Service Kevin Roberson, a speech pathologist, and 2 1/2-year-old old Juan Ortiz play together and a way to get Juan to recognizes and repeat sounds.
Photo provided by Morris News
LUBBOCK, Texas The two fish in the living room.
Kevin Roberson and 2 1/2-year-old old Juan Ortiz sit around a plastic toy fish pond with miniature fishing poles waiting for the right colored fish to open its mouth.
Roberson, a speech language pathologist who travels the region, speaks in Spanish to the little boy and uses sign language as they play. Juan makes some vocalizations, but doesn't speak words. He mimics Roberson's signs.
Roberson explains that three months ago, Juan only made a few sounds and maybe a word or two. He isn't deaf. He understands words. But, for some reason, he has trouble verbalizing.
Why remains a mystery, he said.
"He understands the appropriate levels of words for his age," Roberson says. "He just can't form them."
By six months, if a child isn't babbling, a parent should be worried, Roberson said. By 1 1/2, if the child isn't trying to say words, the parent should be worried. By 3, 90 percent of what they say should be intelligible.
"He's got a way to go yet."
Juan receives two or three sessions a month from Roberson through the Early Childhood Intervention Program, a federal program that provides speech and language therapy to children.
At the same time, Roberson works with the parents with what they should be doing to help the child's development. He tells parents to do sign language close to their mouth so that children learn to associate the word with the sign.
Language development is critical to learning and reading abilities, Roberson says, which is one reason the federal government passed a law in 1978 to make speech and language therapy available to all children. Often, children who are behind with speech and language fail academically if they don't get help at an early age.
Since Juan has learned to use some of the language, Ramirez says, his attitude and behavior have improved.
"He's doing the signs, and he's making more sounds," Ramirez says. "He's saying mama and papa."
It's not that many of these children are very different or mentally disabled, he says. More, their brains aren't organized as well.
"Some children have really disorganized brains, and the left and right hemispheres don't talk together well," Roberson says. "It's very upsetting to think your child is not mentally the same as others. But, I like to use the analogy of Little Dribblers. If you watch a Little Dribblers game, some kids look like they were born with a basketball in their hands. Other kids not so much."
For the past 30 years, the world of speech and language therapy has changed rapidly, says Sherry Sancibrian, program director for speech language pathology at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
Tech has the fifth-largest program in the country, she says.
Though people have studied speech and language since the turn of the 20th century, the field really took off after World War II, she says.
Technological advancements not only with computers, but also with hearing devices, speaking devices and surgical techniques have helped pathologists help more people.
"We use a lot more technology," she says, comparing today's standards to that when she started working in the '70s. "We didn't do a lot with computers back then. If we're working on literacy with children, it's not just enough to read. They have to be computer literate now, too."
Also, the field has spread out more than just helping children in schools. Pathologists help stroke victims learn to speak and swallow. Clinics specifically set up for this area have sprung up, whereas before, a hospital might have had only one pathologist on call.
About 10 percent to 15 percent of American preschoolers have some kind of speech and language problem, Sancibrian says.
Of that number, half are able to catch up to their peers on their own, she says.
"That leaves the other half to start school with language problems, and they're not going to be on par with their peers," Sancibrian says. "They're pretty at-risk for academic failure. Those kids stay behind. Some people may think, 'It's just a little speech problem. It's so cute.' But it's serious.
"It's the most common disability people have."
About 80 percent of the cases are anomalous, she says, meaning science has not determined a reason for the problems. Genetics, biology and environment all play a role in determining the other 20 percent.
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