Who is Asma Khanum at Chatterbug?

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Who is Asma Khanum at Chatterbug?

There are very few people who are as passionate about speech therapy as Asma Khanum. The managing director of Chatterbug Speech and Language Therapy Services, has a very unique journey into speech therapy. Going from being a senior manager to having to start at the beginning again, Asma has experienced practically every side to her industry including as a service user, having overcome her own stammer.

She has a huge wealth of knowledge to share. Not just as a seasoned therapist but as a parent, very much wanting to make a difference in a child’s life…

Hi Asma, can you tell me what Chatterbug does?

Chatterbug is a Social Enterprise providing a range of Speech and Language Therapy services.  We are a national organisation, but our HQ is in Leeds. We have our 3 core objectives, the 3 Rs which make us a Social Enterprise. Raise Awareness of the Impact of Speech and Language Difficulties, Recruit and train locally and Reduce environmental impact.  These run through the heart of our organisation which makes us what we are. As a social enterprise how we work, in a nutshell, is we generate private income and use some of this to fund free/discounted activities. We are commissioned by schools, local authorities, CCG’s and also a private clinic, so a wide range of people can access our services. We provide assessments, therapy, a wide range of training programmes, consultations; anything to do with Speech and Language really!

And what is it that you do at Chatterbug?

I have a dual role at the moment, I am the Managing Director, I am also the consultant speech and language therapist.   

I have an overview of the entire service and ensure that we continue to provide high quality services that meet the needs of our clients. Each of our clients have very specific needs, and my role is to ensure that we’ve understood the spec and that we’re able to put together and deliver whatever it is that they require.  My role also involves looking for innovative solutions to help us stay ahead and I have quite a large role in training and supervising our SLTs.

Can you tell me a bit about the history of Chatterbug?

Chatterbug was established in 2008, when I started working independently. But just to take it back a step, I qualified as a speech and language therapist in London, and I started my career working for the NHS.  Working for a number of different trusts. I was quite successful in my career in London, I went from working as a newly qualified therapist to working within management within two or three years, just because I really excelled at my job.

In 2008 I moved to Yorkshire there were fewer job opportunities but I wanted to continue doing what I really enjoyed and I started working for one of the local NHS Services starting at the beginning again..

This position really opened up my eyes.  The service that I was working for had lots of children waiting and a large number of recently/newly qualified SLTs who had access to limited support and supervision.

At the same time, I became a patient of the NHS. I was able to see from the parents perspective to have waited for long periods of time for an assessment. Then only to be seen by a therapist who may have recently qualified, and wasn’t able to then make decisions about their child’s care there and then. They might have waited six to eight months for that initial assessment, sometimes longer. Therapists would carry out the assessment, but then didn’t feel confident to share their findings at the first session. I felt as though that process could be a lot smoother and with the right support our therapists would feel more confident in making decisions more quickly.

At my own hospital appointments the administrative side of things was not always very efficient. There were many occasions when I would go along to my hospital appointments and they would misfile my notes . As a result, there was a lot of time wasted as the clinician was unable to make decisions about my care. I was eventually diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and I became very absorbed into the system as a patient. The difficulty in communication between the staff and myself meant that I lost a lot of trust in the process. I realised how much anxiety it can cause for people that are accessing the healthcare service. For me, I could always see lots of different ways that we could do things  better. They were very simple things, such as how we could build relationships and how we communicate.

Going back to my career in the NHS, the service I was working with didn’t have a school-based service, so they had really high percentage of clients that wouldn’t attend clinic appointments. One clinic that I worked in had an 86 percent DNA (did not attend) rate. I felt like that was real wasted opportunity. What we should be doing is working very closely with our education colleagues.

I also became pregnant at the same time. This is all within the same year – and obviously going through those changes and becoming a parent myself raised my awareness of the need out there. I felt like there was a massive disparity between the level of service families receive in the south compared to what you can access up north

So basically you lump all that together and it made me realise there was a real problem here. As  I was going through my treatment, I had lots of time to think and contemplate “What am I doing to make this world a better place? What will I leave behind for my children?”

I wanted to be able to do something that was going to make a difference for many years after I was gone. At the time, my husband and I had a cafe, and I was working there when I could. We had a customer  who came in first thing in the morning and had a jacket potato. Jacket Potato Man we called him.. He listened to my story, and one day he said to me: “You need to do something about it; here, talk to this person.”

I went to talk to the person he suggested  and it snowballed from there, really. So I registered as an independent practitioner and started seeing private clients, but I wanted more. I wanted it to be bigger, because I saw there was a bigger need. I started to find out a little bit more about myself as an entrepreneur and about setting up a social enterprise. ChatterBug was born. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Around 2012 that we had our first school contract, and that was just myself, then I employed another newly qualified therapist. By 2014, there was a team of about four, and today we’re a team of about forty!

Could you tell us how you got into doing what you do today?

I trained at UCL [University College London] as a speech and language therapist. I completed a four-year undergraduate degree. Following that degree I applied for lots of different roles at the time, within the NHS. and opted to work in Early Years

I felt that this would give me a good grounding in child development. And it did! So I specialised in early years for the first four or five years of my career. Within that field I worked with all the different client groups and supported assistants. it was quite varied.

I then moved on to specialise in bilingualism. That’s an area that really fascinated me and I was fortunate enough to work with a lot of bilingual populations across the country. Over the years, that then expanded into working with older clients. As well as working with adults with learning difficulties,  and social and emotional needs. I think my passion really lies within the early years but I am still learning.

What is the best part of your job?

There are two main aspects. Supporting, supervising and training therapists, I love seeing them develop their skills and their confidence. I also love setting up new services,  I like looking at what is needed, setting that up and seeing the difference it makes; whether that’s to one family, or ten, or the local authority, anybody. I just like being able to find a problem and find a solution to it.

Want to have a chat with Asma Khanum about speech therapy? Or perhap discuss an opportunity to work with ChatterBug?  Feel free to contact her via email on Asma@chatter-bug.com

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