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Summer Camp Gves Voices to Kids
The UF Craniofacial Speech Camp provides intensive speech therapy to kids ages 5-13 with congenital craniofacial anomalies, including cleft lip and palate. Held in rural North Central Florida, outside of Keystone Heights, the lakeside retreat also offers children a classic camp experience, with swimming, boating, archery, arts and crafts, and nature hikes.
Dixon-Wood opened the camp in 2003, frustrated with the lack of progress she was seeing in her patients at the UF Craniofacial Clinic. “The majority of children who come to the UF diagnostic center live over a hundred miles away,” she said. “They don’t have speech pathologists who know how to treat them and they don’t get enough therapy time in public schools.”
To bridge the gap, Dixon-Wood created a four-day overnight camp where children can have fun with new friends while receiving a minimum of 20 hours of treatment, equivalent to 40 private speech sessions. Each camper suffers from congenital craniofacial anomalies, which occur in one of every 500 births and lead to severe speech disorders due to late diagnosis, poor or ineffective treatment and education, and inadequate follow-up by caregivers.
Once at the speech camp, Dixon-Wood’s team evaluates how each child makes certain sounds and develops an individualized plan for them to follow. The children go through individual therapy to see if they are capable of making new sounds, then interact in a group setting with other campers where they practice what they’ve learned while playing cards and board games.
“It is more than speech therapy,” said Tammy Lee, mother of 8-year-old Jayce who has attended the camp for the past two summers. “It also builds their self esteem to meet and bond with other kids who are having the same problems.”
Speech pathologists from around the state make referrals to the camp and children seen at the UF Craniofacial Clinic are also selected for treatment. In addition to providing direct speech therapy services to Florida children, the camp also serves as a training program for UF graduate and undergraduate students.
Future plans include offering camps in additional areas around the state to help more children and train speech pathologists from rural areas where service availability is limited. “The best thing would be a camp in the Panhandle and in South Florida, keeping them small so we can continue to take a personal approach,” Dixon-Wood said. For more information, visit www.cleftspeech.com.