Photo by Kanji
Speech-language pathology, occupational
therapy partner to help area preschoolers
By Jan Lucas
In a church basement a few blocks from the campus, seven TU students and their faculty supervisors are changing the lives of children with speech-language problems.
They’re part of the Speech-language-Hearing Center’s Therapeutic Preschool Program, which works with 3-to-5-year-olds who’ve been identified as needing professional treatment.
This fall marks the second time the program has been offered during the regular academic year, says Karen Day, who coordinates the program for the Department of Audiology, Speech-Language Pathology and Deaf Studies. It's also second year of participation for undergraduate occupational therapy students and their supervisor, Barbara Demchick, assistant professor of occupational therapy.
Together, they’ve created an interdisciplinary approach to developing the prerequisite skills for language in this small but energetic group of boys and girls.
Day says her graduate clinicians develop individual speech-language treatment plans for each child. They also foster a stimulating, interactive environment that offers plenty of play in addition to vocabulary and language development. There’s circle time for stories and singing, and snack time enables children to practice what they’ve learned by asking for the treats of their choice.
It’s all very natural—functional but fun,” Day says of the program. “The children are motivated to communicate because there are so many exciting things going on in the room.”
Occupational therapy enters the picture when sensory or motor-based issues arise.
“Sometimes children don’t know where they are in space, so they are always bumping into other kids,” Demchick says. "This interferes with their development of social and play skills." She and her students apply deep-pressure and other sensorimotor and movement activities to help their little clients understand their bodies and behave more appropriately.
Other OT applications included multiple-stage activities that help the children focus and stay on track during school activities. “It all seems like play to them,” Demchick adds. “But it’s really a way to support language development. What my students and I do complements and enhances the work of the speech-language clinicians.”
Day concurs. “This collaboration has enabled us to look at children holistically,” she says, “It’s been a wonderful addition.”
The Therapeutic Preschool Program has been a great experience for all concerned, she adds. “Our students fulfill their clinical requirement by working with children, the children develop speech-language skills, the families are happy and the program keeps growing.”
At the end of the term, preschoolers are evaluated individually by the students who developed and administered their treatment plans. Some are found to be ready to graduate from the program, while others may benefit from further treatment.
But even those who return don’t seem to mind. After all, they’re having fun.
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