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Northeast Georgia Speech Center to unveil Sensory Garden at open house
45-year-old service helps children with speech or hearing issues
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Armando Gonzalez, 3, puts his ear to a sound tube as someone talks in the other end Tuesday in the Sensory Garden at the Northeast Georgia Speech Center in Gainesville. The garden give kids an opportunity to experience a variety of sensory input in a nonthreatening way. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Northeast Georgia Speech Center

What: Open house

When: 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, March 31

Where: 604 Washington St. NW, Gainesville

Contact: 770-534-5141

More info:

Whether your child is on the autism spectrum or just has a slight speech impediment, he or she could be helped by a center right here in Gainesville.

The Northeast Georgia Speech Center on Washington Street provides services for children with speech or hearing development issues. It regularly serves children, primarily in preschool, on the autism spectrum or needing help with stuttering, fluency, articulation, cognitive delays or speech difficulties due to cleft palate, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, brain injury and other issues.

“The speech center was started in 1970 and we were founded by the Junior League of Gainesville to provide speech, language and hearing services to individuals that had communication disorders or disabilities,” said Diane

Brower, speech-language pathologist and director of the center. “Our focus since the early 1990s has been with preschoolers in preparing them to be successful in the school environment.”

To share these services with the public, the center will hold an open house from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, when it will also unveil its Sensory Garden.

“It is a way of heightening senses,” Brower said. “The things in the garden are very fragrant, or will be when the new plants are in and blooming. But they all have a sense of smell and different textures. So some of the things are soft and fuzzy feeling, whereas others, like kale for example, is rufflier.”

Everything in the garden is edible as well, for the sake of both sense and safety. Plants such as basil offer children a particular feel, smell and taste, allowing them to “bring all those senses together.”

The garden was funded thanks to a $238,000 donation in 2013 from the North Georgia Medical Center Foundation, according to Celeste DuHamel, president of the speech center’s board of directors.

“In 2013 the Northeast Georgia Speech Center was the recipient of the proceeds from the North Georgia Medical Center Foundation’s annual golf tournament,” DuHamel said. “With the proceeds, we have installed a Sensory Garden designed by Fockele Gardens and a Sensory Room.”

The Sensory Room provides an alternative service than the garden, in that it provides children with a “calming environment,” Brower said. It lends itself to hypersensitive children, or children who are particularly sensitive to lights, sounds and movement.

“It’s a very calming, low-light space, but there is equipment in there that is very child-friendly that children can control and feel some control over,” she said. “... It is kind of limiting the sensory exposure as a calming thing.”

Brower is a longtime Gainesville resident, earning her bachelor’s degree from Brenau Women’s College and her master’s in education from the University of Georgia. Her entire career as a speech-language pathologist has been at the Northeast Georgia Speech Center, where she completed her clinical fellowship and eventually became director.

She said the center doesn’t usually “toot its own horn,” but the open house is an important opportunity for the public to become more aware of these important services.

“It’s an opportunity for people who don’t know anything about sensory issues to learn more about how children relate in environments that can meet their needs,” she said, “and just to learn more about the services that have been provided in Gainesville for the last 45 years now.”