SLHS Program Helps Children, Families Overcome Communication Barriers

Brittany Hall and Melissa Whitaker

Brittany Hall and Melissa Whitaker have a passion for increasing communication in children through the Speech Language and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) program at TTUHSC. 

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, nearly one in 12 (7.7 percent) U.S. children ages 3-17 has had a disorder related to voice, speech, language, or swallowing in the past 12 months. If undetected or untreated, these disorders loss can delay a child’s speech and language development.
It’s an issue Brittany Hall and Melissa Whitaker from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) School of Health Professions address every day. Hall is an assistant professor and Whitaker is a clinical instructor for the school’s Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences (SLHS).
Hall says SLHS blends many health care related fields—biology, anatomy, physiology, genetics, communication and psychology—with health and education policy. That mixture, she believes, has allowed the department to support local health care with community programs like Wee Read, a program coordinated by speech-language pathologists to help families with 1- to 3-year-old children. The cost-free program is available to all community members.

Wee Read

“The Wee Read program is designed to provide engaging, developmental learning opportunities for the children and explicit instruction in language, literacy and behavior development for the families,” Hall explains. “It provides preventative services and maintains a link between the community and health care providers.” 
Hall says Wee Read supports families and children through weekly interactive story times held at TTUHSC’s SLHS clinic. These structured story times utilize age-appropriate books, songs and activities like crafts and sensory experiences to support early literacy. She says the weekly story times also provide a framework for creating specific strategies that facilitate parent-child interaction, speech-language development and overall communication.
“The strategy is explained and modeled at the beginning of each weekly session, and then parents have the opportunity to engage with their child while using the strategy in a variety of settings and different learning activities,” Hall explains. “Parent coaching in this hands-on environment allows caregivers to practice strategies with support and guidance in real time. The best part of Wee Read is having fun; parents are provided with a great environment to enjoy their children while improving their interaction and communication.”
The Wee Read program is a collaborative effort between the clinicians, students, families and children. Hall says the best results for SLHS clients come from collaborative efforts where a SLHS practitioner, like a speech-language pathologist, works together with families and other health care professionals because it strengthens everyone’s interactions with the child.
Whitaker agrees and says one of the primary reasons the Wee Read program was developed is to provide a strategy that is developmentally appropriate for toddlers and provides caregivers with specific strategies that boost language skills. 
“Toddlers don’t have to sit still and just listen,” Whitaker says. “We sing, dance, do art, read books, play and engage in a lot of ways that support communication skills and enrich early literacy development.”
Whitaker, who was drawn to the SLHS field because it combines her interest in brain science with her desire to work with and educate children, finds programs like Wee Read to be personally fulfilling because she is able to impact relationships in a meaningful way.

Melissa Whitaker uses hands on learning to engage with student and child

“Toddlers don’t have to sit still and just listen,” Whitaker says. “We sing, dance, do art, read books, play and engage in a lot of ways that support communication skills and enrich early literacy development.”

“Communication skills are integral in any relationship, whether that is a toddler communicating with their parent, a student communicating with his teacher or people just understanding each other,” Whitaker says. “I like to think that what we do has ripple effects above and beyond what we will ever see. Most days, my job doesn’t feel like work; it feels like building relationships with people—whether that is with SLHS students, colleagues, clients or community members.”
Hall says she was motivated to enter SLHS field by many people, including her mother and aunt who both worked in a school setting. By watching them, Hall learned it was possible to provide a positive influence in a child’s life.
“I wanted to have a direct impact and influence people in a similar way,” Hall says. “With Wee Read, it is so rewarding to support and empower parents and caregivers with strategies to improve the speech and language outcomes for their children. Hands down, the aspect that I enjoy most about Wee Read and teaching in the SLHS profession is the relationships. It’s a great example of why I love my job.”

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