Eliza Mulherin, among other graduate assistants, donned blue T-shirts and ate blue gluten-free cupcakes with preschool students under a tree outside of George Hall Wednesday morning.
Professors and volunteers at the Speech and Hearing Center in George Hall celebrated autism awareness month on Wednesday with a miniature parade and cupcake picnic for their students.
The Speech and Hearing Center began its work on campus three years ago and has since offered free speech and hearing screenings for university students and a daily class for local preschoolers diagnosed with speech or hearing disorders.
Since its inception, 25 children have participated in the center’s program.
In three years, the center has trained 70 graduate students, according to Amy Livingston, speech-language pathologist and clinical instructor.
Livingston said not all of her students are diagnosed with autism, and the celebration was designed to foster understanding of the disability.
April is autism awareness month, and Livingston said it was her student volunteers’ idea to throw a picnic in recognition.
“We’re trying to show that being different is not something to be ashamed of,” undergraduate assistant Eliza Mulherin said.
Mulherin is majoring in communication sciences and disorders and said she spends two or three days at the Center each week. She volunteers in the center’s transition class, helping integrate 5- to 7-year-old students into regular, full-sized classes.
The center offers two levels of half-day classes limited to four students each during the week. Jennifer Johnson directs the hearing impaired language and literacy program for 3- to 5-year-olds, and Livingston directs the HILL transition class.
Robyn Hood has worked as the clinical records coordinator at the center for just over a year, keeping track of these graduate students earning their required 400 clinical credit hours at the center.
“We help the grad students get hands-on clinical experience,” Hood said.
Graduate students train at the center by giving speech and hearing evaluations, as well as therapy when required. The clinic functions throughout the year when students are in school, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Screenings and therapy are free for students, and faculty members receive a 50 percent discount.
“I actually have a waitlist for evaluations and therapy right now,” Hood said. “They’ve been very popular.”
Many of the graduate students Hood works with come from out of state for Ole Miss’ American Speech-Language-Hearing Association-approved program. Communication sciences and disorders graduate student Anjani Patel is originally from California.
This semester, Patel has worked with pre-kindergarten students who have varying speech or hearing disorders. She said she sees many of the kids every day and has formed her own relationships with them.
“It’s the small changes that matter,” Patel said. “It may take a month or two, but the little things are worth it.”
Johnson said the center has a handful of Individualized Education Plans with schools in Lafayette County. An IEP is a basic contract of which services a child eligible for special education will receive in their public school system. Each child enrolled with the center has an IEP catered to his or her individual needs.
“This is a grant-funded program, so right now we’re able to provide these services for free,” Livingston said.
First-year graduate students Mary Ashley Bullard and Erin Robertson both earned their undergraduate degrees at Ole Miss before joining the communication sciences and disorders master’s program. Bullard said she chose to stay in Oxford because the school offers many clinical opportunities.
“Other graduate schools don’t have a program like this, when you work with the kids every day,” Bullard said.