Window To The World Of Speech Therapy

Lukas Alsip of Seven Hills is delighted that he can now see the face of his speech therapist, Mindy Siefker, at UH Parma Medical Center.

Grateful patients adapt their homemade masks for speech therapy patients Many people may be frustrated by masks that conceal facial expressions. But there is one group of patients that are overjoyed to see their caregivers in face masks now. These fortunate patients are those with outpatient speech therapy appointments at University Hospitals Parma Medical Center. A grateful physical therapy patient who has sewn hundreds of cloth masks for neighbors, friends and family chose to help out her UH Parma friends by modifying her pattern to add a vinyl window that allows patients to see the therapist’s mouth.

Now a child learning to enunciate sounds and understand social cues can watch the way her therapist’s mouth moves and respond to her smile. A stroke survivor with impaired hearing can visualize how they should be shaping sounds and provides visual aids not possible with traditional masks. “Many of my adults feel that it is helpful for them to see other’s mouths and are beyond thrilled to be able to have this support from their therapists,” says Mindy Siefker MS CCC/SLP, a speech language pathologist at UH Parma. “The children that I see are excited to be able to see someone smile at them, especially as many of them are still learning social cues and cannot ‘read’ a smile from eyes alone.”

Kathy Crowl, another outpatient speech therapist, first used the new mask with a 5-year-old girl who was having trouble making the “th” sound because she couldn’t see how Kathy formed the sound with her mouth. When Kathy put on the purple mask with the see-through window, she was extremely excited. “The masks are a big hit with our patients!” Kathy said. “The adults find it helpful as many have reduced hearing. They can see our lips and it makes it easier to determine what we are saying.”

An invaluable gift The masks were a gift from Lynn and Tim Maltry of Seven Hills, who have both known the benefit of physical therapy through UH Parma.

When the pandemic hit, Lynn pulled out her old Singer sewing machine, viewed the UH-approved pattern and started making masks from leftover material from a Star Wars quilt she had made for her grandson. They made them for everyone they knew, they started marketing them on the neighborhood outreach app NextDoor to reach more neighbors. Over time, she made more than 400 masks.

Then Darla Costa, their physical therapist, gave Lynn the idea of a very special kind of mask that could be a huge help to her friends in speech therapy. Lynn consulted with the department, viewed a video on how to make masks with vinyl windows, offered a few prototypes, and proceeded to make a mask for each speech therapist in the department.

Giving back to their caregivers “We think the world of that department, and Darla is a wonderful woman,” says Lynn, whose husband went to PT at the UH Independence Health Center for a sports injury. Lynn was so impressed with Darla that she chose to see her for PT when she was recovering from a melanoma biopsy. While therapy appointments were temporarily suspended this spring during the initial pandemic restrictions, they have both since returned to PT, following Darla to her current location in Medical Arts Center 1 near the hospital.

The couple continues to make cloth masks at no charge, accepting only occasional donations to cover their supplies. With summer camps and day care facilities opening now for children, they are getting an increasing number of requests for child-sized masks. “We feel like we’re on a mission to help people be able to navigate COVID with these masks,” Tim said.

Added Mindy: “It has been imperative in the teaching of various speech sounds as we often use our mouth as a model when saying: ‘See how I make this sound,’ and helps children achieve their speech clarity goals in a more typical fashion.  Overall, it has been a very bright spot in our therapy and has provided a more normal form of interaction where our patients can see our love and compassion for them and it brings them comfort and brings us closer together.”

CJ Sheppard

Senior Communications Strategist, University Hospitals Parma Medical Center

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 10:46 AM, 07.01.2020