Impacting Young Lives

At 2 years old, Isabelle Fischer only said one word – mama. And her lack of verbal communication was beginning to take its toll.

“When she wanted a drink of water, for instance, she would stand in front of the refrigerator and scream,” says her mother, Amy Fischer. “Isabelle is a sweet girl, but she was getting increasingly frustrated because she was trying to express herself but couldn’t.”

Amy, a former teacher, and Isabelle’s father, Greg, became increasingly concerned and decided that it was time to take action.

The Fischers brought Isabelle to Cincinnati Children’s, home to the largest, most comprehensive speech pathology program in the nation. Isabelle was diagnosed with a speech disorder and worked weekly with a speech-language pathologist for one year.

Isabelle, now 3, is now thriving in preschool. “Without the speech therapy program at Cincinnati Children’s, Isabelle probably would not have been ready for school this year,” Amy says. “Her learning and education would have been delayed and that would have had a lasting impact – intellectually and socially.”

Early Intervention is Key to Success

Young children develop the majority of their speech and language skills in the first six years of life. If there is a problem with this development, early intervention is critical for long-term success. Left untreated, the problem can negatively affect the child’s self esteem, social development, interpersonal relationships, ability to learn and ultimately, their independence.

As Ann Kummer, PhD, CCC-SLP, senior director of the Division of Speech Pathology at Cincinnati Children’s explains, “Between birth and age 5, the child’s brain is rapidly developing in response to auditory, visual and tactile stimulation. If the brain is not responding appropriately and communication skills are not developing normally, therapy should be started immediately so that another area of the brain can take over. After this critical period of development, the brain becomes hard wired. Therefore, the child could experience problems with communication and learning for the rest of his or her life.”

Isabelle is a shining example of the importance of early intervention.

“Isabelle has grown and learned so much. She has really blossomed,” Amy says. “Thanks to Natalie, her speech-language pathologist, and all the support she gave to Isabelle and to us, our daughter went from saying one word to talking up a storm to anyone who will listen.”

The speech pathology program at Cincinnati Children’s is a comprehensive program with 146 speech-language pathologists who care for more than 90,000 patients visits each year. And the program continues to grow with an average of more than 100 new referrals each week.

“The program is unique in many ways,” says Dr. Kummer. “We provide services at many locations around the city so that it is more convenient for our families. In addition, due to our size, we are able to have a staff of specialists in all areas of communication disorders, including autism, hearing loss, stuttering, voice disorders, and many others. We also have specialists in feeding and swallowing disorders.”

Although Isabelle no longer sees Natalie for therapy, the family’s experience at Cincinnati Children’s has continued. Isabelle’s brother, Chase, 5, is now receiving speech therapy at the Northern Kentucky location.

Pay it Forward

As important and beneficial as speech therapy is for children like Isabelle and Chase, too often insurance won’t cover needed services. Most insurance companies will cover the cost of therapy to restore speech that has already been developed, but lost due to trauma, stroke or other conditions. However, many will not pay for sessions to help children develop language skills that haven’t yet been formed – communication skills that are so crucial during early childhood development.

Isabelle and Chase fall into this category. Their family has medical insurance, but it does not cover the cost for speech therapy, so they must pay for the services themselves. This was a real eye-opener for the Fischers and they wanted to help other families whose children needed speech therapy but didn’t have the insurance coverage or means to pay for it.

Amy and other family members met with Dr. Kummer to discuss giving back to the program that had done so much for their children. Those discussions led to a generous gift from the Fischer Family Foundation and the creation of the Financial Assistance for Speech Therapy (FAST) program at Cincinnati Children’s. 

FAST is designed to make speech and language therapies more accessible and affordable to children from families whose medical insurance denies care for these crucial services. The local children who are chosen to participate are at a critical stage of language development and are likely to make major advancements to overcome their speech and language deficits with the help of therapy sessions.

In 2009, the first year of the FAST program, 53 children received a total of 1,060 individualized speech therapy sessions. The child’s family pays only a $20 copay with each visit – a far cry from the average $200 cost for each session.

Continue the Progress

The Fischers' say they are grateful for the speech therapy program at Cincinnati Children’s and the great strides their children have made in their verbal communication skills. They want to continue to help other children receive the same excellent care.

“We read notes from some of the families whose children have been helped by FAST and they brought tears to our eyes. It feels good to be able to support the FAST program, and know we’re really making a difference.”

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