Children with cleft lip and palate thrive at speech campers
(June 2014) - Happy Campers Speech Camp at Barrow Neurological Institute is a unique summer camp consisting of two weeks of intense speech therapy disguised by fun crafts and activities. With appearances from Jungle Jill and a magician to activities like painting and cooking, the annual summer camp is the only of its kind in Arizona. Helping to instill a sense of comfort and confidence, campers also work with a psychologist for self-esteem building activities, which include how to deal with bullying and self-image issues.
“I’ve seen how long it takes for kids with craniofacial disorders to progress as they grow up,” says Deborah Leach, speech pathologist at Barrow. “And I thought, if we could just have these kids for a couple of weeks, I think we’d make a lot of progress with their speech and self-esteem.”
The children, ages 7 to12, get equally excited about the camp, which is funded by donors of St. Joseph’s Hospital’s Foundation. Some participants wake their parents at 5 a.m. to go to camp, and others say they don't want to leave at the end of the day.
Leach adds that a significant number of participants improve their speech so much that little therapy is required after graduating from the camp and parents see an improvement in how their children are able to handle social situations. “These children and their families continue to treasure the camp experience years after they have attended,” she says.
Former camp graduates give back to the program by volunteering their time and sharing their enthusiasm for what the camp has to offer. “It’s incredibly unique for these campers to have a role model who can relate to their experiences and assist them in their journey,” says Leach.
Cleft lip and palate is the most common birth defect of the face. It occurs when the gaps in an unborn child’s lips and palate do not close normally. A child with cleft lip and palate typically undergoes six to 10 surgeries, along with speech therapy and psychological counseling, before turning 21. Eating problems, speech difficulties, and self-esteem issues are common among these children.
The Barrow Cleft and Craniofacial Center at St. Joseph’s is the only accredited craniofacial program in the Valley and the only program of its kind in the Southwest. Patients of all ages come from throughout Arizona, as well as parts of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. The center cares for approximately 6,400 children, up to age 21, in addition to the adult patients it serves.