Communication Specialist in the San Francisco School District for four years. During this time, she provided direct therapy to students and consulted with other speech-language pathologists, teachers, and classroom staff to support the language needs of children using aided language methods. Language: English


How long have you been in China?
I packed up my husband and two geriatric “wiener” dogs and hopped a flight to Shanghai 2 years ago.

Why did you choose to work at LIH Olivia’s Place?
LIH-OP’s mission and vision are something I really believe in- improving access to therapeutic services for children in China.

Why did you choose your field?
I’ve always loved anatomy and language; speech-language pathology is the perfect blend of both. I find it wonderful that in the course of a day I can facilitate language growth by popping bubbles with a toddler, work on speech sounds with a second grader, and help a high school student craft theses statements and target social pragmatic skills.

What are some of the most rewarding experiences you have had in your chosen profession?
My true passion is working with children with complex communication needs (i.e., children who are nonverbal with multiple impairments) and providing them a means to communicate through pictures/icons, light-tech, or high-tech communication devices. I’ve never heard anything sweeter than the first time a child is able to say “no!” or “go away!” via aided means. It brings a tear to your eye!

What’s your favorite thing about living in China and/or working at LIH Olivia’s Place?
I love living in Shanghai- I think it’s a vibrant place, with so many wonderful and exciting things to do. I love that I still get lost when I go on a jog! And I love Family Mart.

What would you like to be doing in 5 years’ time?
I hope 5 years finds me continuing to travel as much as possible, enjoying a healthy life/work balance, and providing high quality therapeutic services to those in need.

AAC Bridges Communication Gaps

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by Cristina Sakthivel, Speech Language Pathologist, LIH Olivia's Place Shanghai

by Cristina Sakthivel, Speech Language Pathologist, LIH Olivia’s Place Shanghai

I first arrived in China linguistically unprepared, possessing little aside from xie xie and ni hao. I relied on all the visual cues and signage available to me; in the metro alone, the symbols depicting the ticket gate, entrances and exits were lifesavers! These visual supports increased my comprehension of the world around me while my handy Chinese translation app helped to bridge the communication gap I was experiencing. For children with communication impairments, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) functions in the same way, enabling individuals to increase comprehension and providing a means to communicate expressively.

AAC refers to text-based or symbol based communication systems. This can take the form of symbols printed on paper, at the low tech end of spectrum, to dedicated speech generating devices/iPads with communication applications at the high tech end of the spectrum. The communication systems are customized and tailored to the needs of the individual by a speech-language pathologist and the child’s educational team.

It is never too early to introduce AAC to a child with communication impairments. Communication impairments can impact cognitive and social/emotional development; provision of alternative and augmentative means of communication allows the brain to develop and practice linguistic concepts in a functional manner until “natural” speech is possible. Additionally, increased ability to communicate leads to decreased frustration and increased social participation and engagement. AAC is essential for people who are non-verbal, but also benefits those with severe articulation (speech intelligibility) deficits and speaking individuals who need extra support structuring their language output.

There is a misconception that the use of alternative and augmentative communication will prevent children from speaking. This could not be farther from the truth! Studies have illustrated that the introduction of an alternative communication system promotes speech development- the use of visuals acts as an extra cue to scaffold oral language. As soon as a child develops the necessary fine motor skills and coordination to approximate and produce words, they will, as speech is the fastest and most efficient way to communicate. AAC acts as a means to an end, and not the end, allowing for functional communication until speech is possible.