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 Service, 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. Along with our Business Goals, we have 3 core social objectives, the 3 Rs, Raise Awareness of the Impact of Speech, Language and Communication (SLCN) 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, we generate private income and use some of this to fund affordable activities in the community. We are commissioned by schools, local authorities, CCG’s and also have our own private clinic, so a wide range of people can access our services. We provide assessments, therapy, a 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 have understood the specification and that we are able to deliver what is required.  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 Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs).

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

ChatterBug was established in 2008, when I started working independently. But the journey that led upto establishing ChatterBug is what is important. I qualified as an SLT in London having trained at UCL. I started my career working for the NHS.  I worked for a number of different trusts and was successful in my career and went from working as a newly qualified therapist to working within management within three years. I was passionate about my profession and eager to take on challenges.

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

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. Which meant that they were not always able to make quick decisions on patient care, adding to a delay in decision making. This made me realise the importance of good quality support and supervision.

At the same time, I became a patient of the NHS, this opened my eyes to the parents perspective and the stress and anxiety they faced whilst the child was on a waiting list. To wait for long periods of time for an initial assessment only to be given little information did not seem fair. Parents need to be included in the decision-making process, with information communicated in a confident and clear manner. I felt that with the right support our less experienced staff could work collaboratively with parents to provide them with a better experience.

At my own hospital appointments, the administrative side of things was not always very efficient. There were occasions when I would go to my hospital appointments and my results had been misfiled which meant the clinician was unable to make decisions about my care, a lot of time wasted which was costing the NHS. 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 ways we could do things better! They were very simple things, for examples building better relationships and thinking about how we communicate with parents.

Going back to my career in the NHS, the service I was working with didn’t have a school-based service, so they had a 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 this was a real wasted opportunity. What we should be doing is working very closely with our education colleagues.

Around the same time, I also discovered I was pregnant! This was all within the same year – and going through these changes and becoming a parent myself raised my awareness of the need even more. There was a massive disparity between the level of service families received in the south compared to that in the north and I was keen to do my bit in narrowing that gap.

As  I was going through my treatment, I had lots of time to think and contemplate about the service available to parents. Faced with the possibility of my own mortality, I asked myself “What am I doing to make this world a better place? What will I leave behind for my child?”

I wanted to be able to do something that was going to make a difference for many years after I was gone and it snowballed from there. I registered as an independent practitioner and started seeing private clients, but I wanted more. I wanted it to be bigger, because the need was great. I started to find out a little bit more about myself as an entrepreneur and about setting up a social enterprise and ChatterBug was born. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Around 2012 ChatterBug became a limited company, we had our first school contract, and we employed our first SLT. By 2014, there was a team of about four, and today we’re a team of about forty four!

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

I had never heard of Speech Therapy as a career until it was mentioned by relative and was also identified as an option for me by a quiz I completed. I trained at UCL [University College London] as a speech and language therapist and completed a four-year undergraduate degree. Following that, I applied for lots of different roles, within the NHS and opted to work in Early Years.

I felt this would give me a good grounding in child development, and it did! I specialised in early years for the first four years of my career. Within that field, I worked with all the different client groups and supported a range of staff, and worked with lots of other professionals. I also had the opportunity to develop and deliver a range of training, 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, developing and implementing a plan 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 perhaps discuss an opportunity to work with ChatterBug?  Feel free to contact her via email on Asma@chatter-bug.com

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