Woog’s World: Westporter helps speech-impaired find a voice
Lisa Cloherty has the power to change lives.
As a speech pathologist, she recently treated a boy who had been diagnosed with Central Auditory Processing Disorder. She worked with him, teaching strategies to help him cope. One task required him to listen to similar words — “ray” and “pay,” for example — and determine if they were the same or different. He could not tell.
Cloherty recommended he be seen by an audiologist. The mother called back in tears. It was determined the boy had a mild high frequency hearing loss, and for years had been missing information in class. Within six months of being fitted with a hearing aid, his grades were vastly highly.
Another time, she recommended that a teacher wear a microphone, so a student with auditory deficiencies could hear better.
However, the girl’s private school thought that installing speakers around the classroom would distract other children. Cloherty helped successfully plead the case to school administrators. At the end of the year, the teacher said the system had helped not only the girl with CAPD, but other youngsters with attention difficulties and learning disabilities.
Cloherty grew up on Long Island. At the University of Maryland she was a marketing and communications major, but admits she felt “no real passion” for the field. As part of that major, she signed up for what she thought was a public speaking course. It turned out to be speech pathology — and she was hooked.
Cloherty landed an internship, found a mentor and went to Northeastern University for a master’s of science degree in speech language pathology/communication disorders. After graduating, she started a private practice: Gift of Gab.
“I love working with kids,” the speech pathologist says. “Their energy excites me. I can help them and their amazing families, and really make a difference.” The practice grew quickly.
Several years later, when Cloherty’s daughter was born, she moved to Stamford to be closer to her family.
Last year, she moved again — to Westport. That gave her a chance to pare down her business. She now spends less time on administrative matters, more in close interaction with youngsters — her true love.
Cloherty meets them in their homes. She also works with schools, doctors and occupational therapists, and runs music listening therapy sessions. “I’m back involved with kids’ lives,” she says. “I can be an extended part of their families.”
Cloherty says it’s important to form relationships between children, educators and supportive services. By observing how youngsters act in classrooms, she can suggest accommodations.
Her services include evaluations, therapy and individual and small group work. She also educates teachers and pediatricians on language development.
In addition, Cloherty volunteers her services, doing speech work in underserved communities like Bridgeport.
Speech-language therapy actually involves two different issues, Cloherty says. A child experiencing difficulty with speech has problems with the “how-to” of talking (coordinating muscles and movements necessary to produce speech). A child struggling with language has trouble finding the right words, or organizing those words in a meaningful way to communicate a message or hold a conversation.
The early years of a baby’s life are a critical period, Cloherty notes. That’s when the development of strong social and communication skills, and important emotional growth and intelligence, all take place. Those skills become the foundation upon which all other learning takes place.
Every child grows those skills at different paces. But, she says, if a parent is concerned about the level at which a child is functioning, a speech-language evaluation can help.
Gift of Gab provides personalized assessments and treatment, beginning with pre-schoolers. But the involvement of entire families is important too. Because speech and language are part of daily activities, work outside of Cloherty’s sessions reinforces her exercises.
Parents in Fairfield County have impressed the speech pathologist. “They are so willing to do anything, go to any length, to help their kids,” she says. “Parents here are fiercely committed to their kids’ lives. If I give ‘homework,’ parents and kids do it together.” Cloherty emphasizes that repetition — “carryover” work — is just as important as the actual time she spends with children.
Cloherty calls herself part of a “team.” She works with neurologists, pediatricians, occupational and physical therapists, teachers and psychologists.
Some of her role is educational: helping those professionals understand the auditory component of a child’s difficulty. Some is therapeutic: supporting and teaching the techniques and activities to use when she is not around.
Speech pathologists like Lisa Cloherty are not always front and center. They do their work quietly, but it helps give boys and girls who, for a variety of reasons may be silent, find the power to speak loudly and clearly.
Speech pathologists give them, in other words, the gift of gab.