For 12-year-old Grace Ozark of Perryville, Missouri, being understood when she speaks can be difficult, but communication is an essential aspect of her teenage world.
“I want to be able to speak well and be able to pronounce words better,” said Grace, who has trouble articulating the letter ‘r.’
The purpose of Southeast Missouri State University’s Center for Speech and Hearing is to help people across southeast Missouri like Grace with any kind of disorder that impacts their ability to communicate, said Amy Herren, clinic coordinator at the Center.
“Our primary goal is to be an asset to the community to help individuals with one-on-one help,” she said.
The Center is located at 402 North Pacific Street, and operates under the auspices of Southeast’s College of Education, Health and Human Studies. The facility provides comprehensive diagnostic and intervention services for communication disorders – speech, language and hearing evaluations and treatment – for all ages within Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines.
The Center features 10 therapy rooms, two labs for swallowing and acoustics and augmentative and alternative communication, rooms for diagnostic services and audiological testing, a clinical kitchen and an observation lounge.
Herren says the Center is focused on the clients’ well-being and providing services they can’t find or afford anywhere else.
“Once an individual has exhausted their insurance and opportunities to receive services at a different facility, they come to the Center for Speech and Hearing because we can provide those services at a lower cost,” she said. “We also fill a gap where children may or may not be receiving school-based services, and we work one-on-one with families and help carry over what the school is working on to the home environment as well. Being able to provide services when insurance is exhausted, to connect with individuals and families and fulfill children’s needs when they’re not in school is something that we’re really proud of and a resource our facility provides in the community.”
One of the reasons the Center provides professional services at an affordable cost is because the Center also serves as an educational and clinical training facility for Southeast undergraduate and graduate students majoring in communication disorders.
“The students are studying to be audiologists and speech language pathologists, and the clinicals they complete at the Center are preparing them to go out into the field, to work in schools, work in hospitals, or any other professional setting,” Herren said.
Student clinicians are assigned two to three clients a semester, spending up to 12 weeks working on programs, activities and/or games to help them overcome any challenge.
Working one-on-one with real clients is a great experience, said Ashley Bachmann, a second-year communication disorders graduate student.
“I worked with a two-year-old toddler, and what was great is just seeing how modeling that language for him was really just taking off for him. From the beginning of the semester to the end of the semester, he picked up phrases that he wasn’t even putting together at the beginning,” she said. “Another client was a gentleman we worked with on a lot of memory exercises and some counseling because not only are you trying to help them regain those skills but also trying to help them figure out how are they going to function with their everyday lives.”
Student clinicians are guided and monitored by faculty members in Southeast’s Department of Communication Disorders, said Herren. An intelligent video solution system is completely integrated throughout the building, allowing approved supervisors and clinicians to observe and record therapy sessions and provide immediate guidance and feedback to students in real time. The students also have one-on-one meetings with faculty, email communication and written feedback.
“We try to give students a lot of opportunities to communicate with their supervisors, and we really emphasize the importance of critical thinking and independent clinical judgement or independent clinical decision-making in our program,” Herren said. “The relationship with the supervisor and the student really emphasizes the student’s ability to develop the skills that he or she needs to function as an independent clinician. As they progress through their program, we fade the level of support that we provide so when they graduate they are ready for the work force.”
Student clinicians also get the opportunity to develop relationships with clients and make a bigger impact on their clients’ progress.
“Communication is all about relationships, and so for our students to really learn about communication and to learn about developing a relationship with an individual who has a communication disorder, getting to see those relationships really blossom over the course of a semester or two is really unique and special,” Herren said.
That one-on-one relationship students build with their clients can be key to a client’s success.
For Roni Putz of Oak Ridge, Missouri, the Center provides her daughter Kaylee the opportunity to tackle her language disorder in a fun and safe learning environment.
“She was struggling a lot in school and behind in reading and we knew there was something else going on,” Putz said. “We came to the Center and had some testing done and she was diagnosed with a processing disorder, which means it takes her longer to process things. It makes sense then that she’s having a hard time with reading because there’s so many [language]processes that go into that.”
“She loves coming here, and we’ve loved bringing her here,” Putz said. “They connect her with people that go well with her and her personality. She’s had three different clinicians, and she’s loved all of them. They’re fun and they make learning fun, and she enjoys coming. It’s good to go somewhere where she can learn and have fun doing it.”
Having instructional sessions that are fun and beneficial is also important to Grace.
“My ‘r’s were not a top priority. They weren’t something that when I got home from school I was going to go straight to my room and work on because it wasn’t something that I just wanted to do,” she said. “But my first sessions here were very fun, and it’s not like we just sit and say ‘r’ words over and over again.”
At the beginning of each session, Grace’s student clinician will record her saying the letter ‘r’ 10- times. Each time she says an ‘r’, the computer program can detect and display the quality of the sound she produces, allowing Grace to have immediate feedback on what was good or needs improvement. The student clinician and Grace will then spend the rest of the session playing games, such as Sorry, Bingo, Uno and Jenga, and completing worksheets that integrate ‘r’ words and sounds.
At the end of her session, Grace records 10 more ‘r’ sounds, and the student clinician then compares them with those from when she first started and with past sessions, charting her progress.
“It’s very fun because I have worksheets and tablets and we have the computer program, and I just feel involved in actually doing something,” she said. “I remember I’d say ‘wing’ like ‘ring’ but now I can actually say ‘ring,’ and people can understand me better.”
Grace says she feels she’s getting better, and her family has supported her and recognized her progress.
“After one of my sessions my grandma took me out to eat and I started speaking and she just stared at me and I said ‘what’s wrong?’” Grace said.
She recounted her grandmother saying, “Your speech! I haven’t heard you like that.
“So I think I’m really improving,” Grace said.
Seeing success in their students and clients is what the Center is all about, Herren said.
“The students take ownership in working with their clients, and creating projects and games fit for each person, and through that experience they’re able to develop the clinical skills they need for the real world,” she said. “Every day our students and the Center are focused on being an asset to the clients and the community.”
For more information about the Center for Speech and Hearing, visit https://semo.edu/commdisorders/speech.html.