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Speech therapists help students find their voice

Sitting in front of a mirror, Jon struggled with the pronunciation of a consonant sound.

With ESC Speech-Language Pathologist Linda Marous guiding him, Jon tried making the "k" sound with his tongue mimicking Marous. After several tries, Jons face broke into a smile as he correctly pronounced the word "cake."

"Early intervention is critical when the brain is developing," said Marous during a lunch break at Lincoln Elementary School in Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools.

"Now is the best time to learn speech and language. Its how they learn about their environment. Theyre like little sponges that soak up everything you give them."

Marous works part time with about 20 students every week on speech and language issues. The ESC employs 18 speech-language pathologists spread out over eight school districts, one charter school and Columbus State Community College.

"You need speech and language to be a successful communicator," said Ester Hunter, chair of the SLP Team at the ESC of Central Ohio.

"Its just a basic foundation for so many things. Speech and language development increases their access and progress toward general curriculum."

A speech or language issue can stem from an oral motor weakness (such as with cerebral palsy), hearing impairment, stuttering disorder or cognitive communication disorders in which the student is nonverbal, such as autism.

To combat those issues, speech language pathologists and teachers have been working collaboratively.

"The amount of collaboration has increased," Hunter said. "Teachers and speech language pathologists used to work independently. Now, they find out where they can overlap. Were not doing this in isolation anymore."

ESC Teacher Sue Sheffer works with Marous in the Lincoln Elementary classroom, where a majority of her 19 students have some type of speech-language disorder.

"If Im aware of Lindas goals for her student, I can just reinforce that. It works for the benefit of the child to have as much support as possible," Sheffer said.

"Were each others right-hand man. We just flow very well together."

With Sheffer reinforcing a speech lesson, Marous said it helps the student get more practice and it provides consistent intervention from one educator to the next.

Another way to help students overcome speech and language disorders is to teach them in a more realistic setting, Hunter said. Previously, students were pulled from a classroom and taught in quiet and isolation, which is unrealistic since a typical classroom is full of children and noise.

"When Im in the classroom, theres more opportunities for realistic situations. The goal is to move from isolation to small group to the whole classroom," Hunter said. "I think embedding a student within a classroom provides better carryover for their skills to be mastered in a classroom setting."

Students also do not feel as ostracized if they are not being pulled out of the classroom, Sheffer said.

"They dont feel as different or feel like theyre missing out," Sheffer said. "They want to stay in the classroom. They want to be like everyone else."

To keep students motivated to learn, Marous said they use a variety of techniques but child-directed play seems most effective.

By blowing bubbles at the start of his lesson, Gavin went from a shy, non-communicative state to smiling and talkative. Marous used the lesson to get Gavin to say the "b" sound in words like boy, bubbles and blow.

"I love to work with kids. They are very motivated to learn and they do so by exploring their environment or just playing," Marous said. "Its extremely gratifying to see their development theyre less frustrated and they get their wants and needs across."

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