Notes of sunshine ring at speech clinic

Clients use song to celebrate Parkinson's Awareness Month, raise awareness about UAlberta speech therapy clinic

Laurie Wang - 06 April 2016

You are my Sunshine is one of their favourite songs to sing at the Parkinson's Speech Therapy group at the University of Alberta. To commemorate Parkinson's Awareness Month, the group of clients will be performing the song alongside Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine students on April 6.

Equipped with a ukulele, people in the community with Parkinson's Disease attend the Parkinson's Speech Therapy Group once a week for four months in the fall. Held by second-year speech-language pathology students, each session consists of a vocal and singing warm-up, a topical discussion, a short educational piece provided by a student clinician, followed by relevant games and role-playing activities.

"My disability is in my speech and I tend to freeze, especially in crowded and narrow areas," says Habib Fatoo, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1999. "The Parkinson's Speech Therapy group allowed me to work with students and fellow patients in the community."

The Parkinson's Speech Therapy program at the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders is a joint venture between the University of Alberta and Parkinson Alberta. It was developed to teach individuals with Parkinson's about communication, speech production and swallowing.

The clinic accepts 10 to 12 clients each term, as its purpose is to deliver group therapy and provide student clinicians the opportunity to work closely with clients. Education is also a goal for the speech-language pathology students in the clinic.

"Encouraging clients to simply educate someone each week on their condition - why their voice can be quiet or hard to understand because of their disease, for example - helped clients to not only use their voice more, but to allow other people to better understand them," says Carly Darrow, clinical educator (instructor) at the University of Alberta and speech-language pathologist.

"The best part of the clinic was getting to know the clients and witnessing the community that developed as a result of shared experiences and difficulties," says Melissa Zado, second-year speech-language pathology student. "And if I'm really honest, I also loved the 10-minute ukulele and singing warm-ups that started off each session - the room was full of musical talent!"

"The Parkinson's Speech Therapy group not only helped the clients, but also benefited the students greatly," says Darrow. "The purpose of the on-site clinical placement was for the students to apply their skills from lectures and labs to the real world."

A PhD himself, Fatoo is grateful to be part of the student learning experience. "I felt privileged to have been a part of a valuable learning opportunity for U of A students," he says.

"It's not until you're involved in a clinic experience that you recognize the importance of human stories," says Zado. "Each client brings with them varied experiences, passions, skills and places of belonging. It's these things that define who they are, not a disease or disorder."

The University of Alberta Speech Therapy clinic is now accepting referrals for patients with Parkinson's for fall 2016. Contact for details.

For more information or to support Parkinson's Awareness Month, visit, #endparkinsons