May is Speech and Hearing Month, so we thought it was the perfect time to check in with Melissa “Mel” Henderson. You might recall Mel as the person who recruited Alice to LDS, as mentioned in Alice’s Mission Makers story, or you may have met her during an intake, instruction, or summer break camp. As the Learning Support Manager, Mel works with our instructors to design, implement, and monitor engaging learning programs tailored to each individual student. Most recently, Mel managed and instructed our PEERS social skill program.
Mel’s background is in one-to-one remedial instruction, and she has a bachelor’s degree in Speech Sciences. Mel’s future aspirations include a career as an SLP (speech language pathologist). “Working here [at LDS] has been a delve into the educational side, and so I feel that’s the track I’m leaning towards, but it’s all really cool.”
“An SLP is an expert on your whole vocal tract, from your neck to nose!” explains Mel. Although a career as an SLP is most often thought of as focusing on speech therapy, there are various avenues of work. Some more clinical and anatomical, such as helping with swallowing or monitoring cognitive functions during brain surgery. Others focus on speech and social learning, which relates to the work LDS does for children with learning differences.
For example, Mel and Lara, an SLP who works with us, ran a social-emotional learning program during RISE Summer Camps called “Worry Warriors.” This after–lunch time slot was used to teach students about their emotions and coping mechanisms to be resilient.
Mental health is often affected by language-based learning differences as it can be challenging to process and express feelings. The rise of anxiety and depression rates among adolescents with learning differences further emphasizes for Mel the importance of SLP and working with youth. Her goal is to equip students with the confidence to believe in themselves to face any challenge.
This goal was influenced by Mel’s own experiences growing up. Mel’s interest in SLP is rooted in her childhood passions for musical theatre and voice. SLP combines speech, language, and communication with technical aspects such as acoustics, psychology, and brain development, which together create a field of study that continues to keep Mel intrigued. However, Mel’s passion for working with children, especially those with learning differences, can be attributed to her childhood experience growing up with her sister who has a learning difference.
“Seeing her struggle in school and how that affected her confidence in every part of her life growing up and what she sees for her future and knowing that I could work with people who are in the same situation that my family was in is really important to me.”
Mel’s parents faced their own challenges in navigating her sister’s diagnosis, the school system, and finding additional resources for her sister, as options are not always obvious. Additionally, Mel notes how difficult it was for her mother, the primary caretaker, to advocate for her sister as she spoke English as a second language. Language barriers and financial barriers are all too real for many of our families we serve.
“I just want to be able to make a difference and help people and provide resources that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise have access to because of finances or they’re not sure how. It’s not an easy process to navigate the school system with a learning difference, and so I want to be somebody who can offer that for families.”
Rie Stadnichuk (she/her) is the Digital Communications Specialist at LDS. Currently studying Communications and Economics at Simon Fraser University, she hopes to use this opportunity as a way of exploring meaningful work in the field. She is passionate about social issues and creating environments of inclusivity and open dialogue. Rie graciously lives and works on the unceded territory of the Syilx people.