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Springfield Clinic Helps Local Man Improve Speech Following Stroke

Hearing evaluations are one of the many services provided by the Speech and Hearing Clinic at MSU. Photo Credit: Theresa

As many as 36 million American adults suffer some degree of hearing loss.  In children, speech and hearing difficulties account for the second highest reason to refer students to special education services.  May is National Speech and Hearing Awareness Month and experts suggest that early detection and intervention are key for better communication and quality of life.  KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann has this report.

At age 29, Tom Meeks was diagnosed with Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM), a congenital condition that he might not have known about if it weren’t for a car accident. He opted for surgery to prevent a future brain bleed, but later would suffer a stroke and was in a coma for nine days. Meeks says when he awoke; things were very different for him. 

“Pretty quickly I realized that what I was saying wasn’t what I was [trying] to say.  I was like ‘something isn’t right.’ I pretty much just shut up for a couple of months unless it was a ‘yes or no’ question or it was something that I could say within one or two words like ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘bathroom’,” Tom says.

Meeks says he’s had to re-learn many things, and likens his experience to someone taking the library card catalogue and throwing the cards everywhere.  

Meeks now wears special prism glasses for a condition called hemianopia, a type of partial blindness.  He’s only had the glasses for a few weeks and is still getting used to them.  Meeks feels he’s has come a long way with therapies over the last few years, and although it may not be fast enough for him, it’s a big improvement.

Meeks has been receiving treatment at Missouri State University’s Speech and Hearing Clinic, which sees around 150 clients a week, ranging from infants to adults from all across southwest Missouri.  Clients can be referred to the clinic by a friend, family member or doctor, and are seen on a sliding pay scale. 

Letitia White is head of the Communications Sciences and Disorders Department at MSU.  She says that although some amount of hearing loss is common as we age, it is important to begin annual evaluations around age 40.  White explains that often other behaviors or symptoms are red flags for problems in children.

“If they’re speech and language is not developing normally the first thing we should think about is ‘can they hear or do they have full access to sound?’ Or if there are behavioral issues like if the teacher saying ‘he doesn’t listen’ or they [the children] respond inconsistently, then a hearing evaluation would be the first thing that would make sense,” White says. 

As many as one in five kids ages 12 to 19 years old suffer some extent of hearing loss, says White.  That number is up nearly 30 percent since the 1980s and some experts suggest this could be linked with increased earphone usage over the last several decades. White reminds parents to have the children turn down the volume if music is audible outside of the earphone/headset.

Jill Oswalt, the clinic’s director, says that if children begin asking for things to be repeated regularly to have hearing evaluated.   She says other red flags include young children not beginning to talk by 18 months, or noticing a child intently watching the mouth of person speaking.  Oswalt says they serve a number of clients ranging in severity.

“We have children with autism, children with Downs Syndrome, [and] cleft palate.  We have children and adults with voice disorders, patients who’ve had strokes, head injuries.  There are so many things that can cause a communication difficulty,” says Oswalt.

When I first met Tom Meeks, he handed me a tiny origami crane he had made.  Such intricate work might be difficult for anyone, but Meeks explains it helps him with his hand-eye coordination.

Meek’s mother, Mary, says he used to shy away from group settings, but because of the many therapies in which he participates, her son is improving his literacy and verbal communication.  She explains that patience is important, for both of them, because it is a slow process. Tom Meeks agrees.

“What we’re doing right now is a personal goal for me—just to be able to speak about my experience and to have other people that are suffering or struggling with something like this, to know there are other people too.  Just hang in there and you’re going to make improvements,” say Meeks.

Meeks says he hopes to be able to drive again one day, or even be able to run. 

For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Bettmann.



According to the American Speech Language Hearing Association, adults should be screened every 10 years until  age 50, then every three years  thereafter.  If there are any hearing concerns more frequenting testing is recommended.  .