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Watching a child grow brings parents indescribable joy. Parenting is never easy, though, and when your child struggles to communicate their wants and needs verbally, it can be difficult to distinguish if they are simply encountering some challenges with speech or if they need help with a speech disorder. “Early intervention is most important,” Sheri Mistretta, executive director of Walker Scottish Rite Clinic at Maryville University, explains. “If you diagnose and treat early, before secondary conditions and behaviors arrive, it’s a smaller [issue]. Just like anything else in life, the earlier you get at it, the faster you can get it resolved.”

The Clinic devotes itself to improving speech for children at an early age. “We treat children, ages 2 through 6, who present with a variety of articulation and language concerns,” speech and language pathologist Ellie Richter says. “[They might] say certain things or have a list of words they know. We teach them how to speak using speech sounds and how to communicate with the people around them. We work with the children’s parents, and/or teachers as necessary, to tailor their therapy towards their age, social and academic expectations.”

Families are often referred to Walker Scottish Rite Clinic, where a screening appointment is first set up to determine if further evaluation is needed. Formal and informal screening tools are used to look at the child’s articulation and language skills. “We were introduced to Walker Scottish Rite through Mercy Hospital,” Mario Guerrero says. “It [had been] really hard to find a therapist [who was] qualified in both Spanish and English for our daughter, Kamila. The fact that she’s learning two languages is harder.”

Richter began seeing Kamila when she enrolled in the KidTalk Spanish program. “Kamila originally came to the Clinic and wasn’t talking very much,” Richter describes. “She’s been with us a year now, and [at age 4], her long-term prognosis is good. She’s made significant progress in both languages [and is] increasing her confidence.”

Kamila’s transformation over the course of a year has proven remarkable. “Her mom and I are able to understand her better,” Guerrero says of his daughter’s progress. “She has better social skills with her friends. Before, she was able to say only one or two words. Now, she’s able to talk in complete sentences.”

Therapists are all Hanen certified, focusing on parent interaction through crossover education at home. “We want [these children] to be fully integrated and [we] teach skills needed to participate in the real world,” Richter says.

The Walker Scottish Rite Clinic continues to find ways of expanding to better serve the community’s children. The charity organization bridges the gap between state-funded programs, which require severe symptoms for qualification, and children with possible delays.

“Free services are a critical part [of the Clinic] because speech language therapy can be cost-prohibitive and often isn’t [fully] covered by health insurance,” Mistretta says. “We literally saw and served 777 children last year alone. We’ve already served hundreds this year, with 106 children on the waiting list – and that’s heartbreaking. If we could triple our manpower, we could do so much more.”

Walker Scottish Rite Clinic at Maryville University, 650 Maryville University Drive, St. Louis, 314-529-9200, srclinic.org

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