by Lindsay Radford
To hear the words “I love you” from a child may not seem all that unusual, but for one mother, it may not have happened without an innovative speech therapy program
run by the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas
. The program, now in its second year, is educating more than 30 people ages four to 30.
“When the 8 year old said “I love you” for the first time and the mom understood him, that was the moment I realize this is why this program exits, said Cameron LaHaise. “If they didn’t have this program, how long would it have taken for this mom to understood him to say I love you?”
Here’s what makes this program so unique – It’s a team effort between the association and private speech therapist Heidi Armendariz, who owns her own clinic, Speak Freely. Together they have written and developed their own curriculum specifically focused on people with Down syndrome.
“Our goal is that down the road, everyone can walk into a restaurant and order a meal,” said LaHaise.
The speech therapy program launched in 2015, with 25 people applying for 18 spots. This year the applicants more than doubled with 54 people applying for 18 spots.
The classes fill a critical need for parents who cannot afford private speech therapy or get sufficient help through the schools. Parents pay $24-dollars a month, the organization pays for everything else.
Expectations are high for students and parents alike. While they meet once a month, there is 20 minutes of homework four times a week.
“It’s not a program where a parent can drop off their kid and go get their hair done,” said LaHaise. “The parents coming in are eager, taking notes and understanding why the therapist says to do these things. Then they must practice 20 minutes a day, four times a week. If the parents do the work, their kids take off.”
The association never expected so much success so fast. Interest in enrollment continues to grow and, therefore, so does the need for funding. The program is currently supported through fundraising and two grants.
“Had I’d known we’d double this in one year, I would have applied for more grants. We don’t have the capacity or the money to hold everyone who is interested,” said LaHaise.
Despite the challenges, the organization is committed to growing the speech therapy program.
“I love this job,” said LaHaise. “We are reaching so many families and it’s making a difference.”