Speech-Language Pathology Donates Books to Honor Colleague, Promote Literacy
Alicia Evans Dare reads a book to her daughter Hazel, 14 months, in the Transitional Care Center. The book was one of more than 230 that Speech-Language Pathology donated to help young patients develop language and literacy skills.
Consider the experience of a typical healthy, full-term baby in its first years of life—cuddled by parents, grandparents, siblings and other family members; talked to, sung to and read to in a steady stream of stimulation that naturally promotes brain development and forges familial bonds.
Now, think of what a pre-term or critically ill infant encounters—separation from family, except for limited periods of time; the sounds of machines and alarms designed to keep them alive; medical procedures punctuated by strangers’ voices—it’s a starkly different picture, and one that experts recognize requires proactive intervention to help these children achieve important developmental milestones.
At Cincinnati Children’s, Candace Ganz, EdD, was a champion for fragile patient populations. The senior clinical director of Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) focused much of her work on early language and literacy development. So, it was fitting when she retired this past November that her team would honor her with a book drive.
“Candace is not one to seek attention,” said Brenda Thompson, clinical manager, SLP. “So, we tried to think of something that she would find meaningful and be in keeping with her style of giving back.”
An announcement about the drive went out to the division, inviting staff to bring in a brand-new book of their choosing that would be donated to a patient.
“The response was amazing,” said Brenda. “We got a lot of the standards, the ones you routinely see that are beautifully written and have great illustrations. By the time it was over, we collected more than 230 books.”
The Speech-Language Pathology Division donated the books to the Transitional Care Center (TCC) on February 3. The TCC provides comprehensive care for medically complex pulmonary patients and their families. The goal is to stabilize them and teach families how to manage the child’s care at home. Stays are often lengthy, and families can’t always be present as often as they would like, due to job responsibilities and the need to care for siblings.
“It’s certainly challenging,” said Brenda, “but we’re doing a lot to support these patients, both medically and developmentally. Reading to a child is a great way to promote bonding, language development, and early literacy. The better your language skills, the higher the likelihood your reading skills will be. Both language and literacy skills have tremendous impacts on academic outcomes.”
There are critical windows for a child’s development. If these opportunities are missed, it becomes more challenging for kids to catch up. Birth to 3 years is one of the most profound times, said Brenda, which is why there’s so much focus on early intervention. Language exposure (talking, reading, singing) is critical for normal speech and language development. Moreover, reading allows for critical brain and auditory development to improve language and cognitive outcomes.
“Health and nutrition are critical for growth in the body and the brain. Stimulation is also a critical factor in developmental outcomes,” she explained. “It is important to provide a rich environment of consistent, appropriate sensory and language stimulation. It is not enough to just meet basic medical and health needs. Social-emotional and language care is critical and can be as simple as mindful interactions that occur naturally through child-care experiences during the day. We also must support our patients with culturally relevant materials that depict the languages, families, and experiences of their life.
"Reading can be a great equalizer—allowing anyone to explore new thoughts and experiences through the written word. Families can access free books from the library. They are also supported with books provided by the Division of Speech-Language Pathology, Child Life, and through reading programs initiated at Cincinnati Children’s, including NICU and TCC Bookworms, as well as the newer Read, Rest, Recover program. We encourage patients and families to access all the available resources.”
SLP partners with the Reading and Literacy Discovery Center (RLDC), which is now part of their division.
Members of Speech-Language Pathology and Child Life outside the Transitional Care Center with their book donation. Standing l-r: Katrina Purcell, Claire Kane Miller, Jill Huff, Lindsey Bucher, Brenda Thompson, Amy McGrory, Katie Jack, Juan Leon Perez, and TCC manager Ellen Tucker.
“We wanted this book donation to be a nice collaboration between Speech-Language Pathology and the reading programs they have going on,” said Brenda. “It’s just another piece in the series of services Cincinnati Children’s is using to promote language and literacy."
Parents are enthusiastic about the division’s efforts.
