(July 15, 2015) – Inside an Armstrong Center classroom, colorful barnyard paper crafts and sheriff’s stars taped to the room’s walls stir images of Wild West farm life. However, it’s a group of children, ages three to five, who give the setting life as they huddle on a mat and join in another chorus of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
Sitting on the outside of the group, it looks like a typical playful day at preschool. However, the RiteCare Center’s Compass Communication Camp, which runs for two consecutive, four-week sessions this summer, serves children who have communication challenges. The camp staff members who encourage the children to stand up and dance like cowboys are in fact graduate speech-pathology clinicians working alongside licensed and certified speech-language pathologists.
But to these kids, it’s summer camp.
Amanda Holliday, a supervisor with the RiteCare Center, notes that participants come from a variety of backgrounds, and the disorders being treated encompass language delays, such as receptive and expressive language disorders, articulation disorders like childhood apraxia of speech, autism and social skills development.
The campers are divided into age-appropriate groups and take part in a variety of activities, unaware that something as simple and enjoyable as tossing a beanbag into a laundry hamper does more than entertain them.
In addition to group play, older children also receive one-on-one therapy, which benefits students with childhood apraxia of speech, a motor speech disorder that requires repetitive sequencing of sounds, syllables and words. Notably, this therapeutic play helps children’s brains create pathways that will assist communication between the brain and body parts required for speech.
Crystal Smith, mother to five-year-old camper, Reggie, couldn’t be happier with her son’s experience this summer. Prior to attending, Reggie, who is diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech, was quiet and wouldn’t answer questions without prompting. However, in a recent session, Reggie proudly pronounced each letter of his first and last name on the roll call sheet. The newfound clarity of speech and confidence he exudes is a testament to the camp’s effectiveness, Smith says.
"He's talking more and speaking clearer," Smith reveals, elated. Reggie has also gained new friends, and Smith credits that to the camp’s enjoyable group setting. “Every day he comes running down the steps and wants to show me his arts and crafts,” she says.
Dr. April Garrity, the Compass Communication Camp director, is eager to make this a yearly event and cater to more children with the continuation of the effective, low-cost camps. Anyone unable to pay may receive full funding from RiteCare Center’s sponsor, the Scottish Rite Masons. The program, as well as all other services at the Center, is free for all Armstrong students, faculty, staff and their children.
“It is exciting for us to offer the camps at the RiteCare Center,” says Garrity. “In addition, we plan to continue to offer a wide variety of therapeutic services to support the community.”