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April 18, 2006

Speech and Language Hearing Center opens doors of communication

From: College Misericordia - Dallas,PA,USA - Apr 18, 2006

The Bonita family enjoyed the milestones all parents envision during the first few months of their newborn son’s life. They celebrated his subtle crawls, bottle-less feedings and careful first steps.
Each accomplishment was a family event that was carefully observed with videos and pictures. What the pictures failed to capture, the videos clearly revealed — their son lacked verbal communication skills. At 15 months old, Caden Bonita still made few attempts to communicate with his mother, father or siblings. There were few hand gestures and no verifiable words — just the crying frustrations of a toddler unable to convey his feelings or needs to the world around him.

“At that point, he wasn’t saying anything,’’ Caden’s mother, Jennifer Bonita said. “He had always been a quiet child; even when he was an infant he was quiet. When he did want to communicate, it was mostly pointing or ugh.'' Caden was 15 months old when his family first became concerned about his slow developing verbal skills. Michael and Jennifer Bonita have two other children, Tyler Marie, 10½, and Michael 7, who did not experience any developmental issues.

Over the next three months, two specialists reviewed Caden’s medical history. He underwent MRIs, genetic testing, blood work and other related testing before receiving a diagnosis almost one year later. Caden has developmental apraxia, a neurological-based speech disorder that interferes with a child’s ability to correctly pronounce sounds, syllables and words.

The West Pittston family’s next visit was to The Speech-Language-Hearing Center at College Misericordia. For the last nine months, Caden, now 3½, has received three intensive therapy sessions a week — one at College Misericordia and two at an intermediate unit preschool in Hazleton.

“The difference is now he can communicate,’’ said Bonita. “He calls us. He has about 10 to 15 word approximations. Before, he did not even have any letter sounds. He can make animal sounds. He can do a large variety of letter sounds. “He’s doing very well,’’ the proud mother added.

During a recent clinical session at College Misericordia, it was easy to measure Caden’s progress. Speech and Language Pathology (SLP) student Erin Poperowitz and Lori Cimino, clinical director, designed interactive therapy exercises for the active child. To the casual observer, his playful interaction looked more like playtime than a therapeutic session.

As his mother watches, Caden plays with race cars, bubbles, beans and bears, and then participates in a sing-a-long to “Old McDonald Had a Farm.’’ All the exercises are designed to illicit a repetitive verbal response. The race car set and air-born bubbles prompt him to say, “more’’ and other related activities have him enunciating “buh,’’ for beans, and making animal sounds.

Caden is one of about 60 clients receiving treatment during the spring semester at the center. The college established the center in 2003 as part of its five-year master’s program in speech-language pathology, one of only three five-year programs in the country.

“People can come here and get the services they might not otherwise be able to get,’’ said Dr. Debra Busacco, chairwoman of the SLP Department. “It’s very hard to find this caliber service.’’

College Misericordia students treat a myriad of speech-language disorders in a clinical setting under the direct supervision of faculty members who are certified by the American Speech-Hearing Language Association. Faculty members and students review clinical treatment plans together before proceeding with clinical therapy, said Dr. Busacco.

Clinical students have treated more than 300 cases for clients with articulation problems, developmental language disorders, developmental apraxia, autism, oral-motor dysfunction, fluency and voice disorders, aphasia, sensory integration dysfunction and swallowing disorders since the center’s inception. The clinic also provides therapy for students from the Luzerne Intermediate Unit 18 Auditory and Oral Center who have hearing aides and cochlear implants.

An advanced video capture supervision client and student feedback lab will soon be established for student clinicians to treat all types of speech and language disorders, including voice and fluency disorders. The new lab will enable the department to review multiple clinical sessions for classroom, clinical and client applications and transfer them to DVD to use in future instructional or treatment settings.

“We can do frame-by-frame analysis (with students or clients),’’ said Dr. Glen Tellis, who established a similar video lab at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “The students can watch these sessions live on their laptops in the clinical treatment room.’’

College Misericordia invested more than $65,000 to purchase the equipment and hired additional SLP faculty in Drs. Glen and Cari Tellis at the start of the spring semester to establish the lab and expand the department. The department has 58 students currently enrolled in the program and wants to expand to 125.

During the expansion, the department wants to establish a child therapy room, group therapy sessions for people who suffered a stroke or other disability, and expand clinical services to serve all populations of communication disorders, said Drs. Glen and Cari Tellis.

Dr. Cari Tellis, a voice therapist and scientist, also wants to expand the clinic to include therapy and vocal training for any type of professional voice user, like teachers, coaches or motivational speakers. People who participate in these professions could come to the clinic to receive full diagnostic voice evaluation and treatment for any type of voice disorder or training for vocal health and voice use.

“There are a large number of teachers who have voice disorders,’’ said Dr. Cari Tellis. “This would focus on vocal health and vocal hygiene. When you speak, especially when teaching, you use your voice the majority of the time. We can do things to help a person use their voice in the most efficient and effective way.’’

The department’s expansion will be beneficial for students and clients alike. According to a recent article in U.S. News & World Report, SLP careers are listed among the “excellent careers for 2006.’’ The job outlook for these careers, according to the 2005-06 Occupational Outlook Handbook by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Department of Labor, is expected to grow for all occupations through 2014.

Areas of specialization for SLP graduates include voice, stuttering, swallowing disorders, and child and adult speech and language disorders. Jobs include working in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes and private practice.

© 2006 College Misericordia