“When an infant is born early and spends a prolonged period in the hospital, parents can feel a loss of their role,” said Brenda. “As an institution and throughout the units, the nurses and medical team encourage parents to come and participate in care. We know our patients benefit from being with their families. Parents have opportunities to learn new care but also do the expected activities they imagined doing with their child—diapering, talking to them, reading to them. Some families create recordings of their own voices so the children can hear their parents voices when they aren’t physically on site. We believe that being able to participate in your child’s care fosters bonding and allows them to recognize their own family. This bonding and interaction sets the stage for better outcomes.”
With this book drive, SLP was mindful of the diversity of Cincinnati Children’s patients, who come from all over the world. The books they collected were in English, Spanish and French.
“A child’s first language—the language their parents speak—is hugely important, because that is what they will hear at home,” said Brenda. “Many of these kids are going to be dual language learners because they hear English here at the hospital.”
SLP staff believe the increased awareness and effort on reading will pay off in the long run.
Said Brenda, “We always need to remind ourselves that this very fragile population we serve are our future, so we want to do our best to start them off right.”
Candace Ganz, MD, (center in blue), is flanked by coworkers who helped collect books in her honor (l-r): James Woodrum, Sherry Lanyi, Brenda Thompson, Claire Kane Miller, and Jennifer Bekins.
What Is the Reading and Literacy Discovery Center?
John Hutton, MD, MS, and his colleagues established the Reading and Literacy Discovery Center (RLDC) in 2012, supported by a series of large philanthropic grants, notably the Tecklenburg Fund for Literacy based at Cincinnati Children's and the Fischer Family Foundation based in Northern KY. Initially, the RLDC operated through the Communication Sciences and Research Center. It was envisioned as an integrated research-clinical-community center and has been very successful in conducting and publishing landmark studies related to the impact of home reading practices and "screen time” on early brain development (pre-kindergarten), and neural biomarkers of reading difficulties, especially dyslexia.
The RLDC's research arm is now based in the Division of General and Community Pediatrics and collaborates closely with Cincinnati Children's Community Health and established reading programs, including Reach Out and Read and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The center has also been highly innovative, introducing new screening and prevention/guidance tools and programs, notably the Read, Rest, Recover pilot currently being tested on inpatient units at the medical center, supported by the Robert and Adele Schiff Foundation.
Based on this work and strong relationships, John was invited to serve on the expert workgroup drafting the technical manual (neuroscience lead) for forthcoming AAP Literacy Promotion Guidelines.
The RLDC clinical program launched in 2016 and has experienced explosive growth, attesting to demand for evidence-based services in the community and beyond. Since moving to Speech-Language Pathology in 2021, its capacity and range of services has expanded substantially, including therapies.
The center, which is “virtual” for now, has a team of speech-language pathologists at Burnet Campus, as well as Anderson, Green Township, Northern Kentucky, Eastgate, Fairfield, Liberty and Mason, who provide diagnostic evaluation and intervention of reading and writing skills. Primary care providers can send a referral to SLP for an RLDC/reading evaluation. The scheduling team will then contact the family to schedule the appointment. You can reach the RLDC at 513-803-READ (7323).
Altogether, RLDC has helped place Cincinnati Children's as a leader in reading and literacy services and research.
The Benefits of Reading
Viral Jain, MD, and others conducted a study in 2021 to evaluate the benefits of a book-sharing program in the NICU at Cincinnati Children’s. The study showed that parents who were exposed to the reading program (Bookworms) were more likely to read more than 3-4 days/week while in the NICU. It also suggested that reading to their infant resulted in increased positive interactions between parents and their infants. Additional findings included:
- In preterm infants, reading aloud by parents more than two times a week was associated with higher development scores at 2 years of age.
- 70% of families reported that reading helped them feel more attached to their infant and enhanced bonding.
- Parents who read to their infant in the NICU are more likely to continue to read to their infant after discharge, and they also experience less stress.