“Speech pathology can do so much for young children — it can literally give them a head start,” said Martha McDade, director of the South Carolina Scottish Rite Centers for Childhood Language Disorders.
McDade directs the state’s three centers: the oldest center begun in Columbia 18 years ago, Greenville’s John I. Smith Center begun five years ago, and the Charleston center, which is a year old.
McDade has been focused on speech pathology for most of her life. She said she knew by fourth grade that she wanted to be a special education teacher.
“My first class in college was in speech pathology, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. This field has flexibility and variety. I can work with a broad spectrum of the population.”
McDade answered a newspaper ad for the job she holds now, basically just to find out more about who was starting a new speech center. “But they were very persistent in telling me that they wanted me for this job.”
Funded by the Scottish Rite Masons, the centers provide evaluation and therapy at no cost to the parents for infants, toddlers and preschoolers with communication disorders. The John I. Smith Center on Cleveland Street serves approximately 50 children a week in addition to conducting an average of two evaluations each week.
“We evaluate children even if no spaces are available to begin their therapy,” McDade said. “We are still able to give the parents information and suggest the most appropriate service.”
There are other centers in the area providing speech therapy but not necessarily at no charge, McDade said. Therapy for children over the age of 3 is available through the public school system.
“It really is important to start early. Early intervention is economical. It costs less to solve a problem when a child is 2 or 3. At a later age, it takes much longer to correct a problem.
“Everything in school is language based, so if a child has a speech disorder, he has more trouble in school and requires more support services.”
McDade said the John I. Smith Center provides therapy for a whole range of communication disorders, including receptive and expressive language problems, speech and articulation disorders, stuttering, voice disorders and pragmatic language problems such as those experienced by autistic children.
Six part-time speech pathologists, licensed by the state and nationally certified, are on the center’s staff along with director McDade.
The center houses three therapy rooms with adjacent parent observation areas, allowing parents to listen to therapy sessions through headphones and observe through a one-way mirror. This way parents see what their children are learning and can help them practice at home.
The center also serves the community as a practicum site for graduate students in speech pathology and for the last two years has been a continuing education center for practicing speech pathologists.
“We see this as a way of broadening our influence and helping get more people properly and appropriately trained.”
McDade said the greatest need the center has is for more funding. “There are many more children we could help.”
Fund-raisers, including a Sweetheart Banquet in early February and fruit and candy sales, have provided some funds. Grants and private donations to the Scottish Rite Foundation have also helped.
McDade maintains a “wish list” of items that the center needs: practical items such as toilet paper and tissues as well as larger items such as computers. Many families whose children have been helped offer to bring items from the list as a way of showing their appreciation.