CSD clinic 2

The Interdisciplinary Assessment Team works out of the Hearing, Speech and Language Clinic in Grover Center.

Photographer: Jody Grenert

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Team’s quiet work provides a key medical service for rural children

In rural southeast Ohio, it can be difficult to find specialized medical services, especially for children. But a little-known team of health professionals working out of Ohio University’s Grover Center has been helping families and children alike for the past five years, and recently it reached a milestone by assisting its 100th child.

The Southeast Ohio Interdisciplinary Assessment Team (SEO-IAT) is a group of professionals from several health disciplines that works collaboratively to diagnose children ages 1 through 8 who have developmental or behavioral issues. The group’s goal is to assess these children before they are enrolled in school so that their difficulties can be identified and addressed.

The team includes a developmental pediatrician and a child psychologist from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, an audiologist and a speech-language pathologist from Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions (CHSP), and a nurse from the university’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine who navigates families through the assessment process.

The team operates out of CHSP’s Hearing, Speech and Language Clinic in Grover Center. It started in 2008 and is funded by grants and support from IPAC, a network of rural community agencies whose goal is to ensure healthy development of children in Appalachian Ohio. IPAC stands for Integrating Professionals for Appalachian Children. The assessment team was formed primarily so families would not have to travel to Columbus or Cincinnati to seek the kinds of evaluations it provides.

“The goal was how we can duplicate something like that locally,” said Sue Meeks, the group’s family navigator. “We began talking with Nationwide Children’s Hospital [and now] we’ve had over 100 kids referred, but not a lot of people know about it. It’s kind of a secret.”
Children are referred to the assessment team by pediatricians, schools, community agencies, or the parents themselves, Meeks said.

She makes an initial evaluation of the family’s financial and support needs, determines whether to refer the child to the assessment team, gathers records and consents, and helps with follow-up services. There is no charge for the family navigator visit, and the SEO-IAT evaluations are billed to insurance, Medicaid, or the Ohio Bureau for Children with Medical Handicaps for diagnostic charges.

“We spend a lot of time together as a group,” said Meeks of the assessment team. “It’s fascinating when you have a group of people who care and are willing to teach and hear different perspectives or learn something new. It’s great fun.”

When team members are working together, they hold a clinic on the fourth Tuesday of every month to evaluate and test children. Then, the second Friday of every month they hold a meeting and invite families to come in for feedback sessions to go over the results.

“Our biggest question is usually [whether] to rule out autism,” said Brandie Nance, audiologist and team coordinator. “That’s the number one referral question we have.”

When autism is suspected, the child receives a physical from the pediatrician, a hearing test, speech and language testing, and the Autistic Diagnostic Observation Schedule, a testing protocol for diagnosing and assessing the disorder. Then, if the child is older than 3, he or she will come back and have a cognitive evaluation to test his or her IQ and learning abilities.

The team’s developmental pediatrician, Dr. Jennifer Walton of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, spends some time observing the child’s interactions and social skills through play activities.
“Part of my job is to gather and evaluate the medical aspects of the child,” Walton said. “And specifically provide if there are any genetic or other medical problems that may be associated with the child’s developmental or behavioral concerns.”

SEO-IAT has found cerebral palsy in a child who had never been diagnosed, several cases of autism, significant language delays, some hearing disorders, and a child who was almost blind. In each case, SEO-IAT members sat down with the parents and discussed options during the family feedback sessions.

Members attend these sessions either in person or via a Skype-like device called Telehealth. The child psychologist and the developmental pediatrician walk the parents through the findings and give the diagnoses. At the end of the hour-long session, the team encourages the parents to think positively so that the child will too.

The assessments involve a lot of work on the part of each team member, but the efforts have paid off.

“There’s a lot of ‘before’ work, there’s a lot of ‘during’ work and there’s a lot of ‘after’ work,” said family navigator Meeks. “But we’ve been able to diagnose things that had been missed along the way.”

Anyone wishing to discuss a referral to the Southeastern Ohio Interdisciplinary Assessment Team can contact Meeks at (740) 593-9534.

Na’Tyra Green is a student writer for Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions.