If necessity is the mother of invention, then Nicole Leslie is the mother of affordable speech therapy in Hancock County. Inspired by her experience seeking a diagnosis and therapy for her 10-year-old daughter Grace, Nicole and her husband Todd founded an award winning non-profit organization to make speech therapy more affordable for local families.
Grace was born under normal circumstances, however as she approached her first birthday, she was not meeting typical milestones such as babbling or walking. Doctors diagnosed her with a “global developmental delay” which provided her with Help Me Grow services, but it didn’t get to the root of her problem. At 3 ½ Grace was sent for DNA testing which revealed that she was missing a section of her 18th chromosome. This diagnosis launched the Leslie family into the world of speech therapy, physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT) and, ultimately, navigating insurance policies to find the funds to address her delays and concerns.
Nicole quickly noticed that Grace’s therapy bills were “erratic in cost.” She called the insurance company and learned that she had coverage for speech therapy, but Grace would have to meet her full deductible before the insurance company would pay for it. “I started asking around and found families who were having similar insurance issues. Many parents had to choose between foregoing important therapy for their kids or paying astronomical therapy costs out of pocket.”
Leslie knew something had to be done. After visiting the Calvin Speech and Hearing Clinic at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan where Master’s students work and run a speech clinic to receive hands-on training, the idea for the Grace Speaks clinic was born. The Leslie’s partnered with the speech-language pathology department at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) to start Grace Speaks, a Findlay based nonprofit organization dedicated to providing intense speech and language stimulation to children with communication delays.
Under the supervision of a professor, BGSU graduate student clinicians work with roughly 29 children per week at the Grace Speaks clinic. Clinic appointments are scheduled in 50 minute increments to provide individualized therapy sessions addressing a variety of speech/communication diagnoses or delays.
“Speech is so important,” elaborates Nicole, “these kids have to be able to communicate. Speech in our area runs $5.10 per minute while Grace Speaks charges $.50 per minute.”
This year Grace Speaks accepted the Nancy Bailey Award of Appreciation from the Ohio Speech Language and Hearing Association, along with recognition from the Governor and Lieutenant Governor for the impact of Grace Speaks.
The entire Leslie family has grown from Grace’s diagnosis and the inception of Grace Speaks. “We are stronger as a family. Everyone pitches in to work Grace Speaks events and the kids, especially, have learned the rewards from giving back,” says Nicole.
Looking ahead, Nicole hopes to work with other universities in an effort to expand Grace Speaks services to include both OT and PT in addition to speech therapy.