Arrow-right Camera
News >  Features >  Idaho Voices

Children’s clinic blends therapies

Speech pathologist Tina Sleyster works with a young boy recently at the All About Kids Clinic in Sandpoint.  (Patty Hutchens)
Speech pathologist Tina Sleyster works with a young boy recently at the All About Kids Clinic in Sandpoint. (Patty Hutchens)

Imagine having a child who requires not only speech therapy, but also occupational therapy and possibly physical therapy. Then you are told your younger child also needs at least one of these services.

That is exactly what Sandpoint resident Katie Murdock faces each week. But instead of shuffling her kids from therapist to therapist and spending countless hours in waiting rooms, Murdock and other families like hers are able to receive all the therapy at one location.

All About Kids, in Sandpoint, is a unique clinic in the North Idaho area in that it not only provides services in a common setting to children from birth to late teens who require speech, physical or occupational therapy, but the therapists also consult one another so the child receives the most comprehensive care possible.

“We integrate our therapies and we integrate the evaluations,” said Tina Sleyster, one of the clinic’s founders and a speech pathologist. “And we recognize that sometimes some therapies have to precede others for the benefit of the patient.”

The clinic opened when a law was changed in July 2008 which allowed speech pathologists and occupational therapists to bill Medicaid for their services, resulting in an increase in the number of clients those professionals could serve.

It was a change Sleyster longed to see.

“I had been researching this and contacted the Idaho legislature as well as the American Speech and Hearing Association,” she said of her desire to see speech therapy covered by Medicaid.

But it wasn’t until physical therapist Traci Schmidt approached Sleyster and the others that their approach to treatment began to change and become more holistic.

“Traci said she saw a need for everyone to be under one roof and she wanted to work with veteran therapists,” said Sleyster.

Schmidt said it is especially beneficial to have a therapist from a different discipline step in on a session to offer recommendations. She cites the example if one of her patients is also receiving speech therapy she can offer suggestions on how that child should be posturing him or herself to receive the best possible result.

In addition to informally consulting with one another, the group schedules weekly meetings.

“We do team evaluations,” said Schmidt.

Mary Quinn-Hurst is one of the occupational therapists at All About Kids and has worked in Spokane and Alaska before moving to Sandpoint. She said All About Kids is unique not only in its concept of multidisciplinary therapies and evaluations, but also in its success.

“I have seen it tried other places but never have I seen it as successful as here,” said Quinn-Hurst who credits the support of the community and the families they serve as one reason for the clinic’s success.

While therapists at Bonner General Hospital offer the same services, and do so very well, said Sleyster, they differ in that the therapists at All About Kids provide a multidisciplinary team evaluation of the patients, something that many parents and physicians now desire.

“When we started two years ago, there were four of us,” said Sleyster, referring to the number of therapists. “Now the clinic has two pediatric physical therapists, two full-time and one part-time pediatric occupational therapists and two full-time pediatric speech pathologists.”

Clients come from Coeur d’Alene, Spirit Lake, Priest River, Naples and Bonners Ferry.

Allison Carnecchia has a 4-year-old who receives therapy at All About Kids and says she has seen her child’s self-esteem soar. She has connected with other families at the clinic and rejoices at not only her own child’s success but also that of the other families.

“They literally work miracles here every day,” said Carnecchia.

The children with whom they work have a variety of diagnoses including neuromuscular concerns, autism, developmental delays, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. But Sleyster warns that one not need suffer from a major disorder to seek out services.

The clinic treats children who for whatever reason may suffer from even minor developmental delays.

“Sometimes language delays are the first to be noticed,” said Sleyster.

Sue Peyser works for Independent Family Services as a service coordinator. In that role, she contracts with the State of Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare providing support and advocacy for children who receive services. She currently has 15 children in her caseload who are receiving services at All About Kids.

Peyser said a primary difference between the hospital and All About Kids is the setting in which the children receive services.

“When they (the kids) go into All About Kids, they go straight into a warm and friendly environment,” said Peyser of the child-friendly therapy rooms and waiting room.

In Peyser’s work she is required to occasionally observe the children in therapy. She has been impressed with what she has witnessed with All About Kids’ multidisciplinary approach.

“The therapists are very vigilant about connecting with each other,” said Peyser. She cites as an example one instance where she observed one of her clients in occupational therapy. “The occupational therapist was implementing the speech therapist’s goals when speech (by the child) was required. You could see very clearly that the two were supporting each other.”

The clinic also works closely with the parents.

“We try to build up the parents and encourage them and give them the tools they need to help their child be successful,” said Sleyster. “After all, the parent knows the child better than anyone else.”

They include the parents in the therapy, encouraging them to watch and interact, but sometimes being a parent of a child with delays can be exhausting. “We even can provide respite for the parents,” said Sleyster of giving the parent some time off while their child undergoes his or her therapies.

Peyser said the informal support that takes place among the families has proven to be invaluable.

“Families who meet in the waiting room become connected,” said Peyser. “The therapists are very cohesive and a super strong team. They collaborate so you are getting the benefit of all their knowledge even if you are only receiving services from one therapist.”

Sleyster said it shouldn’t be any other way.

“We are working with a full human being so it is important we all work together,” said Sleyster.