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Vital Health Resource for Union County Community Becomes More Kid Friendly

Suzanne Barich and her daughter, Addison, taking a Christmas photo.

Suzanne Barich's daughter Addison receives speech-language therapy at the Kean Center for Communication Disorders.

Student clinicians at the Kean University Center for Communication Disorders are trained to advocate for their patients’ needs. For their pediatric patients at the free clinic, they identified a small improvement that they believed would have a big impact on care.

In feedback to Mahchid Namazi, Ph.D., the executive director of Kean’s School of Communication Disorders and Deafness, the speech-language pathology students wrote, “I wish I had a child-sized chair to help him sit still,” “He’s constantly moving or rolling back and forth in the adult chair,” and, “He does so much better when we sit on the floor, and a mat would be helpful.”

A new grant from the Hersh Foundation is addressing their suggestions by funding the purchase of child-sized furniture for the Center, which has provided speech-language services to neighboring communities for 75 years.

“Many of the young patients we see have sensory regulation issues, so they benefit from rocking chairs. The movement helps them to focus,” Namazi said. “Other children do well sitting on the floor with a mat that gives them the boundaries they need. There's a lot of good research on the difference it makes.”

Namazi said the $12,000 grant supports the student clinicians in providing optimal care for the 125 patients ages two to 10 they see each semester at the clinic.

Kean has the oldest speech-language pathology program in New Jersey. The Center, located at Kean’s East Campus in Hillside, is staffed by about 100 Kean master’s students and is a key part of their training. 

The clinic is offering remote services during the coronavirus pandemic, challenging students to continue to provide outstanding care in a new modality.

“I have learned how to plan therapy sessions and the importance of being a flexible clinician, allowing me to alter activities spur of the moment,” said student clinician Kaitlyn Kerr of Roseland. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kean Center for Communication Disorders helped me make a quick transition to telepractice. This was a new learning experience for all, and I am grateful for the remarkable experiences the clinic has provided me.”

Families who depend on the clinic often can’t afford extensive private speech-language therapy and don’t qualify for state-supported services. Suzanne Barich of Rahway has been taking her five-year-old daughter, Addison, to the clinic for two years to be treated for difficulty with articulation and possible mild apraxia.

“Having these services available to me for no charge means a great deal to me. We are a one-income family of four and probably would not be able to get her as much help if we had to pay out of pocket,” she said. “The Kean student clinicians are wonderful. I forget that they are students at times because they are very good at what they do.”

Barich said her daughter has shown tremendous improvement in her communication skills and makes more progress with each semester spent working with Kean’s student clinicians.

“The clinic is where we learn to apply all of the knowledge we learned through our classes in undergrad and grad school,” said Alyssa Torre of Red Bank, who will graduate with her master’s degree this summer. “It prepares us to be successful in our next step — externships at hospitals, rehab centers and schools.”

Demand is high for services at the Center, which currently has 30 pediatric patients on a wait list. Overall, the Center sees up to 300 patients from the ages of two to 80 in an academic year.

“In clinic, I have had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of individuals, pediatric through adulthood, with varying abilities,” said student clinician Hannah Fransowie of Fort Lee. “I have also had the opportunity to work with highly experienced supervisors who have provided knowledge, support and guidance.”  

Hayley Civil is a second-year graduate student from Franklin Lakes who will start a virtual externship at a Hillside elementary school in the Spring 2021 semester.

“My most-prized takeaways from my two semesters at the clinic are exposure to a variety of clients, learning to work professionally with a range of supervisors and well-seasoned therapists, and gaining confidence in both myself and my clinical skills,” she said. “I really appreciate that Kean simply opens its doors to its community, with the only expectation being to improve the lives of others.”