In her career as a speech-language pathologist, Holley Arbeit has traveled from Buffalo, N.Y., to San Francisco, Calif., and toured the world from England to Ecuador to South Africa.
She has also worked with every kind of client using every tool and approach from the Fokes Sentence Builder—created in 1976 by OHIO professor emeritus and Arbeit’s mentor Joann Fokes—to the more recent online teletherapy approaches made possible by the Internet.
What prepared her for such a versatile career? According to Arbeit, it was the collaborative and inclusive approach fostered by the College of Health Sciences and Professions’ master’s program in speech-language pathology at Ohio University.
“The greatest gift OU gave me was the understanding that communication is not done in isolation, and therefore the services should be collaborative,” Arbeit said. “I attribute this to OU’s outstanding professors for teaching me this foundational attitude.”
Arbeit’s interest in gaining international experience was first kindled by working for a semester during her junior year in college with school children in Manchester, England.
“At that time all services were offered through a clinical setting—not at school sites, as they are in the U.S.,” Arbeit said. “Still, much of what we addressed were typical school-type disorders— stuttering, articulation, language, and literacy.”
And the language and culture were similar to the U.S., factors that became a greater challenge when Arbeit moved to Ecuador with her husband in 2002 and began working with individuals with intellectual impairments and multiple disabilities.
“Once I learned Spanish and could teach and consult with colleagues and parents—as well as becoming more aware of the subtle cultural ‘rhythms’ when interacting—my ability to connect improved,” she said. “Then the challenge became having to create equipment or materials with very limited resources.”
Arbeit persevered, one of her proudest accomplishments being to design a communication method for a 33-year-old woman with cerebral palsy who was attending a center for the disabled in Quito. The woman had been experiencing sexual abuse for many years and was finally able to alert her teachers, who then stepped in to provide the help and protection she needed.
Later, Arbeit traveled to South Africa as part of a volunteer/fundraising program called One Dollar for Life, where for three weeks, she and her team helped to refurbish preschools in townships and squatter camps near Johannesburg. Arbeit’s role was to educate local teachers about early language development and provide language enrichment activities for the children.
Arbeit recently retired from her job as speech language pathologist with high schools in Bakersfield, California and moved with her husband to San Francisco, where they both enjoy more time for leisure pursuits, family and travel. But an ongoing interest in information technologies combined with an expertise in working with individuals with high functioning autism allow Holley Arbeit to continue to work online with autistic teens and adults on a part-time basis.
“I continue to adore my career,” she said, “the flexibility it offers and riding the immense wave of changes in the field. It is always fresh and exciting.”