Scottish Rite Center Gives Voice to Children

Greenville News, Greenville, SC. Published: Wednesday, March 15, 2006 - 6:00 am By L.C. Leach III TRIBUNE-TIMES WRITER

Simpsonville's Julie Vaughan was at her wits' end. Her 2-year-old son, Jordan, had been trying for some time to talk to her and dad Steve, but he couldn't.

Every time he tried to speak, the words would not come, as if they were being held back by an invisible dam.

"And he would get frustrated and lash out at us and at his sister and we had no idea what was wrong," Julie Vaughan said. "And we also had no idea what to do about it."

A trip to their pediatrician revealed no hearing or other visible problems. But it did reveal something psychological: a delay in language articulation. Jordan was missing certain letter sounds when trying to speak, therefore appearing as though he couldn't speak at all. Advertisement

His condition was not covered under the Vaughans' medical insurance and it did not qualify for financial aid through speech centers.

Out-of-pocket costs to correct the problem would run about $180 a month, money the Vaughans didn't have. The other option was to hope that it would be a "developmental thing he would grow out of."

"But we saw neither as a positive thing," Vaughan said.

So the pediatrician suggested she try the Scottish Rite Center for Childhood Language Disorders on Cleveland Street in Greenville.

Having never heard of it before, Vaughan called the center to find out more.

She learned that the school was one of three such facilities in South Carolina, the other two being in Columbia and Charleston, offering free help to children such as Jordan.

Six speech language pathologists were on hand to help infants, toddlers and preschoolers correct communication disorders.

Jordan couldn't enter right away because the school was full, but he could be put on a waiting list.

But once accepted into the center, all children are given a complete evaluation to assess their problem. Once Jordan would be accepted, a pathologist would develop a treatment plan and go over it with his parents. Then work would begin on sound pronunciation, speaking those sounds in words, putting words together to make sentences, correcting stuttering, if necessary, and increasing vocabulary to encourage talking.

"Every child learns at a different rate," said Martha McDade, the center director. "Our kids stay with us on average from a couple of months to a couple of years."

The age range is 0-6 years, which qualified Jordan.

"They cannot receive our services anymore once they turn 6," McDade said. "But if they still need services after that, we work with the families to transition them to another agency or school that handles older children."

As far as cost to qualified families, however, there was none.

Money to pay for the staff, Vaughan found, was raised primarily through donations and fundraisers. And the center had been funded by the John I. Smith Foundation, begun in the late 1990s and named for a Scottish Rite Mason in the Upstate. Through Smith's efforts, the foundation provided a $500,000 matching grant for the school, if the Scottish Rite masons in the Upstate could raise an equal portion in 12 months.

The money was raised and the center opened in 2001.

About 54 children per week attend the center. But the demand outweighs available space.

"Right now, we have about 15 children on a waiting list," McDade said. "We do two evaluations each week, and we either add them to the waiting list or to the therapy group."

The average wait time is one month to six months because "there's no way for us to predict how long any given child will be in speech therapy," she said.

Vaughan got Jordan on the waiting list and he was enrolled in August 2004.

The center has been a real blessing, she said.

"He's doing fantastic and is set to graduate in the next six months to a year," she said. "He has almost all his sounds and his articulation is much better, and it's rare now that we don't understand him."

But despite the need and the ever-present waiting list, Scottish Rite Mason Bob Brannon said it is also comparatively rare that to find many people who know about "the best kept secret in the Upstate."

"In the past, our efforts of making people in the Upstate aware of the clinic have been less than sterling," Brannon said. "And that's what we're trying to change because we want to grow the school."

The school is one of 168 Rite Care Centers throughout the country and Puerto Rico. Since the inception of the Scottish Rite Temples in the 1950s, tens of thousands of youngsters, such as Jordan, have been helped through their centers.

Now, as her son approaches his fourth birthday this month, Vaughan said each visit for speech therapy brings him and her a little more peace.

"The center is a wonderful thing," Vaughan said. "And I'm glad it's there for parents like us."

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