Speaking Up for Developmentally Delayed Children

A speech-language pathologist finds opportunities to prevent developmental delays in Native children

Early Childhood Development, Mental Health

Born and raised in the Tohatchi community on the Navajo reservation, Mr. Joshuaa Allison-Burbank is passionate about creating culturally-responsive approaches to prevent developmental delays in American Indian and Alaska Native children.

Mr. Allison-Burbank is on an interdisciplinary team that diagnoses and treats children with autism spectrum disorders and other neurodevelopmental disabilities at the University of Kansas Medical Center while pursuing his PhD in speech-language pathology. Developmental disabilities are prevalent in American Indian communities due to poverty, low socioeconomic status, poor access to quality schools, and other factors related to health and educational disparities.

“Research shows that minorities with intellectual and developmental disabilities are more likely to have poor physical and mental health,” said Mr. Allison-Burbank. “There is a whole host of things I want to understand to see what needs to be done to reduce the rates of developmentally delayed children,” he said.

Support communication between parents and children

“We should be promoting quality early childhood interventions between children and parents,” he said. “As a therapist, I am a firm believer that the ability to recognize and regulate emotions and behaviors are more important than cognitive abilities in early childhood.”

“My job is to give children with communication disorders a way to communicate those things and get over their language barriers.”

Connection to network  

Mr. Allison-Burbank feels that public health training institutes offered through the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health provide an important networking opportunity for people doing similar work.

“It can get lonely when you are trying to advocate for and serve tribal communities,” he said, “the [biannual] institutes help me get reenergized.” He plans to apply to the Johns Hopkins MPH program and focus on maternal and child health.

Fostering change

Mr. Allison-Burbank shared that he was inspired by Mathu Santosham’s comments during the 2017 Winter Institute about his experience founding the Center.

“His core values are truly reflected in the training program and everything the Center does—humility and service.”

He noticed the courses included several Johns Hopkins employees from the White Mountain Apache Tribe, where the Center has worked for over three decades.

“In order to make change you need to be educated,” he said. “You’re training your own to foster that change.”

“Our communities have high rates of intellectual disabilities including autism, and there is an urgent need to understand why and do something to prevent this—hopefully I will be equipped to do that someday,” he said.

Learn more about our Summer and Winter Institute courses and Public Health Training Certificate for American Indian Health Professionals here.

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