Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Catching problem speaking, hearing early

Katie Sullivan's parents thought those loud noises coming from her mouth a year ago were just plain, annoying shrieks.

They started about the time Katie turned 2 (pictured above) and grew progressively worse.

Turns out she was talking, but couldn't pronounce her consonants – her Bs, Ps and Ts.

"If she was frustrated or wanted something, she just shrieked," said July Sullivan, Katie's mother. "We thought it was just the age and let it slide."

Until Christmas last year, when they took her to the Charlotte Speech & Hearing Center for a screening.

Katie's therapist discovered the girl wasn't moving her mouth when she tried to talk.

Now, after months of work to get Katie to form words with her lips, those shrieks have turned to normal conversation, and the Sullivan house is dramatically more peaceful.

Charlotte Speech & Hearing sees thousands of cases like Katie's – discovering impairments in people of all ages.

Saturday, the center is holding its first Fall Fun Fest as a draw to get people young and old screened for hearing and speech problems.

For children, there will be free speech, occupational therapy and physical therapy screenings.

For people of all ages, there'll be free hearing screenings. The center will also be handing out hearing aid discount coupons to seniors.

It's all a part of the center's effort to seek out people who need help – instead of waiting for clients to come to them.

"It is so important to find any speech-language or hearing disorders early in children before they start school," said Shannon Tucker, the center's development director. "We can work with them so they are on the right track when they start kindergarten.

"There's a big myth that the schools take care of everything. They don't."

The center is the only nonprofit in the Charlotte region that provides speech-language and hearing services to people of all ages, regardless of income. Last year, it helped more than 7,000 low-income people, including providing free hearing aids for seniors and free speech screenings for preschoolers in Charlotte's high-poverty neighborhoods.

Studies show that up to 12 percent of 5- and 6-year-old children have some kind of language disorder that hampers them in school. And 1 in 10 Americans of all ages has some degree of hearing loss, 1 in 3 for those over 65.

The center gets 34 percent of its funding from United Way, which was cut by a third. Its hearing services bank took a 45 percent cut, forcing the center to cut by half the number of hearing aids it normally gives out to low-income children, Tucker said.

The center has a $200,000 hole in its fundraising budget, she said.

Katie Sullivan's mother says the center has made an enormous difference in her daughter's ability to communicate and her family's peace.

She encouraged parents to bring their children to Saturday's Fall Fun Fest for the free screenings.

"If we had waited to address Katie's problem when she was 5 or 6, it would have been difficult," Sullivan said. "She'd have been way behind. If a parent suspects there's a problem with a child, there's a problem. Our hunches are not often wrong."

Want to go? The Charlotte Speech & Hearing Center's Fall Fun Fest is noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at Park Road Park, 6215 Park Road. In addition to the free screenings, there will be games, clowns, a bouncy castle, pumpkin roll, face painting and snacks and beverages. The center will gladly take donations at the festival. If you want to donate online or want more information about the festival, click here.