Twice a week, 4-year-old Tritt Gannon receives speech therapy in the Scottish Rite Speech and Language Clinic at Avera St. Luke’s Therapy Center.
When he started coming in January, Tritt didn’t say the endings of some of his words. He was also a little slow to start talking.
Since then, he’s made “mounds of progress. It’s awesome,” said his mother, Katelyn Gannon, who brings her son to Aberdeen from their Ipswich home.
Tritt works with speech and language pathologist Shauna Klipfel.
“Oh, he adores Shauna. Every time we leave, he has to give her a big hug,” Katelyn said.
When he hugs her, he says “I love you, Shauna.”
Initially, Tritt visited the clinic once a week. The visits became twice a week about three months ago.
Those sessions are free, thanks to the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. The support of that organization allows the speech and language clinic to provide therapy to more young people, Klipfel said. That therapy is also provided at no charge.
The Scottish Rite Speech and Language Clinic recently celebrated its second anniversary. For the first two years, the program served children 3 and 4 years old. Since May, the age range has expanded, and therapy is now given to people 3 to 16 years of age.
That work may be in addition to therapy young people receive at school. It is also given to those who don’t qualify for speech and language therapy in schools.
School speech and language therapists do a good job of reaching a lot of young people, Klipfel said. But some kids are inevitably left out because schools have to follow state guidelines as to who qualifies for their services.
When children turn 3, a school assessment determines whether they meet the criteria to begin or continue speech therapy. A lot of kids make enough improvement that they don’t qualify for school therapy, but they still have speech deficits, said Dalita Meyer, director of occupational therapy and speech for Avera St. Luke’s.
Because the Scottish Rite clinic can offer its services year-round, schools sometimes ask if Scottish Rite therapists can see young people during the summer.
The free therapy comes in handy in a time of rising insurance costs, Meyer said. Even when speech and language therapy is covered under insurance, families have to deal with policies that are changing significantly, she said. Typically, there is a $3,000 to $5,000 deductible. Once that is met, parents usually have either an 80-20 or 50-50 copay.
“So what would be coming out of pocket for these parents is huge,” Meyer said.
Even after 20 therapy sessions, the $3,000 to $5,000 deductible is sometimes not met, Meyer said.
The Scottish Rite gives the Avera therapists leeway in working with young people.
“So they allow us to see a lot of kids that sometimes the insurance criteria wouldn’t meet, but, clinically, we feel would be beneficial,” Meyer said.
When a parent approaches the Scottish Rite Speech and Language Clinic, the first step is scheduling an assessment. The diagnostic evaluations are available in a variety of areas, including speech articulation, receptive and expressive language, stuttering, voice concerns and phonological disorders.
Scottish Rite support for the Aberdeen speech and language clinic totals $44,000 a year. Of that amount, $15,000 comes from the Scottish Rite Foundation of South Dakota, said Clark Overbey of Aberdeen, who is the secretary/administrator for the Aberdeen Valley of Scottish Rite. There are four such entities in the state.
While Avera St. Luke’s provides the facility, the Scottish Rite pays for the furniture and equipment, as well as the time used by the therapists.
The three other therapists who work in the Scottish Rite program are Amy Fedoruk, Anne Falken and Vicki Bent.
Being able to speak clearly helps a young person’s self-esteem and relations with his peers. But there’s a more basic reason for speech and language therapy. Working with a therapist helps young people communicate their needs, Meyer said.
The ability to speak also affects one’s future employment. If a fast-food restaurant has to choose between two applicants, the one with better communication skills will be hired, Meyer said.
The first couple of years, the entire $44,000 Scottish Rite allocation was not needed, which allowed the Avera St. Luke’s therapists to expand the age range of those served.
“What impressed me was how much they want to try to build the program,” Meyer said of the Scottish Rite group. “They just have a heart for it,” she said.
Scottish Rite Speech and Language Clinic
• Providing support to children with speech, language and literacy disorders is a major thrust of the philanthropic work of the Scottish Rite Masons.
• That support began in the early 1950s in Colorado, where the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry of the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States initiated a program to help children with speech and language disorders. The results of that program led to the establishment of RiteCare clinics to provide diagnostic evaluation and treatment of speech and language disorders. There are more than 178 RiteCare programs in the U.S.
If you would like to schedule an appointment at the Scottish Rite Speech and Language Clinic, 805 First Ave. S.E., call 605-622-5772 or send an email to email@example.com.