OU College of Allied Health Speech-Language Program Reaches Children on the Autism Spectrum

OU College of Allied Health Speech-Language Program Reaches Children on the Autism Spectrum

In observance of National Better Hearing and Speech Month during May, the John W. Keys Speech and Hearing Center, operating under the University of Oklahoma College of Allied Health, is highlighting one of its premier programs, iLEAP (Interprofessional Language, Enrichment and Pre-Kindergarten Program), specifically designed to bridge gaps in communication skills related to developmental delays.

The Keys Center has long served children with a variety of developmental needs related to language, speech and hearing. The program also addresses the needs of children with learning challenges as a result of behavioral concerns, as well as typically developing children. Guided by experts in speech-language pathology, the small-group approach enhances learning for children across a broad range of developmental stages.

The iLEAP program has been housed in the John W. Keys Clinic since the early 1990s. Jessica Lathem, M.A., CCC-SLP, speech-language pathologist, and co-director of iLEAP, said the program, though not new, has evolved to meet the growing needs of a population whose educational concerns may be problematic.

“What’s new and different about the program is the ability to offer two different classrooms and curriculums based on children’s needs; the traditional language classroom, and now the classroom for children on the autism spectrum,” Latham said. “We continually heard from parents seeking resources because their children had difficulty functioning in a traditional preschool setting. We specialize in providing services that specifically address the challenges faced by this unique population. Our programming is a direct response to parents who found limited options where their children could learn effectively.”

Beth Lane, M.A., CCC-SLP, assistant clinical professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, said, “It’s an optimal learning environment for children who otherwise may not receive individualized attention, which is particularly important to speech and language.”

In her role as co-director of the iLEAP program, Lane brings extensive background and depth of expertise in teaching children on the autism spectrum. The half-day program is for children ages 2½ to 4 years, with limited class size that preserves a low child-to-teacher ratio. The age at which children are eligible to participate was recently lowered in order to capitalize on an important developmental window, a best practice in early intervention.

“These classes are a nice transition that move children toward a traditional full-time preschool experience at a comfortable pace,” Lane said. She explained that iLEAP makes the transition more successful due to building socialization and pre-academic skills, utilizing one on one assistance and small class sizes. “Socialization is also a learned skill, which can present obstacles for children with special needs. It’s beneficial for many children to continue in the program until age 4. With this foundation, they are better prepared for mainstreaming into a preschool program.”

The programs of the John W. Keys Speech and Hearing Center also contribute to the professional development of speech-language pathology experts. “The individually tailored learning experience we offer is a training program for graduate students, providing a means to meet requirements toward their master’s degrees,” said Lathem. Additionally, iLEAP facilitates interprofessional relationships through collaboration with other OU Health Sciences Center entities and resources, including the College of Dentistry, Rehabilitation Sciences, Nutritional Sciences and Audiology.

“Our goal for all of our children in the iLEAP program is to connect, communicate and thrive as they prepare to transition to a traditional preschool program.” said Lathem.

For more information, contact: Jessica Lathem, MA, CCC-SLP at (405) 271-4214, ext. 30597, or Beth Lane, MA, CCC-SLP, at (405) 271-4214 ext. 46086.