Danielle Malouff has always had the gift of helping people communicate. She noticed her child donation and tried to help her uncle and sister who had speech difficulties.
“My uncle had Down’s syndrome and I would ask my grandmother and my mother, ‘Why is he talking like that? said Malouff, now a bilingual speech-language pathologist with The Resource Exchange. “One day he was brushing his teeth and I looked into his mouth to see what was wrong – I was naturally curious.
“I also had a sister who was seven years younger than me. She couldn’t say her R’s and we’d say she looked like she was from Boston. Now I know it’s normal, but back then I was like, ‘Do that,’ errr ‘and show her how to do it in the mirror.’ ”
She turned that curiosity into a degree, earning a bachelor’s degree in speech, language, and hearing science from the University of Colorado Boulder in 1999.
Malouff spent two years doing individual work with disabled children and worked for the Boys and Girls Club of Denver. She returned to school in 2001, obtaining an MA in Communication Disorders and Science from Wichita State University in Kansas in 2003.
In her first job after graduation, she worked as a bilingual speech-language pathologist with Adams County School District 14 in Commerce City, helping children with education issues and helping bilingual students understand their homework in English.
After starting a family in 2006, Malouff moved to Pueblo. She worked as a speech therapist for Pueblo School District 60, where her workload included early intervention work with preschoolers and elementary school students. But she wanted to focus on speaking and developing even younger children. So after five years in District 60, she moved to Colorado Springs to work at The Resource Exchange, with children up to 3 years old.
“I knew I could do the most with these young children, that’s why I went with [The Resource Exchange] – for this early intervention piece, ”said Malouff.
TRE serves nearly 9,000 infants, children, adolescents and adults with disabilities, delays, mental health needs or long-term care. For Malouff’s early intervention work, she focuses on people with speech and / or developmental delays, language disorders or communication difficulties.
Her workload includes 16 families and she spends an hour a week with each. Five of the 16 families speak languages other than English, including Spanish, which Malouff speaks, and Telugu, an Indian dialect.
Malouff spoke with the Business journal on work during the pandemic, cross the language barrier and decompress from work.
How did you know you had the love and patience to work with those in need of this help?
I’ve always loved helping my younger siblings and cousins, but I also know it’s so frustrating not being able to communicate. It is such a deep human need. I was like, “I’m good at languages and I’m good at getting these pieces of what it takes to communicate” and I was learning to use those natural abilities.
When did you realize this was something you wanted to do?
I didn’t know what it was, but looking back, I was still doing speech therapy. I think I naturally tried to step in and say people’s sentences for them even if they didn’t want me to. As I studied, I noticed that speech therapy was what I had always done, so I probably should do it professionally. Everything came together for me. I thought to myself, “Can I be a student of Spanish or psychology?” It was then that I had a hard time figuring out what to do. … As I was finding out about speech therapy, all of these things started to click. I was helping my uncle with Down’s syndrome and I remember being interested at the age of 7 about why my little sister babbled. All the pieces lined up as I learned more about it. Wanting to help people and working at the hospital rather than at school seemed like a good solution to me.
Has COVID thrown a wrench into things? I guess before the pandemic most of the work was face to face?
It was before COVID, but since then we have moved on to full telehealth. It was a big change for us. The good thing is we do coaching methods, so even before COVID I tried to teach families how to do these things – and that made it really tangible. Now I’m not here anymore so they have to work with their kids with me in the background saying, “Hey, try that” or “What do you think if you did that? Or how to involve them in a different way. I have a lot of experience in speech therapy, but I also have my own children and I know how difficult it is to keep a house – and it allows me to work well with families.
How do you prepare courses or trainings to help people?
Now I work for The Resource Exchange and it is a community center for people with disabilities. I’m specifically in early intervention – that’s why I say I work with babies. But what it really means is that I teach their parents, grandparents and siblings. I recently came from a house where this 2 year old is retarded and can’t speak enough for his age and is unable to communicate, the whole family is super involved. The 4 year old sister is there talking to him. I have to plan to work even with the siblings and help them understand when he tells Sister “Bop” that he is trying to tell her “Stop”. She laughs, but he’s frustrated because he’s trying to communicate with her [to tell her] to stop taking his arms. Sometimes it’s about making a connection and building relationships. But there is research on how to help with sibling dynamics and how to create an array of family culture so that other kids don’t overly frustrate the baby we’re trying to teach. When I leave after the hour, it’s up to them to do the rest of the week. I also work with families where the child might have autism, genuinely holding their hand throughout the process of exploring a diagnosis and assessment with doctors and resources once you get it. a diagnosis. Part of that is community work and knowing which clinics speak Spanish and which would be more conducive to this family who are really worried about the diagnosis.
Working with families who speak other languages must be a challenge.
Part of my specialty is that I love working with different cultures. I speak Spanish so I receive all Spanish-speaking families so that I can work with them in their language. I have had families who do not speak the same language as me and I have worked with interpreters. And during the pandemic, when we couldn’t get to a house, we used a translation company, GlobeLink Foreign Language Center. The person was calling from somewhere in India and there were two phones and a computer and [we were] trying to get the phones to get along. Technical difficulties certainly arise. For me it’s fun, but I love languages, so it’s a challenge to learn new words in an obscure language that I’m only exposed to for an hour a week. I would write a few words because it is important to have an ear when talking about a babbling child. When a child says “Bop” in English, I can understand that he meant “Stop”. But if this is a language in which I have no idea what it might sound like, I would depend on the parents to be good listeners – even if they are not trained – or that the interpreter finds out which word it sounds in their language. It’s hard when you don’t speak the same language, but having a good interpreter and building a good relationship with parents helps you bridge that gap.
It must get complicated when younger siblings are involved.
I feel very comfortable as a “mom” with all the children. I worked in schools and studied a lot. I just go directly with the little one and explain to them. I hope I can continue to build a relationship with them so that they can see me as a friend and know that they can listen to me and trust me. I don’t just talk down or scold them. I have to give the younger ones a different way to help, so I have to say something like, “Oh, it’s kind of funny he said ‘Bop’. But I bet you can figure out what word it is, because you’re so smart and can teach him how to pronounce the word. I have to be creative and it’s always about building a relationship where they trust me as someone who does something for their own good, and not just to defeat them.
Does it become difficult to see families who have a child in difficulty?
It is, and some families make your heart a little harder. I have this family where the baby has cochlear implants because she was born deaf and had surgery when she was one year old. We teach him to hear and to listen. Her mother’s goal is that she can talk, not just [use sign language]. We definitely go through emotions with any disabled child. Parents have to go through a grieving process where they have to give up: “This is what I thought my child was going to do, communicate or learn” – and they have to let go of this dream. I sat there and tried not to cry as we went through the emotions. You have to hold the space for the family and hold their hand. It might be a harder path, but it’s still a good path, and they still have a wonderful baby that you connect with.