Preschool Language Lab's playful atmosphere belies important development work underway
From behind a two-way mirror, it appears to be a particularly busy preschool playroom in which a handful of precocious children push toy trucks through shaving cream, play red light/green light or sing songs.
In actuality, the room is a classroom dedicated to introducing and facilitating the fundamentals of play, peer interaction and communication with children for whom such hallmarks of childhood are troublesome.
The Preschool Language Lab (PLL) is wrapping up its summer session and 12 participating toddlers and pre-school aged children who are at risk of failing to develop strong communication skills due to speech, language and/or hearing difficulties are spending four hours a week for six weeks with a licensed speech-language pathologist from RU's Communication Sciences and Disorders department, a board-certified music therapist from the department of Music Therapy and a team of graduate and undergraduate COSD and music therapy students.
"Radford University is what saved him," said Jennifer Britton of Salem whose five-year-old son Spencer has been a part of the PLL for three years. "I can't believe he is talking and that he is now a totally normal kid."
Now in its sixth year, the PLL has added an exciting new element this session by incorporating music therapy into its program.
"Music is another way these children can explore their voices and enhance the development of their critical language and social skills," said Trish Winter, assistant professor of music therapy and PLL co-supervisor with Corey Cassidy, associate dean of the Waldron College of Health and Human Services.
"We can do much more in this highly collaborative setting," said Cassidy. "We can reinforce goal areas with children and their families while exploring, learning and engaging as clinicians."
The opportunity to team music therapy and speech-language therapy into this year's PLL is a result of a RU Interdisciplinary Grant, said Cassidy. The PLL is also part of the COSD's RiteCare© Clinic program and benefits from the support of the Scottish Rite Foundation, a longtime supporter of RU's effort to help children develop and enhance communication and literacy skills.
Jillian Ramsey, a COSD graduate student from Oak Hill, W.Va., is serving as a clinician during the PLL and is one of seven Scottish Rite Fellowship winners. She has been teamed with a child daily during the program and actively participates in the sessions while observing and chronicling the progress and the challenges they face.
"'Hey, will you play with me?' is an important early step," said Ramsey. "Play is an early sign of conversation and we can help them build their communication and peer interaction skills."
At the program's beginning, each child was assessed and an individualized treatment plan was prepared for them by the clinical faculty and graduate clinicians. The PLL team also worked with the children's caregivers.
Cassidy, Winter and the clinicians also hosted four sessions for parents and grandparents that reviewed aspects of the PLL's activities and provided additional guidance and support so the caregivers can monitor and sustain the momentum the children have built during the PLL. One session, titled "The Power of Play," introduced the types and levels of play that underpin successful communication skill development. Other sessions addressed typical speech, language and communication development, peer interaction development and music-based strategies to encourage and facilitate speech, language, play and peer skill acquisition.
"These children are making great progress in the PLL that will generalize into everyday conversational and communication success," said Cassidy.
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