Updated: Jun 1
By Deanna Ryan
“If you just communicate, you can get by. But if you communicate skillfully, you can work miracles.” - Jim Rohn
May is Better Hearing and Speech Month. In honor of professionals who help local children with speech, language, feeding, fluency and fine motor skills, The Crossroads Chronicle sat down with Growing Communication (GC) owner Jill Scarboro M.S., CCC-SLP and her staff of five speech language pathologists (SLP) and one occupational therapist (OT).
Scarboro has been a speech therapist for over 20 years. In the beginning of her career, she worked for Emanuel County Schools and Bass Therapy; then in 2008 she opened her first practice in a two-room brick house on West Main Street. Five years later, she expanded the practice by moving to the black brick building on Highway 56 South. The business has grown from servicing the speech, fluency and feeding needs of 70 children to also offering assistance with developing fine motor skills to a total of 135 children.
There’s no place like home
Although the services have expanded and the buildings have changed, Scarboro remains focused on creating an experience where children’s speech, language, feeding and fine motor needs are met in a home-like atmosphere. Lamps are preferred over fluorescent lighting since fluorescent lights can adversely stimulate the child with the humming and brightness, states Scarboro. Brightly colored toys and manipulatives can be found everywhere lining the shelves.
“They get the feeling of being in a home when they come here,” she says. “I love my job. I want the kids to love coming here too. I want them to think, ‘I’m going to have fun at Mrs. Jill’s.’ I don’t want them to associate coming to us with going to the doctor and getting shots. We’re constantly doing everything we can to make it a sensory-pleasing, calming experience. Some of the children even think I sleep here.”
Early intervention is the best intervention
“We do whatever we can to get children in,” says Scarboro. Even though there is a 2-3 month wait list for occupational therapy, she tries not to leave any child with a speech therapy need on the waitlist for more than a month.
Children are often referred for services by word of mouth, Babies Can’t Wait, the school system or a physician based on need. Once this happens Scarboro and office manager Kyela Baker jump through several hoops to set the wheels in motion. The guardian’s insurance benefits are checked. Ninety-eight percent of the center’s funding is Medicaid-based (regular or social security based), CareSource, AmeriGroup, Peach State). Anyone paying out of pocket would pay the Medicaid rate of $62.53 per treatment session. After benefits are determined and the parents' desire to proceed is confirmed, the child is tested. Speech, language, feeding, fluency, and occupational (fine motor skills) evaluations are offered at the center. A hearing test is required for each new child. When the evaluations are completed, a therapist writes up a plan of therapy that includes the number of sessions per week. The report is signed and dated by the physician who will write the prescription for a number of sessions within six months (180 days). It is then sent to the insurance company to verify there isn’t any doubling of services between GC and the school system and to agree to service. Sometimes only partial approval is given if something is missing, or if a skill is listed they don’t deem necessary, like handwriting. “They say the school system should be working on that, not us,” Scarboro mentions. In the end, the child is scheduled for the number of agreed upon days.
Then at the end of 180 days, the cycle of evaluations, plan adjusting and prescribing sessions is repeated.
Different children, different therapists
Even though Scarboro is the only speech therapist that works full time at the center, all of the other therapists share her certification and varying graduate-level credentials. Each one of them sees clients after finishing their work at schools or other locations.
Yet for all they have in common, each therapist has her own area of specialty. As we walk through the rooms, Scarboro rapidly shares the credentials of the professional women she’s gathered to reach her “kids”. Whitney Wheeler focuses on feeding and works with different ages, anywhere from infants to the elderly. Kimberly Page Cooper often engages with her students on creating hypothetical situations to improve conversation styles. Alecia Heath-Braddy has her doctorate in speech language pathology and focuses on mouth and hand movements when sounding out words. Joni Thomas helps students with stuttering problems speak smoothly and with more confidence. Kaylee Davis, the newest therapist on board, has been working at GC for one year. She focuses on building language skills with the students by matching three dimensional objects with pictures. Finally, Kelli Koon Caraway, the only occupational therapist (OT), works on improving fine motor skills through a long list of games and activities. It took Scarboro a long time to find her because there are fewer OTs than speech therapists, but 9 years ago, they were introduced and have been working together ever since.
Each therapist at Growing Communication was asked to identify ways she works with speech or fine motor problems and make suggestions for parents who want to work with their children at home. Read the articles “Keep kids moving”, “Food for thought” and “Let’s give them something to talk about” to learn more about communicating in ways that don’t just help, but help work miracles.