Clinically Speaking: UNI Clinic Serves Community

On a chilly fall morning, Marin Parsons walked up to the Communication Arts Complex at UNI and marched inside, her strawberry-blonde ponytail bouncing with each step. She was greeted by a trio of students gathered just inside the door but paused only long enough to wave before continuing on her mission to the elevator that will take her to the second floor. She stood on her tiptoes to press the call button and stepped inside the elevator.

When the doors open on the second floor, Marin stepped out into the lobby of the Roy Eblen Speech and Hearing Clinic. There Marin was greeted by Lisa Daringer, ’16, and escorted down the hall to a small room full of toys and activities. The pair will spend the better part of the next hour engaged in play.

At three years old, Marin’s speech is a handful of spoken words along with several signs. She has come to the Roy Eblen Speech and Hearing Clinic twice a week for speech therapy services for the last year and a half. Marin doesn’t realize the play she looks forward to each week is structured to help develop her speech.

Lisa is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in speech pathology and Marin’s speech clinician.

Inside the therapy room Marin stands, shaking a green bottle of bubbles.

UNI Speech and Hearing Clinic
The Roy Eblen Speech and Hearing Clinic gives UNI students the opportunity to work in their field before graduation, and it also offers community members an outpatient service without a doctor's referral.

“Marin, what do you want?” asks Lisa, signing words as she says them. Her goal is to have Marin identify and communicate what activity she would like to do next.

“Want bubbles?” asks Lisa again, stressing each word as she signs them.

Marin signs, “want bubbles,” and smiles.

“Open the bubbles,” Lisa narrates. “Let’s blow bubbles. Are you ready? Here we go!” Marin hovers in front of Lisa, who is sitting on the floor holding the bottle of bubbles. Occasionally Marin manages to blow a bubble on her own, though not today. Today she is just as interested in the bottle and bubble wand as she is the bubbles. “Shut the bubbles. Open the bubbles. In goes the stick,” Lisa continues to narrate, following Marin’s lead.

The game continues until Marin signs, “all done.”

Sitting on the other side of a two-way mirror watching the encounter is Marin’s mom, Sarah Parsons, MA ’05. She and her husband, Todd, sought out speech therapy for their youngest daughter, knowing that communication was a struggle.

“Communication is key to life. It’s your connection to other people and helps you navigate the world,” said Sarah. “Todd and I understand Marin better than others do, but what happens when she goes off to school? What if she needs something from a teacher or wants to share her thoughts with a friend?”

It was these worries that drove the parents to contact the Roy Eblen Speech and Hearing Clinic for help.

“We are a little different than most outpatient clinics,” said Suzanne Dripps, BA ’04 MA ’06, director of the Roy Eblen Speech and Hearing Clinic. “We are student based. You don’t have to have a doctor’s referral to come here. We do have doctors refer patients here, but a parent or spouse could call and say, ‘I have some concerns with my loved one,’ and they could come and be evaluated.”

This difference made it easy for the Parsons to get Marin evaluated for speech services.

The Roy Eblen Speech and Hearing Clinic serves clients who range in age from 16 months old through adulthood. 

For Molly Thuente, ’16 and in her second year of the graduate program, the variety of clients has proved beneficial in helping her know what type of work she’d like to do once she’s completed her degree.

“I’ve always thought I really wanted to work with kids, but I’ve actually really enjoyed working with the adults I’ve had this semester. I was always nervous working with the adult population because I didn’t have a lot of experience working with adults that have either some sort of communication need or disability. But working with our supervisors and getting the opportunity to work in those areas makes me a lot more confident.”

Students pursuing a master’s in speech therapy are required to complete 400 clinical hours before they graduate. Undergraduate students in their last semester also have the opportunity to serve the clinic.

In addition to clients of various ages, student clinicians get experience in different areas of speech therapy – from expressive language or using a communication device to working on fluency or swallowing. Clients may have a speech sound issue, an intellectual disability, a traumatic brain injury, have suffered a stroke or have some other form of acquired aphasia.

Dripps also places students out in the community, helping speech language pathologists in the schools or clinic directors in hospitals or skilled nursing facilities. Many of the graduate students go on to work professionally in the state of Iowa.

For the Parsons family and many others in the Cedar Valley, the Roy Eblen Speech and Hearing Clinic offers much-needed services.

“We’ve been thankful to have had three outstanding speech language pathology students who have worked with Marin,” said Sarah. “Watching Marin’s language skills blossom has been a joy and a relief. It reaffirmed our decision to bring her to the clinic. Every student we’ve encountered has been a complete professional.”

Visit the Roy Eblen Speech and Hearing Clinic website for more information.