Helping Children Overcome Speech Problems

Speech Language Pathologist Pat Essick, M.S., works with pediatric patients at Wake Forest Baptist Health – Lexington Medical Center and has two rules: take it slowly and make it fun.

“We have a little chart with pictures and letters, and I’ll do this little song, the alphabet sound song. You take a word and repeat it. For example, the word ‘apple,’” Essick says. She softly sings the word, stretching out its syllables: “Ap-ple. Ap-ple. A-a-a.”

Singing slowly, Essick says, helps children understand the individual sounds that together produce words. Her patience and her skill working with children and their parents has improved the speech patterns of hundreds of kids since she joined our Rehabilitation Services team.

The beauty of speech language pathology, Essick says, is that once children and their parents understand an exercise, they can repeat it. 

“You can do it driving down the road,” Essick says. Many children, she says, stumble over specific sounds, especially “k” or “g.’’ In the pediatric room at Rehabilitation Services, children can play in the bean pit, use stairs or go down a slide. Each time they do, they are asked to pronounce what they’re doing. 

“If they’re going up the steps, they need to say ‘up’ and pronounce the final ‘p.’ If they’re going down the slide, they need to say the ‘d’ in ‘slide.’”

Crystal Rockwell of Denton has taken her son, Chevy, now 4, to see Essick for more than two years. The change in his speaking ability is dramatic, Crystal says. When he first started seeing Essick, Chevy didn’t talk much at all. When he did, his sounds were garbled as he mashed words together.

“Pat was able to slow him down and have him practice on simple words,” she says. “She would ask him questions and make him answer them, and then constantly tell him, ‘Now slow down.’”

Essick has worked with children for years. She was a preschool teacher when she decided to pursue a degree in teaching, and she later received her master’s degree in Speech Pathology. 

She says she was always a “stickler” for children pronouncing their words properly. It may stem from her childhood; she has a younger brother who was hard to understand until after he went to speech therapy.

The enthusiasm she has for her work is evident.

“It’s so satisfying to see a kid’s face when you get them to produce a ‘k’ sound and they’ve never done it before, and it’s like, ‘I did it!’” Essick says. “It’s rewarding for me because they’re doing something they’ve never done before. Then their family can understand their speech and they can communicate.”

Essick is an invaluable resource for the Rehabilitation Services team, as parents and children throughout the region can attest. 

If you feel your child may benefit from speech therapy, we encourage you to talk with your child’s physician. A referral can be made to the Wake Forest Baptist Health – Lexington Medical Center Rehabilitation Services Speech Therapy service at 336-238-4776. From there, the team will evaluate your child and put together a plan of care for speech and communication skills.