Speech and Hearing Center can change lives

Published 11:11 am Tuesday, September 3, 2013

By SUZANNE OZMENT / Guest Columnist

Colleges and universities typically contribute to the communities in which they are located in myriad ways in addition to their principal mission of producing well-educated graduates. The Speech and Hearing Center at the University of Montevallo offers an excellent example of broader contributions that touch the lives of local citizens.

Operated by the nationally accredited Department of Communication Science and Disorders, the center is a training facility for graduate students who are studying speech-language pathology. Under carefully controlled conditions, graduate students who will soon enter the workforce as speech-language pathologists and audiologists provide services to community children and adults, who are charged a nominal fee.

Families for whom payment presents a financial hardship may consult the clinic director about other arrangements.

Graduate student clinicians are closely supervised by a University of Montevallo faculty or staff member who is licensed and certified as a speech-language pathologist by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Five full-time faculty members, three staff clinicians and the clinic director supervise between 25 and 50 graduate students each semester and in the summer.

The center provides diagnosis and individual and group therapy for communication disorders such as speech impediments, problems comprehending language, and difficulties processing or producing language following a stroke or brain injury.

While the number of clients who can be served is limited by the number of students in the graduate program, the service to the community in any given year is considerable.

During the 2012–2013 academic year, in addition to off-campus screenings provided at area day-care facilities and schools, 159 clients received therapy and an additional 77 received initial evaluations on site at the center.

Numbers suggest the reach of the center, but perhaps the story of one client will give the best indication of its impact.

Client J was brought to the clinic at 18 months of age, not talking and seemingly not understanding what was said to her most of the time. Her mother was concerned that she had autism, but the clinicians found that she did not fit the autism profile, so they recommended a few months of language therapy before the family pursued another expensive evaluation.

Focusing on J’s strengths with group play, they introduced baby signs for words such as “more” and “no.” J picked up on “more” right away and quickly recognized that she could use her hands to communicate effectively.

Soon she was using single words combined with signs during her therapy sessions and at home. By the time she was 30 months of age, after only two semesters of language facilitation therapy and family training, J was combining words and interacting with others like a typical toddler.

The Center for Speech and Hearing provides essential professional experience for graduate students and much needed low-cost, high-quality services for members of the community — a win-win for all concerned.

Suzanne Ozment is the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Montevallo.