After surgery, Colin had difficulty communicating verbally. Speech therapists helped him bring his communication skills up to par with those of his classmates back home.
“If a child isn’t able to communicate at an age-appropriate level, it usually shows up first in school,” says Kelly Strachota, a speech-language pathologist at St. Jude.
The hospital’s speech therapists use communication boards and other techniques to help children who have difficulty talking after surgery. Periodic language testing and informal daily checks are used to ensure that patients are improving. In Colin’s case, therapists first helped him improve strength and control of his mouth and tongue, and then progress to producing specific speech sounds.
St. Jude speech therapists work with professionals in the child’s hometown to ensure continued improvement after the patient leaves the hospital.
A lesser-known function of speech therapists is to help children who experience difficulty swallowing after brain surgery. These problems can make it difficult for a child to receive adequate nourishment. By using video X-ray to observe patients eating and drinking, speech therapists can detect complications of the mouth and throat. Results help the therapists treat patients and recommend particular foods and feeding techniques.
*Editor's note: Carson lost his battle with cancer August 23, 2013.
Abridged from Promise, Autumn 2013