Giving children a voice
LaGRANGE — With bright blue eyes and a shy smile, 2-year-old Aliyah Koone fidgeted slightly in her tiny desk across from West Georgia Health Speech-Language Pathologist Mark McCloud. Her eyes lit up as he encouraged her to point to a picture.
“Many times, we have children use basic signs and gestures as we work toward helping them go from being nonverbal to verbal,” said McCloud, a certified and licensed speech-language pathologist and manager of WGH’s Speech Pathology department.
McCloud helps infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children work through speech-language disorders and delays, including articulation — pronunciation problems — voice, language, stuttering and other communicative problems that may originate from mental disabilities, hearing loss, cerebral palsy or cleft palate. McCloud also works with children who have autism to help them learn strategies for communicating more effectively.
It all has been part of McCloud’s job at West Georgia Health for 30 years, but the feeling he gets from teaching a child to communicate with the world is one that never grows old.
“I never thought I would have stayed here as long as I have,” said McCloud, who has a special interest in working with preschoolers with speech-language delays and adults with neurogenic communication and swallowing disorders. “But even to this day, I love my job, which encompasses working with a toddler one minute, a young teen the next, and a nursing home resident after that. I really enjoy helping others regain their ability to connect with people.”
Working with children and their parents is particularly rewarding because he knows how important it is for a child’s wellbeing to express his or her needs or emotions in a way that can be understood by those around them.
“Early intervention is crucial for a child with a speech-language issue,” McCloud said. “If it’s detected early, many problems can be partially or completely resolved before a child reaches kindergarten age, potentially eliminating the need for long-term therapy during crucial development years.”
He said speech-language problems can interfere with a child’s normal learning, psychological and social development if not corrected early.
“Many parents hesitate to bring in children under the age of 3,” McCloud said. “However, a child may have a problem if at age 2, he hasn’t begun combining words into sentences or is difficult to understand at the age of 3.”
According to McCloud, parents can usually tell if the child is delayed by comparing their child to same-age peers.
“If there is a big difference in language behavior, it’s best for a parent to start taking steps early to diagnose and treat the problem.”
Parents or caregivers may bring their children to a free speech-hearing screening Aug. 3-6 at West Georgia Health. Appointments are required for the free screenings and may be made by calling 706-845-3862. Each screening lasts 5 to 10 minutes per child.