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WSU's Camp Candoo Helps Children With Speech Impairments

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Summer is a time for children to have fun and get a break from school. Many kids go to summer camp; those are often in nature settings.

There’s one summer camp in downtown Spokane devoted exclusively to children with speech impairments. It’s called Camp Candoo and it’s located on the WSU Spokane campus.

What started six years ago as a two-week purely local camp for kids with childhood apraxia of speech has now become an experience parents around the country seek for their children. There are kids here from western Washington, Canada, California and New Mexico.

They’re parked around a table with WSU and Eastern Washington University communications disorders students. The children are doing an art project based around letters of the alphabet with the students encouraging the children to say those letters.

“The way Camp Candoo is set up is they have one-on-one time and they have group time," said Amy Meredith, the camp co-director and a clinical professor in WSU's Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences.

"During the one-on-one time, they’re working on their functional phrases so people can understand the things that are important for them to say. And then the group time, for making a craft or a snack, that’s when we have them practice some of those phrases in a more natural way," she said. "We also have them practice using full sentences. Typically these kids will leave out the little words or just use word, so we’re trying to get them to increase their sentence length while having fun.”

Meredith says childhood apraxia of speech is a condition where a child might be thinking a series of words, but is unable to move those words from his or her brain to the tongue in the right order.

“I may ask a child to tell me kindergarten, which is, as one kid pointed out, that’s a very mean word for the first part of school because it’s the hardest word to say," Meredith said. "If you ask a child with apraxia what grade they’re in and they say kindergarten, you might make out dindergargen, gingergargen, dindergarden. It’s just not nice because that’s a lot of sequencing.”

“In two weeks, if it’s pretty intensive, we do two 30-minute sessions a day. You can see decent progress, I would say,” said Natalie Hoogner, a first-year WSU graduate student who works with these kids. “The research behind the intensive therapy is that all of the repetitions will strengthen those motor pathways in the brain and they should be able to make a lot of progress.”

Some of these children have attended Camp Candoo for several summers. Meredith says their parents bring them and watch the sessions from an adjacent room.

“There was a child who came last year and he was fairly resistant," she said. "But the mom understood what we were doing and this was a mom who did not have services nearby so she learned our tricks and worked with him all year long and he got such a work ethic from that and he came back this year with a better attitude and he worked so much harder.”

Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR
Isaac Kenner was one of the children who graduated recently from WSU's Camp Candoo.

Brian Kenner brought his 11-year-old son Isaac. Kenner says Isaac has worked with the WSU teachers and students since last year and made significant progress.

“The funny thing is I don’t think he’s ever really been lacking in confidence. It’s just that we can better understand him," Kenner said. "He would always make the effort and he would get frustrated. And now his speech is more intelligible and there’s less frustration there for everyone involved.”

For years, this camp has been one of the few in the U.S. for kids with apraxia. But this year’s event may lead to spin-off soon in California’s Bay Area. Jenny Magee works for a private therapy practice called Speech Marin. She says her boss heard Amy Meredith speak about apraxia at a conference and wanted to learn how to replicate the camp near San Francisco. So Magee’s here soaking up lessons.

“It really meets all of the children’s individual needs because they each have an assessment when they first come in and so the therapy is really tailored to each child, which I really like," Magee said. "And I like that the camp is two weeks long, so they get a long time to practice each one of their goals and you see a lot of progress by the end.”

Organizers of Camp Candoo will begin accepting applications for the 2019 camp early next year.