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Speech Therapy: Something to talk about

Updated: Jun 1

By Deanna Ryan

The following therapists focus on speech problems and solutions.

Dr. Alecia Heath-Braddy SLP.D., CCC-SLP has been working for GC for 11 years while working full time as a SLP at Treutlen County Schools for 23 years. What she likes about working for Growing Communication is the flexibility and being able to know the family and children better through closer personal relationships.

According to Heath-Braddy, speech problems are broken up into whether they are concerned with language issues (what the words are) and sound or speech issues (how the word is said). She focuses with children on how to form their mouths when making different consonant blends and vowel sounds. Sometimes she will hold a finger where the focus of the sound is placed and so the student can see the position of the tongue when forming the “ch” and “sh” sounds.

During Covid she noticed changes in speech that could be attributed to too much screen time, but she believes children also learn a lot from technology; so she advises a healthy balance. Many students like to learn using the iPad because it is so familiar.

Her suggestion to parents is to talk more with their kids and as they are talking, model the way things should be said. Use technology, but control it. Ask children to make choices and don’t allow them to just point or gesture only, but also encourage them to speak or vocalize, keep eep modeling how to speak and have a conversation.

Joni Thomas M. Ed., CCC-SLP has been practicing since 2013 with Vidalia City Schools and has been at GC since 2015. To Thomas, the difference between working in a school and at the center is the relationship she is able to nurture with families. She also likes being able to assist one-on-one so intense therapy can be done and see a wide variety of clients from infants to middle schoolers.

Thomas’s focus is on promoting conversational speech or fluency. Many times children who need assistance in this area have problems with stuttering. Instead of drilling sounds she tries to make it fun by sometimes playing UNO with students. While they play they work on fluid, informal speech. They may work on their “r” and “th” sounds while looking for a red three. She provides games such as secret codes for the older students where they have to use a code to uncover a word that uses an “r” sound and say the word.

She also sees herself as a guide and a supporter who reminds her students “to be confident in their speech and always know they have something important to say even when people are not wanting to listen because it can be hard for them to get the words out.”

Charla Fields, a GC student, shares strategies for smoother speech: 1) EASY STARTS mean slow down your speech at the beginning and don’t rush into what you are going to say. 2) PAUSE when necessary. 3) Take a FULL BREATH when having a tense moment. 4) RELAX your muscles. 5) STRETCH out the difficult words. 6) LIGHT CONTACT WITH T means touch the tongue to the teeth lightly to help reduce tension.

Beyond suggesting the strategies for smooth speech, Thomas suggests children have more conversations with those around them and less screen time. She has observed that elevated usage of technology during the pandemic often increased fluency issues.

Kimberly Page Cooper M. Ed., CCC-SLP has been a speech pathologist at GC for 13 years. Her full time job is with Jefferson County. She focuses on helping students use words during situational interactions. In particular she assists children with autism who may start repeating the same sound, word or action over and over, which is known as perseveration. When this happens she places a known or liked object in front of the child and asks a question they are able to answer, or redirects the child. As a regular practice, she has children categorize, determine parts and items in categories, tell which things are different and the same - picture cards and farm animal manipulative toys are used for comparing and contrasting, finding which items belong. She does all of this with students while discussing hypothetical home situations where knowledge could be used.

Cooper’s advice for new moms with children who are not talking is to give choices and have them say something to get items. It doesn’t have to be the exact name for the item, a simple sound will do. Stress sounds and show mouth as you say words. For example, if a child is saying “pish” instead of “fish” show them the bunny teeth where the two front teeth are lightly touching the bottom lip to make the “f” sound. Move away from just pointing. Playing, engaging and reading are so important for early childhood development. Talking with them as though they are adults who are making choices is important too.

Kaylee Davis M.Ed., CCC-SLP started off in high school being mentored by Scarboro and Wheeler at GC. Then she went on to receive her masters in education from Valdosta State University and has been working as a part-time speech pathologist for 2 years at Swainsboro Elementary School, and one year at GC. Davis tackles limited verbalization skills by using picture books or having children match small plastic duplicates of objects with their pictures. Children are cued with the words to practice verbalization skills. Touch pads are also used for practicing difficult consonant and vowel sounds. She finds technology is useful in giving automatic responses for selections, but sometimes students are distracted by the swiping.

Her suggestion to parents with children working on language acquisition is for parents to use picture books to identify objects. She also suggests parents label the most used items at home.

Even though Jill Scarboro runs the show, she doesn’t manage from above. Instead she works alongside the other therapists, counseling children while managing the business.

Her room like most others has walls padded with toys and photos and a mirror for seeing how the mouth moves. The toys aren’t just toys though, Scarboro calls them “temptations” because many of the games and activities are missing parts or keys to open them and can only be found when students ask for them.

The building explodes with decorations to celebrate different seasons and have something new to talk about.

Scarboro suggests using children’s interests at the starting point for therapy.

“If McDonald’s is your favorite place ever, then I’m going to teach you how to order when you are there.” “Give choices of what you want them to have. So they have to make a communication attempt.”

She says something all families can do if they don’t have the resources to buy books or are too tired to be an engaging reader is to go on YouTube and find the read-aloud versions of the books where the author or an actor read them aloud.

All of the therapists advised against the use of sippy cups, but to drink from a straw because of what happens with the tongue. When drinking from a straw, the tongue experiences using the muscles for retraction, sippy cups help with nothing. Sippy makes teeth come out and messes the s’s.

Even though Scarboro and her team focus on growing communication skills in children, she admits there’s a message she’d like to deliver, “I don’t know where we missed the boat but a lot of local people don’t know about the Babies Can’t Wait program or about the services we offer here. Word of mouth is the biggest way people find us.”

So spread the word. If you have a child with a speech or fine motor problem, you can contact Growing Communication at (478) 237-6363. They are located at 1007 GA Hwy. 56 South, Suite A Swainsboro, Georgia. Just look for the big flowers in bloom on the walls and the playground in the back.

Elijay demonstrates “ch” sounds to Heath-Braddy


Elijay demonstrates “ch” sounds to Heath-Braddy




Isaac and Cooper compare and contrast animals





Blakelynn pauses from practicing animal sounds

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