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UM Students and Faculty Help Children Develop to Their Potential

Communication Sciences and Disorders graduate student Lauren Stantz of Houston, Mississippi conducts a play therapy session, which regularly helps address a variety of speech, language, cognitive or physical developmental delays for clients in the Early Intervention program. Photo by Sarah Sapp.
As children progress through infancy and early childhood, parents rely on health care professionals to determine if they are meeting normal developmental milestones. The earlier a delay is detected in cognitive, speech, language or physical development, the sooner practitioners and parents can implement strategies and therapies to help children achieve their potential.
Graduate students in the University of Mississippi’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders have an opportunity to see firsthand how critical early intervention can be.
Through the Mississippi Department of Health’s Early Intervention Program grant, CSD graduate students and certified speech and language pathologists provide in-home, individual assessment, evaluation and treatment for children with developmental delays or diagnosed physical or mental conditions.
“We will see anywhere from one to five evaluations in one day,” said Gina Keene, a certified speech and language pathologist and UM clinical supervisor. “We see such a variety of children – babies as young as less than a month old, up to toddlers – for a variety of reasons.
“Some aren’t talking yet, some with Down syndrome, swallowing problems, complicated medical histories or extreme prematurity.”
Participation in the program helps graduate students get the 400 clinical hours required to become a certified speech and language pathologist, including 25 observation hours and 375 hands-on hours, under the direction of Keene.
“They’re a part of a multidisciplinary team of speech pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and special education instructors that conducts in-home, individual assessments of the infants or toddlers and their families to develop an individualized family service plan,” said Michele Masterson, district coordinator for the Early Intervention Program.
Through an open referral system, cases of infants or toddlers with diagnosed physical or mental conditions, or those who exhibit a 33 percent delay in one area of cognitive, physical, social or communication development or a 25 percent delay in two or more areas of development, are routed to the Mississippi Department of Health, where district coordinators assign evaluation teams.
“Catching delays early can be critical,” Masterson said. “That is our purpose – catching it early – so when they begin Head Start or a preschool program, they’re caught up and their delays are being addressed.”
As service providers and evaluators for the Northwest Public Health District, Ole Miss students and certified speech and language pathologists serve 323 children across a nine-county district, Masterson said. The most successful interventions occur in a natural, home environment, so teams travel throughout the district to provide in-home services, she said.
Teams coordinate services including family-centered programming, nutrition counseling, behavioral services, vision and hearing assessment, physical therapy, occupational therapy and/or language development. The services are free for families, with payment being processed through insurance or Medicaid first, with the MSDH grant-funded program serving as payer of last resort.
“Not only are the Ole Miss students getting an understanding of the first piece of the intervention, they’re actually getting to see the services and carry out the services with the babies,” Masterson said. “They can see the changes in the child when they follow the case for year. They can see the difference in the child from the time they met them to the time they leave.”
Graduate student Lauren Stantz, of Houston, understands firsthand the importance of early intervention.
“It is really interesting to go into the homes and include the caregivers in the therapy session,” Stanz said. “They are able to see firsthand strategies they can use to continue progress when the SLP’s aren’t around.
“I also love getting to be in the child’s everyday environment and incorporating activities and toys they are familiar with. It is helpful in communicating with them and building language skills.
“I’ve had a few clients who I’ve seen make some really great progress in sessions, and it’s been very heartwarming. I have definitely learned things I feel like I wouldn’t have in any other setting. It has been wonderful, and I’m extremely thankful for this opportunity.”
Rebecca Lowe, CSD clinical assistant professor and coordinator of the Early Intervention Program, praised the program for providing service-learning opportunities for her students and providing job opportunities.
“We really look at this as a feeder program, since our graduate students who participate can become professional service providers in the state network after graduation and licensure,” Lowe said.
Lowe and Masterson are working to further develop the university’s involvement in the grant by tapping other disciplines across campus for help, such as education, exercise science and health professions.
“We want to eventually expand our work with other programs from the university,” said Masterson, indicating a need for special instructors in early childhood and special education, physical therapy and occupational therapy.
“We have a mission to improve human health and well-being, first and foremost, in Mississippi,” said Teresa Carithers, interim dean of the School of Applied Sciences. “Through research and service-learning, our departments seek to solve problems for individuals, families and communities in need, and children are chief among the most vulnerable populations.”
The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders within the School of Applied Sciences provides an accredited program to educate and train graduate students in the discipline of communication sciences and disorders specific to the field of speech-language pathology. The department also houses a Speech and Hearing Clinic for training students and for service to the community and university consumers.
Visit https://www.csd.olemiss.edu for more information about the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders or email csd@olemiss.edu. For more information about the Early Intervention Program, visit https://www.msdh.ms.gov.


By Sarah Sapp
For more questions or comments email us at hottytoddynews@gmail.com

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