The child whisperer

Published 3:11 pm Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kandis Harris has an uncanny ability of communicating with children, and that’s without even speaking.

As a speech/language pathologist for Easter Seals in Pelham, Harris has been breaking down the language barrier for children with speech disorders for the last five years.

“I just have a genuine love for communication,” Harris said.

Some of the cases Harris sees each day involve speech delays and syndromes such as cerebral palsy.

While some kids come to Easter Seals to correct their speech, like those with delays, some children are just looking for a way to communicate.

“All kids aren’t going to talk,” Harris said. “They’re just going to communicate.”

Those who cannot talk are able to learn to communicate through augmentative alternative communication, which ranges from sign language to a computer device with pictures.

One child even uses a computer that utilizes her vision as a means of making the computer speak.

With the invention of such machines, children who were once thought to be mentally disabled are now able to show that they are just like everybody else.

The therapy also helps correct many behavioral problems and helps make the child more functional and independent.

“They think like we think,” said Kelli Keith, Easter Seals director of marketing and development. “They just can’t communicate like we communicate, and that’s frustrating for them.”

Harris said once kids are able to realize they can communicate through the augmentative alternative, they become a new person who is, for the first time, able to live life the way it should be.

“It’s like they’re trapped,” Harris said. “But when they are able to come out and show their true personality, it’s remarkable.”

And for Harris, helping a child communicate is just the beginning.

“It’s more than that; it’s a ministry,” Harris said of her work. “We have that line of communication with God, and being able to open that up for a child is a reward in and of itself.”

As an example, Harris worked with a young boy last year and once he learned to communicate through an augmentative alternative, he had one thing on his mind.

“The first thing he wanted to talk about was God,” Harris said. “And who knew?”

Another special moment for Harris is when children are able to tell their parents ‘I love you’ for the first time.

“Not being able to hear your child say that is hard,” Harris said. “So, when they finally do, the families are so excited.”

And being able to bridge that gap between a child and a parent is the ultimate reward for Harris.

“They come alive,” Harris said. “They open up.”