Clinic Helps Children Make Themselves Understood

Sheri Mistretta

Sheri Mistretta, executive director of the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic for Childhood Language Disorders In St. Louis.

By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor

Babbling is cute in babies, but if children can’t make themselves understood as they grow into toddlers and preschoolers, they and their parents can become frustrated. Often, it’s difficult to figure out what to do to help them.

That’s where organizations like the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic for Childhood Language Disorders can help. The clinic, funded by grants and by private donors including the Scottish Rite Masonic organization, provides free screening and therapy for children two to six years old.

In its 26 years, the BBB Accredited Charity has served more than 15,000 children, including 861 treated last year.

“The clinic board and staff place great importance in following the BBB Wise Giving Alliance Standards as a benchmark to communicate our internal standards to a greater audience,” said Sheri Mistretta, executive director. The agency also meets United Way standards but receives no United Way funding, she said.

Walker Scottish Rite’s main location is in a former pool hall in the back of the Scottish Rite building on Lindell. Five other clinics are in Crystal City, Union, Elsberry and Troy and at the Grace Hill Head Start program in St. Louis. Clinic staff also conduct screenings at preschools in eastern Missouri.

“Speech and language disorders are less widely recognized than some other types of disorders,” Mistretta said. Insurance rarely pays for the kind of long-term, individualized therapy offered at the Scottish Rite clinics.

The clinic raises about $750,000 a year to support its services from special events, a golf tournament, grants and individual donations. At present, the clinic receives no state or federal money for its programs, Mistretta said.

The charity has a staff of 11, including eight therapists. Mistretta said staffing was reduced during the recession six years ago, but the clinic has had little or no turnover.

Parents as Teachers programs and pediatricians are major sources of referrals to the clinic, along with community screenings conducted by clinic personnel.

Walker Scottish Rite also spreads the word about its services through social media, outreach and emails. Recently, Development Director Mona Monteleone has been recording “before and after” videos to show the public the dramatic difference the therapy has made for many young clients.

In one video, parent Tony Minor praised the work the clinic did with his son, Colin. “It truly changed Colin’s life,” Minor said. Colin’s younger sister is now getting therapy from the clinic.

Monteleone said she hopes the videos will help prospective clients understand that children don’t just “grow out of” speech or language disorders. Some parents are reluctant to begin therapy because they don’t want their children to suffer the stigma of being labeled as having a disorder.

The clinic has a six- to nine-month waiting list for children to start therapy. They can remain in therapy as long as they need it or until they turn seven, when they are referred to another provider if they still need therapy. The average time for children to stay in therapy is a year to 18 months, meeting with a therapist twice a week.

Walker Scottish Rite Clinic provides data and measures outcomes against a national index, the National Outcomes Measurement System (NOMS) of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Therapists consistently meet or exceed the benchmarks in the NOMS standards, Mistretta said.

“We use that to determine if our programs are working and what we might need to change,” Mistretta said. The data provide benchmarks that the clinic strives to meet or exceed. The clinic has won awards from community partners and from the Scottish Rite, which sponsors similar clinics in cities around the nation.

Parents are active participants in therapy, watching sessions through one-way mirrors and being asked to follow up at home.

“Even 2-year-olds have homework,” said therapist Carrie Barry.

Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. To apply for TORCH Awards, charities and companies may go to:


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