May is National Better Hearing and Speech Month, designated to raise awareness of communication disorders, available hearing technology, treatments and communication outcomes for people with hearing loss.
Approximately 46 million Americans experience some form of communication disorder, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). Each year, 12,000 babies are born deaf or hard of hearing, a number that usually doubles by kindergarten due to illness or late-onset hearing loss.
Katie Suggs is one of 163 speech-language pathologists in CMS who work directly with students to help them overcome hearing and speech challenges. Suggs works at Davidson Elementary, where she normally serves more than 40 pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students.
"I work with students who have articulation difficulties, language issues, stuttering challenges, anything that impacts their ability to communicate," said Suggs. "If they have trouble reading or writing, we can provide that help. The therapy helps them earn confidence that will carry over to the classroom."
Suggs went to the University of Tennessee and earned a bachelor's degree in journalism. She also received a master's degree from Florida State University. She worked in public relations and communications, and interned in then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's press office. She took a public relations job at UNC Charlotte and took a few speech-therapy classes to learn more about the challenges her niece was facing.
"My niece was doing speech therapy in another state and she absolutely loved it," said Suggs. "After only a couple of classes, I fell in love. I really wanted the opportunity to help people more." Suggs earned another master's degree from East Carolina University and completed her clinical studies. She joined CMS four years ago as a speech-language pathologist.
"I get to change a life every day," she said. "I want my kids to feel good about themselves, be kind and good to each other, learn some new skills and have some fun."
She groups students based on challenges they may be having. "If I have a few students struggling with the letter 'l,' I put them all together. It helps them to encourage each other."
Suggs also works directly with parents and teachers to make sure students are practicing at home. "It's important to practice these skills all the time," she said. "If a kid is struggling with the letter 'R,' the teacher can put a sticky note on their desk and just gently tap that 'R' when they are reading out loud. Things like that help a lot."
More than anything, Suggs encourages her students to have confidence. "I tell them, 'Ms. Suggs isn't good at everything,'" she said. "I don't love math. I have to work really hard at it. It is always a challenge to teach people to love what comes hard for them. But we make it work. And we have fun every day."
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