Fatima Hassan, MS. CCC-SLP, is the alchemist behind Terra Speech and Language Therapy. Working towards providing a personalised concierge service for children in the comfort of their home and natural environment. Fatima shares her journey to becoming an SLP and holistic child communication approach on how she sets her framework for determinants of health.
TERRA… the journey back “home” in supporting communication from a holistic and integrative lens!
Her communication journey
My personal journey in becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) wasn’t ordinary. I was born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe. At the age of 19, I moved to the United States for university. I was very interested in media and communication with the academic path of becoming a journalist on the front lines. There was one particular phone call with my mom where she shared what the field of speech-language pathology was. It seemed interesting and aligned with my focus on communication. Call it a mother’s intuition in guiding her child. I truly believe that call, my curiosity and what unfolded next, has helped me become the SLP I am today.
A quote from my favourite book, the Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo, captures this in a powerful way: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
I graduated with my Master’s Degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2007, and began my Clinical Fellowship (CF) in Stamford, CT as a school-based SLP. The cold weather and I don’t have a good relationship, so after my CF experience, I moved to Miami, Florida. This was both the best personal and professional decision I have made in my life. Over the next fourteen years, I provided direct school-based services working with Kindergarten students through 8th grade. Exploring all modalities for bridging the gap between academic relevance and communication. It was during these years where I became passionate about working with the autistic population and understanding how important a relationship-based approach is.
I have presented at my state conference and school districts specifically on Autism and behaviour. During this timeframe, I had the privilege of being a Clinical Fellow mentor. Partnering with university programs and training graduate students for the Praxis exam in both Puerto Rico and Miami. I was leading bilingual Spanish-English immersion programs in Ecuador and Costa Rica. While my workload was heavy, my heart was full. However, I always felt there was a missing piece, but didn’t understand what that was until the pandemic happened.
The start of a holistic child communication approach
With health at the forefront of every conversation over the last few years, I can’t help but believe that sometimes life has a way of slamming the breaks and forcing one to implement a version of the three R’s. Reflect, Recalibrate and Restructure my entire clinical attitude.
TERRA Speech-Language Therapy, my passion private practice, was birthed from a mission to serve the paediatric population from a “whole-child” lens, an integrative and holistic approach that dialed it back to a “root cause” approach and not just a symptom-based approach.
TERRA in Italian means “earth” and this word resonates so much to me for one primary reason. Humanity has strayed way too far from the simplicity of living in accordance with nature. This plays a vital role in impacting our health. It’s a polluted world. Toxins are everywhere – in the air we breathe, the products we use, the food we eat and the technology we are exposed to. Our children are “connected” to technology and are sedentary for more hours of the day than they are outside playing in nature. Research is starting to show the link between our increased toxin exposure, autoimmune conditions and increased statistics for autism, attention-deficit, allergies, asthma, etc. Each person has a total load that is specific to them and based on their exposures – including their exposures in utero and lifestyle factors. It’s important to find ways to reduce this load because an overburdened body creates dysfunction and/or illness in the body.
“What is health?” & “How can we optimise health for a child?”
I believe in preventative measures and maintaining a child’s health to keep their body, mind and soul in homeostasis. There are seven determinants of health that I use as a framework for any child I work with:
- Sleep: Sufficient sleep is needed for brain development and all things related to cognitive function and performance such as emotion regulation, attention, memory, immune function. The lymphatic system (aka the waste management system) is a waste drainage pathway that flushes out toxins from the brain into the bloodstream during sleep. Sleep is critical for overall health function!
- Nutrition and Hydration: Your gut is the cornerstone to your immune system with over 80% of your immune function residing in the gastrointestinal tract (gut). Our microbiota are ever changing based on stress levels, foods we eat, environmental toxins, etc. The microbes in our gut produce chemicals that impact how our brain works. Hence, what we eat (whole nutritional foods) and what we absorb (nutrients) from the foods we eat significantly impacts the gut-brain axis. Learning to read and understand ingredients is an area of focus.
- Movement: Exercise and moving our bodies daily helps balance the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. The Lymphatic system (aka sewage system) has to be manually activated to detox the body and movement is the KEY to aid in this process.
- Optimal detoxification: Signs of a healthy digestive system are consistent, well-formed bowel movements, at least 1x/day, with no gas or bloating after meals. Who would have thought a school-based SLP would be so interested in poop? I have come to appreciate the importance of opening up drainage pathways for my clients to aid in daily detox. Starting a language therapy session with lymphatic drainage techniques has been a game changer for my clients.
- Nature: Breathe your biome daily whether it’s a walk on the beach, in the woods, around your neighbourhood, a hike or anything that involves being outdoors. Nature has a beautiful way of bringing us back to equilibrium.
- Emotional, spiritual, mental well-being: Regulating a nervous system is fundamental for the success of any therapy session.
- Connection: We all need each other and community. If I have learned anything during this journey, it is that it truly does take a village! And the SLP community is a powerful, shared brain trust.
After assessing these areas, in collaboration with the family, WE can Reflect, Recalibrate and Restructure speech and/or language goals while supporting the “whole-child’s” total load.
My clinical approach is simple and effective. I meet with my clients and their families, and together, with the family being in control and driving success forward, we discuss options, strategies and decide on which course of action to pursue. What I love most is that this holistic approach benefits the whole family, which makes it easier to support and implement.
Team TERRA is not a one-person practice. It is made up of every single family member and friend who entrusted my guidance of reframing their health perspective. It is filled with parents and caregivers who are open to a different clinical approach. And most importantly it is blessed with clients and students who trust me, understand the shared energy and belief system that we jointly show up. Because I believe with every cell in my body that they have potential to succeed in what is meaningful to them during their lifetime.
My advice to fellow SLPs
You can only take those you serve as far as you have taken yourself. Think outside the box of your traditional speech-language service delivery model whether that includes sensory integration, music, art, binaural beats, vagus nerve activation, lymphatic support, herbalism, or homeopathy. Remember, as an SLP, your heart is your brand. Your heart, paired with an ever-evolving skill-set is magical.
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Blog by Fatima Hassan, MS. CCC-SLP