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Updated 1:00 PM October 4, 2005




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Center helps strengthen language, literacy skills

The University Center for the Development of Language and Literacy (UCLL) is transforming lives with its programs designed to help young and old alike.

UCLL, a division of the Institute for Human Adjustment in the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, offers intensive language and literacy therapy from speech-language pathologists to people of all ages who may show a deficit in language ability due to a stroke or a developmental disorder. The programs are designed for participants to build literacy skills in order to become more communicative with family members and peers.

Individual and group sessions, in addition to time in a computer lab where patients can use programs that help with language development, all serve to enable patients to succeed.

"Our caring and committed staff also offer an intangible—hope," Director Holly Craig says. "We know that our intensive language therapy works, and our staff passes on this confidence to our clients and their families. Our team approach—combining the knowledge and energy of professionals with family members—inspire client, spouse, parent and therapist to strive for the very best for each and every client."

Scott Dingwall, a 17-year-old quadriplegic, is one client who has benefited from UCLL. Since 2003, he has received help from the Residential Aphasia Program (RAP), which provides intensive therapy for patients who have suffered the loss of language due to an injury to the brain, usually from a stroke. RAP is unique, organizers say, because it is a six-week program that provides therapy to patients five days a week for a total of 23 hours per week.

"I think Scott is successful today because of this program," says his mother, Dora Dingwall. "He has seen success and feels success in academic areas because of this program. I think he's been real fortunate to have those resources available to him."

The program is one of only two or three in the nation that is so intensive, says Judy Nantau, UCLL children's services manager.

"The number one foundation of reading is language," Nantau says. "But if you can't produce a sentence then you can't read that sentence. So if you don't have words in your vocabulary and you run across them and attempt to read them and you don't stop and attempt to learn the new vocabulary word, then your comprehension really starts going down."

UCLL offers other programs specifically for children and teens, including the Teen Connections social language group and the Strategies for Academic Success (SAS) workshop that Scott has taken.

Teen Connections is a group for young adults in 8th through 10th grades with language-learning disabilities, pervasive development disorder, attention deficit disorders, high-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome, who need help making friends and understanding social relationships. Autism and Asperger's Syndrome are similar disorders, characterized by difficulty with communication and social language interaction.

SAS is a four-day workshop given at the end of August intended to prepare students for the upcoming school year. It forms an individualized study plan for each child that identifies problem areas and devotes attention to specific strategies, which range from setting up a dedicated study area in order to cut back on distractions, to prioritizing assignments.

Dingwall says Scott gained a whole new level of confidence after completing the SAS workshop. Once he knew he could complete tasks on his own, he started doing so, she says.

"It helped the parent-child relationship that I'm not reminding him: Do you have that? Did you bring it home?" she says.

A new program, Preschool Autism and Communication Therapy Program (PACT), started this past summer, is comprised of six children ages 17-36 months identified as having language problems related to autism, potential autism or just being delayed, Nantau says.

Ten hours a week for six weeks, the program uses a play-based intervention model that relies on UCLL's speech-language pathologists to help the children form vital language connections, according to Nantau. UCLL also uses music therapy and requires parents or guardians to be an integral part of the PACT program.

"One woman said she just wanted to have something to write in her son's baby book under his first words because he had not yet said his first words. And he did while he was in the program—and he said more than that," Nantau says. "They thrived. It was quite magical, as one of the parents put it."

The program continued with the same group of children in September and, because of the success of PACT's first session, UCLL will start a new group in November.

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