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Karen Cernich
Staff Writer, The Missourian
Scottish Rite Childhood Language Disorders Clinic, St. Louis, Inc.
St. Louis, Missouri

“We are here to help the kids” is the bottom-line mission of the St. Louis, Missouri, Scottish Rite Clinic.


It can be as simple as garbled speech or as severe as not speaking at all. And when it affects a small child, it can be deeply traumatizing--not just for the child, but for the parents as well as the entire family. Barbara McQuitty, Executive Director of the Scottish Rite Clinic for Childhood Language Disorders of St. Louis, Inc., says: “Language disorders are fairly common. Many people don’t know it, but one in ten people has communication problems.”

For the past nine years, the Scottish Rite Clinic has provided speech and language therapy to St. Louis children, ages two through six, who have significant communication impairments, but have otherwise normal physical, mental, and emotional development.

Later, the clinic realized a need for its services in outlying communities and, in 1995, implemented the Kidtalk Mobile Speech and Language Program. This program allows the clinic to send a speech and language pathologist to nine communities once a week each to provide therapy to or testing for children who have language disorders.

Often families in areas outside St. Louis are unable to access speech and language services for their children, as they are only available on a limited basis or at such a cost that they could not afford them. And a trip into St. Louis to the clinic’s main office could be equally costly for some, if not a particular hardship for others when both parents work.

Through the mobile program, at least 350 children will receive a speech and language screening, an evaluation, and therapy each year. Because these disorders often require at least one year of therapy, early detection often makes the treatment more effective. This is why the clinic makes such an effort to begin helping kids before they enter school. Barbara McQuitty notes a language disorder “can be very traumatizing for such a young child, especially when first entering school. Sometimes children can be so cruel to each other. Undetected and untreated problems can result in impairments of a child’s social and emotional growth. Often, children who have speech and language disorders feel ostracized from the rest of the class.”

"A Gift to Help Children Is an Investment in the Future."

Parents may blame themselves for “giving” their child the disorder or they may be embarrassed by having a child of a certain age who can’t talk up to his or her age level, but, in reality, there are any number of reasons why a language disorder develops. It can be due to chronic ear infections, problems with muscular development, and sometimes unintentional lack of verbal stimulation. Parents may find that because they have always understood what their child was trying to say, they haven’t been requiring him or her to speak the words correctly or even say them at all. The more naturally parents handle their child’s disorder, the better the child will handle it, too.

The parents play an especially important role in the mobile program. Because the van can only travel to each community once a week, each child is allowed only a half-hour session. Therefore, it is paramount that parents follow up on their child’s development. Thus, the clinic provides both parents with a three-hour training course which covers such topics as how to alleviate frustration, theirs and the child’s. Parents should work with their child every day on developing regular speech habits. To make it easier, the therapists often give the students homework with which their parents can help. Parents should try to make the learning fun. The speech pathologists at the clinic use toys, games, and humorous wordings to focus on sounds. For instance, the phrase “fleas on Fred” helps children gleefully learn the F sound.

Also, the clinic follows up with scheduled conferences between the parents and therapists on a regular basis to discuss the child’s progress. Although parents usually initiate contact with the clinic, referrals also are accepted from hospitals, doctors, teachers, and other professionals. The parents are excited about the program. They know it’s a good service and there is no charge. Services are available to children regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin. Eligibility is based solely on the severity and type of the disorder.

Like the Scottish Rite program in St. Louis, the mobile Kidtalk van effort targets low-income families who could not otherwise afford such treatment. The clinic won’t turn anyone away who is appropriate for the service. As Barbara McQuitty says, expressing Scottish Rite philosophy, “We are here to help the kids.”

This article and its illustrations are reprinted, edited for length, with permission from The Missourian of February 26, 1997.


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