APSU now offering degree in communication sciences and disorders
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – The first time Isha Cheaye saw a speech-language pathologist working with a child, she knew that’s what she wanted to do with her life.
“To an outsider it looks like play, but it’s benefiting the child in such a positive way,” the Austin Peay State University student said. “You don’t realize until you have the skills and the lessons and resources that this has an amazing impact on the child’s life.”
Last spring, the University’s Department of Health and Human Performance launched a new degree concentration in Communication Sciences and Disorders, which will prepare students like Cheaye for careers in speech language pathology and audiology. But what exactly do these professionals do, and why did their work impress Cheaye so much?
“Some people may still call us speech teachers, but now we are a much more science-oriented field,” Dr. Kelly Kleinhans, APSU clinical associate professor, said. “We help with stuttering and other speech difficulties, but we also work with all ages, from infants in the neonatal intensive care unit who can’t eat, due to feeding and swallowing problems, to the other end of the life span, adults with ALS or those suffering from a stroke or brain injury, we can even make life better for adults with dementia.”
A speech- language pathologist helps with feeding and swallowing problems?
“Yes,” Kleinhans said. “The vocal tract, the structures we use to produce your voice are the same structures we use to eat with, so when babies are born, the physiology is either immature or they can’t coordinate the respiration and swallowing, so they have trouble feeding.”
“I want to be that passionate about something”
At the end of her freshman year at Austin Peay, Cheaye didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. On a whim, she enrolled in one of the University’s newest classes – Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. She had never heard of a speech-language pathologist.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I just took the intro class,” she said. “In that class, Dr. K (Kleinhans) swept me off my feet and roped me in. It was so interesting, and her passion for the program and for being a speech pathologist was so incredible. I said, ‘I want to be that passionate about something.’”
Kleinhans arrived at APSU in the fall of 2018 to develop the concentration, and her passion for the field has led the program to experience massive growth in its first two semesters. During her first fall at Austin Peay, Kleinhans taught an exploratory course, providing an introduction for speech-language pathology and audiology. Only four students enrolled in that class.
“We just finished advising season, and I advised 24 students,” she said. “Now that the word is getting out, the students are populating our program.”
“This is amazing!’”
Earlier this month, Kleinhans sat in her small office inside the Dunn Center, preparing toys and flashcards for her program’s afternoon clinic.
“We partnered with the Clarksville Association for Down Syndrome, and they’re bringing their kids in for reading tutoring sessions as an authentic experience for my students taking a language and literacy class,” she said. “They’re looking at how language interacts with literacy, which is what the students with Down syndrome need to be successful academically. It’s our first clinic at APSU.”
In an empty classroom down the hall, Cheaye sat with Caden, a middle school-aged boy with Down syndrome. Holding a family book with pictures of his parents, she tried to get him to identify the written words for “mommy” and “daddy.” That afternoon, Caden was distracted, not making eye contact or listening to Cheaye’s questions.
“Then, there was one moment when he actually looked, and I knew he was attentive and engaged,” she said. “He picked the right card for “daddy,” and it was amazing to see. I was like, ‘This is amazing!’”
This reaction didn’t surprise Kleinhans.
“Our students are phenomenal,” she said. “They have big personalities and are eager to learn and they see the world in such unique ways. They’re going to be great.”
And when they graduate, they might be able to stay at Austin Peay to complete their graduate work in the field. The APSU Department of Health and Human Performance is now in the early stages of developing a master’s degree in speech-language pathology.
For information on the program, visit https://www.apsu.edu/programs/undergraduate/communication-sciences-disorders.php.
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