Speech-Language Pathology

Oct. 1, 2019 – Today I met with the team that helps kids improve their speech and language skills through an amazing variety of creative and motivating strategies. The Speech-Language Pathology Department evaluates children with speech, language, cognitive, feeding, swallowing and auditory impairments and provides specialized therapies to develop their language skills.

A colorful mural is the highlight of the Songs & Stories Room

My visit began in the Songs & Stories Room, a colorful space filled with books and musical instruments. This room allows children to actively create, explore and learn new sounds and language by incorporating music and literacy into group and individual therapies. A hand-painted mural fills an entire wall, depicting kids and animals reading and playing music – many of them with hearing aids and cochlear implants.

I found out that today I would be going from office to office trick-or-treating, just as some of the kids who have communication challenges do this time of year. It’s a great way to teach them how to navigate through trick-or-treating in a safe environment. So, with my firefighter hat on, I set out with members of the team who were also in costume.

Our first stop was at a room where team members were holding up thought bubbles with photos. This helps kids who may be nonverbal “think with their eyes” and practice social thinking (learning the connection between thoughts, feelings and behaviors).

Thought bubbles help kids communicate

We then moved on to the next room, which had team members demonstrating communication strategies for kids under 3 and those who are still learning to use their voice. I pretended to be a nonverbal 2-year-old and used pictures to indicate what I wanted. I even learned how to sign the word “candy” by touching my index finger to the back of my jaw, and twisting it back and forth. For the real trick-or-treaters, this team gives out small toys and other items instead of candy. And they get a lot of traffic, handing out up to 5,500 items in a week! It’s all about encouraging kids to have fun, giving every child a voice and making trick-or-treating a successful event no matter how kids communicate or what they can eat.

Next, I learned more about the services this team provides, including the bilingual program. There are approximately 30,000 speech appointments every year, with 40 group sessions every week. Twenty-five percent of these are conducted in Spanish. Fifteen speech therapists are bilingual, which is significantly above the national average.

Learning how to sign the word “candy”

I moved on just down the hall to meet up with the team that provides speech evaluations — about 80 per week and 4,000 per year. They are often the first providers to see kids who may have some sort of developmental delay, so along with assessing speech and language, they screen for other services that kids might need. For example, a speech delay might indicate hearing issues, or potentially be part of an autism spectrum disorder. These kids would then be referred for services in audiology or the Autism Discovery Institute. Others might need occupational therapy, physical therapy or mental health support.

Simulating hearing loss with earplugs and headphones

Next, I got a real-life example of the specialized speech therapy used for kids who have hearing loss and use cochlear implants to hear. With earplugs in my ears and headphones on, I tried to understand the muffled instructions I was given. It was not easy! Part of the therapy for these kids involves teaching the brain to understand frequencies of sound, and to understand six common sounds called the “Ling Six:”ah, oo, eee, sh, ssss and mmm. It was fascinating to get this perspective.

Finally, I headed back to the Songs & Stories Room, which was now filled with all of the team members I met along my tour. Little did I know the candy I had been collecting was part of an executive function test I would need to complete! I had to fill in the blanks in a short story about me with the names of the candy. It was a lot of fun, and a perfect representation of the creative ways this team makes therapies engaging for the hundreds of children they help. Keep up the great work!

By the way, here is the puzzle: