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January 2011



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Article Date: 23 Nov 2010 – 3:00 PST

Students majoring in communication disorders at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, are ahead of their peers nationwide who are working toward careers in speech pathology because of a one-of-a-kind program that gives the undergraduates more hands-on experience than most graduate students in the field.

The student-clinicians work at the Baldwin-Wallace Speech Clinic in one of two programs: a summer camp that runs two days a week; and a ten-month program that meets once a week during the academic year. The students interact with children who have diagnoses (sometimes multiple diagnoses) such as Autism, Rett syndrome, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome, and are considered functionally non-verbal.

Through their work, the students are achieving unparalleled successes in helping non-verbal children communicate, many for the first time. “There is nothing like this program anywhere else in the country,” said Colleen F. Visconti, chair of the communication program and director of the Speech Clinic. “We have an advantage with the energy and focus of our undergrads–students who really want to learn–being able to engage and help the children.”

The clinic started as a summer camp for Cleveland-area children in 2007 and was so successful that the longer program was added in 2009. The program was also recently expanded to include B-W students majoring in pre-physical therapy who also work with the children to help improve their motor skills. “Word is spreading,” says Visconti, “and we have already been contacted by parents from across the country expressing interest.”

Visconti and Christie Needham, Clinical Supervisor of the Speech Clinic, developed their own testing that measures changes in the children’s form of communication. They ask: Did the child look at you and get you to look at them? Are they greeting people when exiting or entering a room? Do they seem to be commenting more on activities taking place? Are their social skills improving? Are they able to identify some of their emotions and to take turns in a game without getting upset with others taking turns.

A handful of Baldwin-Wallace student clinicians, a clinical supervisor and a part-time supervisor work closely with the children, who are an average age of seven or eight.

“Our undergraduate students are getting access to these patients working with 12 different children, while in graduate school a student might work with one or two children at the most,” says Visconti. “It’s because of the way our program is set up,” she explains. “Our big drive is to have our students work in a clinic as an undergraduate. Our students are graduating with about 100 client contact hours, and the national average is only about 40.”

A typical session will begin with families dropping children off in the morning for greeting time and then breaking out into small groups and individual situations. “Similar to a circle time at preschool, we talk with the children a lot about feelings, when they’re happy and when they’re sad or mad, and we even talk about the weather,” says Christie Needham, Clinical Supervisor. “We then have art and game activities, a snack and a literacy project, and throughout the session the children are learning to communicate with technology or their voices, if they can.”

Some of the newest and most costly technological devices the Clinic uses are on loan from manufacturers in the industry, but they also use iPads and iTouches that the children are able to use to communicate via pictures.

“When the families start coming to the program, they’ve usually tried everything, and nothing is working and their child is still not talking,” says Needham. “We have been able to give them the opportunity to see how they’re children can succeed in communicating.” She adds: “They are also able to have a better relationship with their child, instead of frustration they’re able to start understanding their child better.

One example is a parent who always thought her child liked the color blue. Once her daughter began to communicate via pointing at pictures on a device, the mother learned that her daughter actually preferred pink and wanted a pink wheel chair and her bedroom painted pink. “Prior to the program, her mother thought she was a tomboy!” Needham says.

Visconti says that many people outside of the field would consider the children as unable to accomplish much, but that’s not the case. “We just need to find the right mode of communication for these children and it will open a whole new world for them,” she explains. Most importantly, she points out: “They will be able to communicate in a new way.”

Source: Academy Communications  


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