As far back as I can remember, I was always very curious about speech, language and communication. When I was a little girl I noticed some people could not talk fluently and I wondered why. I also noticed that some people spoke with a lisp and I wondered why.
In our neighborhood , there was a beautiful young girl who simply could not add five and five and I also wondered why. One of my cousins kept running around and around and he never stop running—and I also wondered why.
A friend’s older sister went to her first day of school, and she came home crying because she lost her hair ribbons, notebook, pencils and her school bag. The kids in her school were laughing at her. She never went back to school and she looked a little different. (She was a child with Down syndrome.) The father of my classmate never talked when we went to visit her home. During dinner he never uttered a sound and was hiding behind a newspaper—and I wondered why.
I have devoted the last 45 years of my life doing exactly what I love: speech-language pathology.
I began returning to Taiwan, the place where I grew up, beginning in 1980. I returned to Taiwan every summer for five years, teaching the various subjects of speech and language pathology. I helped to organize many symposia on human communication disorders in Taiwan. Over the last 30 years, many speech-language pathologists and audiologists have been trained there, and there are now five programs of speech language pathology and audiology in Taiwan.
In 1984, former ASHA President David Yoder took a group of us to Taiwan to attend and speak at the first Sino-American symposium on speech language pathology and audiology. In 1986, former ASHA presidents Kay Butler and David Yoder went to Taiwan and attended the third symposium on speech language pathology and audiology. 30 years later, in April of 2014, I again organized a symposium to advance the knowledge about our understanding of human communication. This was held in Taipei, and colleagues Barbara Hodson, Carol Westby, Kathee Christiansen and Kenneth Tom also went to Taiwan to support this symposium on child language development and disorders. The symposium was well attended, and we celebrated 30 years of work in the development of programs and services for Taiwan.
In addition, I also began to work with the Education Bureau of Guangzhou in China with a proposal to provide training in speech-language pathology for special-needs populations by organizing professionals from Taiwan, Hong Kong and the United States. Colleagues Geraldine Wallach and Vicki Reed also participated in this program. More than two thousand teachers and special education teachers attended these training programs.
Over the last 30 years, I have traveled to many parts of the world with a focus on the Chinese-speaking populations in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore. The need for quality services for individuals with communication challenges is urgent. I feel blessed to be part of the development of many programs and many seminars. I know that there is so much more work to do. Over the last 30 years I have had the privilege to serve on the Multicultural Issues Board of ASHA, the Board of IALP, the Taiwan Speech and Hearing Association and many other organizations.
Growing up in a multilingual environment, I was very much aware of the many languages people speak. Thanks to ASHA for giving me the opportunity to continue to serve in the area of multilingualism and multiculturalism. I hope that there will be many more opportunities for my colleagues from ASHA and around the world to continue to advocate for the human right to communication and to improve the quality of life so many through our relentless effort to excel. Global civic engagement is a lifelong learning process.
I wish the best of luck to all my colleagues and happy journeys.
Lilly (Li-Rong) Cheng is professor in the School of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences and director of the Chinese Studies Institute at San Diego State University. She is the past chair of ASHA’s Multicultural Issues Board.