News: Children's Clinic Works to Improve Children's Developmental Skills
As Judith Vander Woude, professor of speech pathology and audiology, will tell you, it takes more than a smile to work in speech pathology. But as the new children’s clinic takes flight here at Calvin, a smile can be a useful tool. The clinic, intended to help children working with developmental difficulties, is an animated environment in which parents and children alike comfortably interact and grow through an educational process.

The children active in Early On, the program offered for children from infants up to three years of age, work to overcome a variety of developmental challenges: movement, speech, and social interaction. Most of the disorders these patients struggle with are due to premature birth. The clinic offers opportunities for the children to interact with each other while students and staff work to improve their abilities through games and social activities.

Upon entering the friendly room, one immediately observes the preschool-like atmosphere; colorful toys, dolls, puppets, and activity books line the walls. The environment is designed to make the children feel comfortable. One hardly notices the small cameras discreetly located in the corners. These cameras allow the students to monitor the children and study their behavior outside of class. The students will video record a specific child at the beginning of the semester, and after a few months of working with the child, they can observe through a final recording the progress the child has made. Vander Woude notes that students almost always see progress within the semester.

“It’s a great opportunity for hands on interaction,” Vander Woude says. The students must observe the children, carefully noting what they are doing wrong in order to help them improve their skills. Then the students can develop these missing communication tools through building vocabulary, helping increase sentence length, and initiating conversation. No lesson is too small. Vander Woude points out that the help some children need is “even as basic as helping them babble.”

But the clinic also helps parents understand their children’s needs. Early On offers “chatter box” sessions, in which parents discuss their situations in small groups. Parents watch through one-way mirrors as their children interact. They also discuss common problems such as communication, feeding, eating habits, and services within the community.

The program benefits all who are involved, giving parents a chance to talk, students in the speech pathology program an opportunity to learn, and most importantly, a friendly place for children to improve their communication skills.

—Kaitlyn Bohlin