The new graduate program in speech-language pathology at Purdue University Fort Wayne is already paying dividends for students in its inaugural class and for individuals with Down syndrome at GiGi’s Playhouse.

This meaningful opportunity to work one-on-one outside of the classroom helps the students fulfill a significant requirement of their training.

“Part of the requirements for students to earn their graduate degree and then be eligible for certification as a speech-language pathologist is completing 400 hours of supervised clinical practicum,” noted Leah Knoblauch, clinical assistant professor and director of the Purdue Fort Wayne Communication Disorders Clinic. “Therefore, the clinical hours they complete in our on-campus clinic or other sites in the community are an invaluable part of their education and help them to develop their clinical skills.”

It has been a very busy two-year period for the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Purdue Fort Wayne. It received approvals to proceed with the speech-language pathology graduate program from both the Purdue University Board of Trustees and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education in 2019. During 2020, the new program received national accreditation in July after an on-site visit earlier in the summer. The first students in the program enrolled and began classes in August.

Those students now have the opportunity to put their skills into practice.

“This is a unique opportunity for our students because the faculty members who supervise their clinical work at GiGi’s Playhouse also teach the courses they are taking at Purdue Fort Wayne,” said Stacy Betz, Communications Sciences and Disorders associate professor and department chair.

“This helps them make stronger connections between coursework and clinical experiences. Students are also able to learn more about valuable community resources in northeast Indiana, which they might one day recommend to their own clients.”

GiGi’s Playhouse is a nationwide, nonprofit organization that provides therapeutic, educational, and career-training programs for individuals of all ages with Down syndrome.

“We’re always encouraging our participants to blast through barriers,” said Mandy Drakeford, executive director of GiGi’s Playhouse Fort Wayne. “For many individuals with Down syndrome, speech and communication may be a barrier due to low muscle tone. Our new partnership with Purdue Fort Wayne Communication Sciences and Disorders helps our participants evolve and refine their speech and language skills, fostering greater self-confidence, social skills, school readiness, and overall quality of life.”

Students began providing treatment services in September. It is expected that 10 graduate students and 10 GiGi’s participants will be involved in speech therapy each semester.

GiGi’s Playhouse opened in Fort Wayne in 2016 and serves approximately 300 families in northeast Indiana, southwest Michigan, and northwest Ohio.

The Waynedale News Staff
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