Mexico City – As many families and patients know, in many cases repairing a cleft palate is only the first step. Within a few months of cleft palate surgery, most patients demonstrate speech development progress, but some children require on-going speech therapy. If a palate is repaired before the child learns to talk, the need for speech therapy drastically decreases, however, the older the patient, the harder it is to change the speech after the surgery. The reason is that with a cleft palate, the child learns to speak differently attempting to make the sounds that he or she hears. When the palate is repaired after the child has learned to speak already, the child needs to relearn to say certain sounds that were affected by the cleft palate. Over the last few years, one of Smile Train’s goals has been to find a way to effectively and efficiently provide speech therapy to our patients that need it in order to lead normal lives. An innovative approach to speech therapy is being led by long time Smile Train partner Hospital General Dr Manuel Gea Gonzalez.
Traditionally, speech therapy is conducted in 45 minute sessions twice a week for months and even years. María del Carmen Pamplona has created a Speech Therapy Summer Day Camp for poor patients from in and around Mexico City who are unable to routinely visit speech therapists. Last year’s day camp served 66 patients 4 days a week for 3 weeks and saw improvements in their speech equivalent to 8-10 months of a regular speech pathology schedule. For these very poor children, they had the added bonus of a field trip to visit their favorite soccer stars and the local zoo – a treat they would never have been able to experience.
The results of the camp have extended into the classroom for the majority of the campers such as Ana Sofia. After she had her palate repaired, six-year old Ana started school, but because she was still having difficulty speaking properly, she had trouble making friends, learning, participating in class, and her self-esteem and life suffered. Because she lived too far away from any speech services that her parents would never have been able to afford, she moved in with her uncle and attended the day camp. In just 3 weeks, she was able to learn and play with other children who had the same difficulties and saw dramatic improvements in her speech. After the camp, her parents were given exercises for her to practice and her teacher sent the camp a letter explaining the difference in Ana’s schooling and life: she has grown assured in herself, always eager to suggest her ideas and raiser her hand for questions and has become one of the most popular kids in her class because of her friendly manor. This from a girl who a year before was embarrassed to go to school.
The Hospital General Dr Manuel Gea Gonzalez Speech Therapy Day Camp also serves as an intensive training workshop for speech pathologists. Last year’s camp further trained 47 speech pathologists who are all eager to take what they have learned to their own cities. This year’s camp starts up this July!
Be sure to check out the pictures from last year’s camp: