Clinic utilizes new virtual technology to provide better access to speech therapy, education

New virtual technology and research for speech therapists are providing better access to young children and families to overcome speech and hearing disorders.
Published: May. 17, 2023 at 6:14 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - New virtual technology and research for speech therapists are providing better access to young children and families to overcome speech and hearing disorders.

The Walker Scottish Rite Clinic on the campus of Maryville University works to take a family approach to help kids speak better.

As Speech Language Pathologist Carrie Barry sits down with four-year-old Josie, what looks like a board game being set up on a nearby table, isn’t all fun and games.

Barry is helping Josie overcome her speech sound disorder by having her roll the dice, and before moving her piece on the board however many spaces, she must pronounce certain words starting with “SW,” which have been giving the St. Louis resident troubles.

I’m using a lot of cueing with her, visual cueing, having her look at my mouth, using some tactile cueing, using some arm cues to help with that,” Barry explained. “That tactile cue with the visual and verbal cues are very helpful.

While this week’s session is face-to-face, Barry provided speech and language therapy for Josie’s older brothers virtually. A resource the three children’s grandmother, Christine Burns, said was a real blessing for her family.

Burns said the success of the two boys really paved the way for Josie to fit right in at the Walker Clinic.

“She has the positive reinforcement of Jack and Henry because they say you will have fun, play games,” Burns shared. “She walked right in here and wasn’t afraid.”

The telehealth services were not available during the pandemic but are now here to stay, especially for kids living in rural areas or out of state.

“They just probably wouldn’t get therapy if we couldn’t do it virtually,” Barry said.

The clinic administration says the amount of telehealth patients bounces between 30% to 60% of its patients meeting with their specialist virtually.

Nina Mendoza is another Speech Language Pathologist at the Walker Clinic.

“It’s nice because I can target speech, language or both,” Mendoza said.

“Nobody had been doing pediatric tele-practice for speech and language therapy on a consistent basis until the pandemic,” Clinic Director Jacob Gutshall explained. “Once the pandemic hit, we were forced into it, and now research shows it’s just as effective in person or via telehealth.”

What’s remarkable about the instruction at the Walker Clinic is it’s free. It’s one of 170 clinics across the country partnering with hospitals and colleges to provide free care.

Gutshall said grants, private donations, Maryville University, and fundraisers fund each service to take the burden of money off a family trying to help their child.

Gutshall said what also makes the Walker Clinic unique is that its services are free; kids can stay enrolled from ages two-to-six instead of being limited by what insurance can cover for a family.

“We are educating grandmas, mom and dad, we are helping them become part of this therapy process because kids come here one or two hours a week that won’t make much of a difference in their life,” Gutshall explained. “They have to use those skills throughout the rest of the week.”

The hard work is paying off at home for Josie. Grandmother Christine Burns said after only a few sessions, she is hearing and seeing a big improvement in Josie’s speech and attitude.

“She has less and less times where she says never mind, from getting frustrated not saying a word correctly,” Burns shared. “That’s what I’ve picked up. She will say, ‘Okay,” and we will work on what the word is.”

For Barry, she said if a child needs help, the worst decision is to wait.

“The earlier you can start working on whatever your child’s needs are, speech or hearing, the greater chance of success down the road,” Barry explained. “I really appreciate that we get do that with these young kids.”

The Walker Scottish Rite Clinic receives no federal funding as it is a charitable organization providing these services to children at multiple locations, including St. Louis City and County, as well as Jefferson, Franklin and Lincoln counties in Missouri.

Services at the clinic include screenings, evaluations, individual and group therapy, audiological evaluations, and parent training. To contact the clinic and inquire about speech therapy services, you can visit the clinic’s website or call 314-529-9200.