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'Celebrate Independence 5K' helps kids at language center

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Childhood Language Center in downtown Charleston, which has become a learning safe haven for families of children with speech problems, will co-host a fundraiser with the city Friday evening at Haddad Riverfront Park.

The fundraiser, "Celebrate Independence 5K," begins at 7:45 p.m.

The center was founded in 1990 by the Scottish Rite Masons and operates entirely on donations, grants and fundraisers. The center provides free speech and language therapy for children with language delays, autism, Down syndrome and hearing impairments.

Holly Martin, executive director of the center, said the race will go a long way toward helping children receive necessary speech therapy.

"We don't want families to have to worry about their kids getting the care they need," Martin said. "They often face a huge financial burden, and that's where we come in."

The Hiser family first learned about their adopted son, Ian, when he was 8 months old. Ian's mother, Michelle, knew they would have a long road of speech therapy ahead of them. He was born with a cleft lip and palate.

"I wanted a baby. I didn't even think about it," Hiser said. "I knew my other son had [speech] therapy and, if that's all we had to deal with, that was fine with me."

Doctors in China surgically repaired Ian's lip and palate to close any gaps, to enable him to speak more properly and eat food regularly.

Ian has been in speech therapy since he was 12 months old. During the school year, he attends two sessions each week. During the summer, he visits the center for therapy once a week.

The communication between Ian and his mother has improved with therapy but still needs work. Sometimes, Hiser said, Ian gets lazy and just points to an object when she can't understand him.

From the skills she picked up during speech therapy sessions, she tries to walk Ian through what he wants to express. Recently, Ian mentioned the circus but his mother had no idea what he was talking about until she asked him: What's there? Where is it?

Ian responded and clearly annunciated the word "clowns." Instantly, his mother knew he was talking about the circus they'd visited.

"He gets so excited when I understand him," Hiser said. "I don't know that anybody else really understands how hard it is to have someone with a speech delay."

The center features three classroom-like therapy rooms with colorful walls and many toys.

"We typically use a lot of toys and games to get them engaged in therapy and kind of make it where they're doing their words and work while playing," said Amber Hammond, a speech language pathologist at the center.

The center also includes a sensory room with a ball pit and trampoline, where children can work on motor skills.

"You have to make it interesting for them to want to come back," Hammond said. "It has to be fun."

Hiser hopes the speech therapy sessions will bring Ian's overall communication skills to the same level as his peers.

"He is speaking well," she said. "He just doesn't have the sounds that the other kids have."

Hammond also worked with Ian's food therapy, ensuring that he has the right motor skills to chew up his food properly, move food around in his mouth and otherwise eat food safely.

Ian entered speech therapy using just two-word or three-word phrases. He now regularly uses full sentences to express himself.

"The earlier you can get started working on those sounds and making sound-letter association and things like that, the better off they will be down the road," Hammond said.

Runner registration is $25 on race day. For an online registration form, visit tristateracer.com.

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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