Jennifer D’Attilio always knew she wanted to be in the medical field, but it wasn’t until her father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease that she realized she wanted to specialize in speech pathology.
“My father was a physician in Monterey for over 30 years,” D’Attilio says. “When he developed Parkinson’s disease, I started researching things that could help him to continue to provide his gift to the community, because his voice was getting lower and lower and patients were struggling to hear him. I found a speech pathology program for Parkinsan’s patients and I got trained in it. I got inspired to help others.”
D’Attilio helps run the Central Coast Language and Learning Center in Monterey, which serves around 300 families a week—people from infants to adults, across economic backgrounds and race.
The demand for the center’s services has spurred the opening of a second location in Santa Cruz on Oct. 2. Many of her clients travel from Watsonville and Santa Cruz to the Monterey clinic, D’Attilio says, so she hopes the new center will address an apparent need in the community for these speech services.
“We have a lot of families that came down from the Watsonville area, we just knew there were still underserved families and a huge need in the Watsonville-Santa Cruz area,” D’Attilio says. “Those communities really don’t have a spot to serve families facing communication difficulties.”
Addressing The Need
For many people, there’s a conception that speech therapy is for children who struggle articulating—but in reality the need for these services extends to a wider group of people.
Speech pathologists provide therapy in a range of specialties, from articulation, voice therapy and swallowing therapy.
“Speech therapy is for anyone who struggles with communication, with the ability to talk to their family members or loved ones,” D’Attilio says. “We have always used a family-centered approach. So therapy is not just for that patient, it really focuses on the whole family and how they can adapt to their loved one who may be struggling with communication.”
In addition to helping children with speech impediments or learning abilities that might make communication more challenging, the center offers programs for people who have been in accidents that have impacted speech or communication, people who are recovering from strokes and a Parkinson’s recovery program called Speakout.
“This program is unique because it’s a group for Parkinson’s patients, where they meet and continue to push one another and inspire one another to use their voices and to be loud,” D’Attilio says. “Oftentimes, patients with Parkinson’s if they don’t get therapy, they lose their voice and they’re so quiet that those around them can’t hear them.”
In Monterey, the Speakout program has 25 clients. The new center in Live Oak will have its own Speakout program to service Parkinson patients in Santa Cruz.
There will also be seven Spanish-speaking speech pathologists and bilingual administrative staff to help non-native English speakers with any communication challenges at the new center.
“Communication is that basic human need,” D’Attilio says. “The beauty of speech pathology is that we have that gift of finding a way, whether it’s through sign language, through device, through verbal communication through gesturing, there’s ways to bring communication so that a family member can communicate their needs to their loved ones.”
The new center will be located at:
8030 Soquel Avenue, Unit 100