Speech-Language Pathology Students Help Children with Cleft Lip and Palate

For the second consecutive year, speech-language pathology students at Pacific University are preparing for their careers, in part, by helping young children with cleft lip and palate.

Over the course of six weeks in June and July, eight master’s degree students are working directly with children as young as 18 months on a wide range of speech therapy exercises.

Twice each week, the children receive individual one-hour sessions customized to a child’s age and interests, providing early intervention for those not yet in school, as well as services for those who are.

Cleft lip and palate is among the most prevalent birth conditions in the United States. Last year, Pacific started the clinic as a way to ensure that children in Washington County had speech therapy services available over the summer, while also encouraging community building among parents in Washington County and other counties west of the Portland metro area.

"Speech services are hard to come by in the summer, and finding speech-language pathologists that are experienced in this area of care are also hard to find," said Kerry Mandulak, workshop director and assistant professor. "As we train our students to be competent clinicians, we also impress upon them the importance providing critical health resources to underserved areas.”

The workshops are a tremendous resource, said Julia Brown, who has both her 18-month and 4-year-old daughters enrolled.

“For us, this is really the only time that we’ve been able to have intensive speech therapy help,” she said. “And the schedule is wonderful, because (the children) don’t forget what they learn from one session to the next.”

Brown is amazed at the progress her daughter Annie has made just halfway into the workshop.

“My 4-year-old is very shy, but she has done great here and improved a lot in speaking. Annie is able to get four or five new letters that she didn’t have at all when she came and her general speaking is much more intelligible. We’ve made more progress during these last three weeks than we have the previous six months.”

Brown also noted the social benefit the workshop provides to both the children and their parents. “It’s really nice to be with other families in similar situations,” she said. “For Annie, she’s never been around other kids with speech issues, particularly cleft, so it’s a neat thing for her to see. And as a parent, it’s good for me to see where other kids are in their development as I assess my daughters’ progress.”

The individual attention is worth the drive from their Hillsboro home, Brown added. “Both girls like coming, and the teachers and students are well-prepared. They really specialize each day for each child, with exercises the child likes, which keeps them interested.”

The workshop is a collaboration between Pacific’s School of Communication Sciences & Disorders, Oregon Health & Science University’s Institute on Development and Disability and Smile Oregon.

The School of Communication Sciences & Disorders offers a two-year master’s degree program in speech-language pathology, as well as a post-baccalaureate program to prepare for admission to the master's program. Graduates are prepared to work in a variety of clinical settings, including public schools, clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, special schools and private practices.

Jul. 17, 2015