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June 8, 2004

Increased awareness

From: Syracuse Post Standard, NY - Jun 8, 2004

Free services available for those with communication disorders

Tuesday, June 08, 2004
By Ngoc Huynh
Staff writer

Judith Danz Swanson remembers when she was the only speech pathologist at High Peaks Rehabilitation & Development Center, in Syracuse.

Swanson, director of the center, opened her practice in 1976.

"I was doing it by myself," she said, "and there were no preschool and early intervention programs."

As a result of state funding and public awareness of the programs, Swanson said she now works with 15 full-time and 15 part-time speech pathologists.

The increase in the number of speech pathologists at Swanson's office was caused by an increase in pupils in special education during the 1980s and 1990s, she said. Currently, her staff works with about 300 children in Onondaga and Cayuga counties for speech therapy. Swanson's private practice provides speech and audiology treatment for adults and children.

Better diagnosis of communication disorders has increased the number of children who are being treated for speech problems, according to Swanson.

She added that free services are readily available for families through the early intervention program.

The program, which is statewide, provides different types of intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. Disabilities can include cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and autism, and a variety of other physical, speech and cognitive problems.

Children who need speech and language assistance in schools are considered special-education pupils. The most common special-education designations include learning-disabled, emotionally disturbed, and speech- and hearing-impaired.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the number of speech-language pathologists at schools in New York state increased about 38 percent from 1998 to 2003. As of last year, there were 4,324 speech-language pathologists at schools in the state, said Mona Thomas of the association.

For five years, 70 percent of about 700 children in Onondaga County's early intervention program (from birth to age 3) have received speech services, according to Linda Karmen, director of Special Children Services for the Onondaga County Health Department. Karmen said the percentage is similar for about 1,300 preschoolers (age 3 to 4) in the Preschool Special Education Program.

When Tammy Farrell began as a speech pathologist in 1986, most of her cases involved pupils needing help with articulation. Now, most of her pupils at Tecumseh Elementary School have receptive or expressive language needs.

Farrell, a therapist in the Jamesville-DeWitt school district, said children with receptive needs include autistic pupils who lack literal and social understanding of language. She said children with expressive needs have problems with sentence structures.

"The ultimate goal is to get any child just to communicate to the best of their ability," Farrell said.

Lynn Kells, a speech pathologist at East Syracuse-Minoa, agrees with Farrell that there are more pupils who have problems understanding ideas and expressing them in speech.

"We also work with a lot of children who have reading difficulty," Kells said, "difficulty with reading comprehension or reading phonics, difficulty figuring out word configuration."

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2002-03 Occupational Outlook Handbook ranked speech-language pathology among the top 30 occupations over the next decade.

According tothe U.S. Department of Labor, baby boomers entering middle age will face health issues requiring speech-language assistance. Medical advances will improve the survival rate of premature infants and trauma and stroke victims, all of whom will need speech-language assessment and treatment, the department says. Employment in schools will increase along with growth in elementary and secondary school enrollments, including special-education students.

All children with disabilities are guaranteed access to a free and appropriate public education, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Cazenovia resident Katie Bailey has a 5-year-old daughter who has problems pronouncing the letters "w" and "l." Bailey believes she will outgrow it.

"I help out in my daughter's preschool class," Bailey said, "and I've noticed she's not the only one."

Bailey said many programs are available for her daughter at Burton Elementary School if she does not improve by next year.

"My kindergarten was more about playing," Bailey said. "Now in some kindergarten they're quite academic . . . there's all kinds of resources for students who need assistance."

© 2004 The Post-Standard.