The Coachella Valley has a tremendous resource available for local children experiencing speech and language challenges. It is the Scottish Rite Childhood Language and Learning Center in Palm Desert. Since its inception in 2004, the center has graduated more than 250 children who receive free one-on-one speech therapy with certified professionals.
Many people do not see speech and language challenges as being a priority; however, if children do not receive help with speech impediments, they may never reach their full potential. Jens Petersen, Board President of the Center, explains that there are as many as 40 to 50 different reasons for speech challenges, including a brain defect or damage or inaccurate formation of the mouth or tongue. All children are screened to ensure that therapists at the center can address and meet each child’s individual needs before they are accepted into the program.
“When a child is unable to speak or understand language, they have less of a chance of leading a successful life,” says Petersen, who is passionately dedicated to the program as he experienced speech challenges in his own youth. A stutterer at an early age made him a victim to teasing at school. He remembers coming home and hiding under the dining room table. Fortunately, his great uncle was a forerunner in the field of speech and language therapy and worked diligently with Petersen and his mother to overcome the challenge. He became successful in the field of public relations and notes another success in former President Clinton, who also overcame speech difficulties in his youth.
The Learning Center has three paid state certified speech therapists who work part time. As some also work for local school districts, the center’s hours during the school year are 3:30pm to 7pm, Monday through Thursday, with some flexibility based on therapist and parent availability. The summer sessions will begin at 1pm.
Charlie Ash, a Mason’s Scottish Rite member and volunteer at the center, emphasized the importance of the parents’ participation in the therapy program. The Center is set up with two therapy rooms and a separate room where the parents can view and hear the sessions via a closed circuit television. Parents accompany their children, who come 1 or 2 times per week for a 45-minute session, to understand how to model the speech patterns being learned, which is a very important aspect. They are observing, asking questions, and participating. Each therapy room is colorful with games and toys as well as charts with pictures of the formation of sounds, and a mirror so children can observe their own formation of words and sentences.
A therapist at the center noted that it is better for a child to start at a younger age if possible. “Generally they are here for a year to a year and a half, but sometimes they are ready to go sooner.” When a child’s goals have been met, they are ready to graduate.
Patty brings her grandson Nathan. Her other grandson previously graduated from the program and no longer needs therapy. “Nathan is 6 and did not start talking until he was 3 years old,” she says. “The program has been a lifesaver for us; it has helped so much to prepare both boys for their grade level.” She adds that Nathan is learning the tools to help him when he is not understood which is very frustrating for him. “He has learned to say, “say it after me,” so he knows that we know what he is saying.”
Nicole brings her son Brody who is 10 years old. He has been in speech therapy in school for a while, but is not able to get the one-on-one attention that he receives at the center. Brody stated that being at the center can be both fun and challenging. It is hard work and includes homework which he fits into his busy schedule of sports and school, but he plans to continue at the center until he graduates.
The Palm Springs Scottish Rite Childhood Language and Learning Center operates on private funding from corporations and the community which pays for therapists and the facility. Petersen hopes to increase awareness of the valuable services the center provides.
”We had a 5 year-old come in who could only speak about 25 words,” he says. “Two years later, he was talking your leg off! His parents were so happy that we gave their son a voice.”
And that is why the Palm Springs Scottish Rite Childhood Language and Learning Center is here.
The Palm Springs Scottish Rite Learning Center is located at 44-100 Monterey Ave., Suite 218 in Palm Desert. For more information visit www.PSSR.net or call (760) 341.6208.