Skip to main content

Chester County Press

The bridges of communication

04/20/2016 12:30PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

Sometimes, it doesn't take an entire village to help someone -- just one more person.
Cara Myers, a physical therapist, greets Boris, a ten-year-old boy from Kennett Square, just as she has done twice a week for the past several months, at Theraplay, Inc.'s facility in Landenberg.
For the next hour, as therapist and patient go through the various tests of strength and endurance commonly prescribed to those who live with cerebral palsy, Myers and Boris work through the hour with the playfulness and teasing of an older sister and a younger brother.
And yet, there is a quiet determination in Boris' face that tells the real story of therapist and patient – the steps forward and the progress that is made when a bond of trust happens, and the wheelchair that Boris arrived in an hour ago becomes an unused afterthought, completely out of the picture.
After their session, they meet back with Boris' father and two brothers in the lobby - along with someone else who has become nearly as invaluable to Theraplay's curriculum of care as the therapy itself.
It's Alexander Reyes, an interpreter.
“His footing was more equal, and he wasn't dragging his right foot behind him tonight,” she says to Boris' father and Reyes. “He only took one rest, so his endurance is improving as well. We also worked on side-stepping, and I only had to remind him twice to keep his feet back, so that's improving nicely as well. We worked on hands and knees, and when he separates his knees, he has much better balance. Overall, he did great.”
Boris' father then turns his attention to Reyes, who translates in Spanish what Myers has just told him in English. The father nods in both recognition and appreciation – to both Myers, the therapist -- and Reyes, the bridge of communication. 
Founded in 1991 by pediatric therapist Lisa Mackell, Theraplay, Inc. is recognized as a regional leader in providing physical, occupational speech and feeding therapy for children from birth through age 21. Of Chester County's population of more than one half million, close to six percent are Hispanic, particularly in the county's southern region, so even before it first opened its doors to its Landenberg location in May 2014 -- its seventh and newest outpatient facility -- Theraplay, Inc. already saw the need to invite language interpreters to become part of each therapy session.
"We knew coming into the area that there would most likely be a very high Spanish-speaking population, based on marketing and preparation with the physicians we worked with," said Heidi Boucher, DPT and Center Manager of the Landenberg Center, who estimated that as many as 20 percent of families who visit the center require an interpreter. "It's a relationship that's made our lives easier, because when interpreters are present, it makes it so much easier to communicate with the families."
Although most of the families who require an interpreter come from New Garden Township, West Grove, Kennett Square and Oxford, the need extends to those who travel from Delaware and Cecil County in Maryland.
Although in most cases, the interpreter meets with the therapist and the family in the lobby after a session, several work directly with the patient and therapist during the session.
"It depends on the child," Boucher said. "If he or she is in an English-speaking school but are learning and speaking Spanish at home, he or she knows both English and Spanish. There are some times when a bilingual therapist is necessary, particularly for kids between one and three years old, who have not had much exposure to English."
For occupational and physical therapy sessions, the need for an interpreter is very important, because therapists are often called on to not only provide a synopsis of that day's session, but to review the therapy sessions that both the patient and their family can work on at home.
Interpreters are also valuable in speech therapy, when the therapist often has to determine the sources of the language and communication barriers the child is having -- whether it is a true language deficit, or whether the child is having difficulty because of living in two languages -- Spanish at home and English everywhere else.
Interpreters go through several layers of certification, and come from a variety of arenas wherever the need for an interpreter is required -- such as law enforcement and the medical community.
By day, Reyes is a court interpreter, but several nights a month, however, he arrives at Theraplay, Inc., in cooperation with an insurance broker that works with Theraplay to arrange for his services. He said that being at the Landenberg center is his opportunity to give back to the Hispanic community.
"I see my family in these people, because neither my mother or my father speak English," he said. "I am glad I am able to break down the walls of communication. It's always rewarding when you see a child progressing. You see them early on when they're not as strong, and as the months go by, you begin to see them walking and moving. It feels good to be a part of that."
At Theraplay, Inc., highly skilled, pediatric experienced and licensed therapists, assistants and educators evaluate each child according to his or her needs, but a visit to any one of the seven centers throughout Pennsylvania will reveal a philosophy put in motion that has helped define the company for more than 25 years: Not just one child at a time, but one family as well.
"Seeking physical. occupational speech and feeding therapy for a child is a scary time for a lot of families," Boucher said. "For some, it's helping their child live with a debilitating condition, while for others, it's simply wanting to know why their child is having difficulty doing things with their peers. We explain to the parents what may be impacting their child, from being able to do the things they should be able to do, and ensuring the family that as we work on things, that their child is going to improve."
It's all part of the breakthroughs that happen at Theraplay, Inc.'s Landenberg Center -- breakthroughs that get to be told in two languages.

Interpreters can be made available for other foreign-speaking families, in addition to Spanish. For more information about Theraplay, Inc. and the services it offers, visit .
The Landenberg Center is located on 385 Starr Road, Landenberg, Pa. 19350. Phone: 484-720-8252.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail [email protected]