Talk of the Town Speech and Language Therapy: Shaina Rotstein and Carla Commisso-Kelvin, Mount Kisco, NY
Devoted speech therapists and language therapists, Shaina Rotstein and Carla Commisso-Kelvin between them have 23 years of working with kids from 0 to 21, four degrees and licenses in both New York and Connecticut, ensuring their young clients are making friends and making progress, closing the gaps in communication and social skills brought on by conditions like autism and apraxia. They use home settings—a working kitchen and laundry, bedroom and bathroom—to develop functional language and concepts like “dirty” and “clean.” IPads provide real time videos of Shaina and Carla’s sessions particularly transformative as take-home how-tos for parents on auditory and visual cueing. The duo opened Talk of The Town in Mt Kisco to bring their approach, which emphasizes, basically, meeting the child at his/her developmental level and challenging them to move up, to Westchester. The two see children as micro-cosmos of almost everything we encounter in human society and set up their practice to mirror a home using a loan from Community Capital NY. They share in a parent’s joy when kids learn to wash a dirty dish, and equally when they display typical kid behavior, like fibbing, as they help parents of children whose problems can be pervasive, multi-faceted and multi-layered see their child outside of a prism of challenges and difficulties. They don’t see “the condition.” First, and foremost, their clients are children. Here Shaina and Carla speak up on opening their own business:
How did you get into speech therapy?
Shaina: I worked as a teacher’s assistant in my first job out of high school, in special ed, and was assigned to children with developmental disabilities and fell in love with the profession.
Carla: My high school guidance counselor recommended I look into being a speech language pathologist. At the time I saw myself as a pediatrician, but the more I saw what speech therapy was, the flexibility of it, and its success, the more it became my course.
How did you get your business off the ground?
Shaina: We worked together in private practice in Connecticut and feel that providing a home setting is such a crucial element in speech and language therapy and wanted to introduce our approach to Westchester.
Carla: The connection between the use of functional context to teach language is fundamental to our practice and we wanted to bring it to a new area. Westchester has put in an Autism Aware initiative, so we’re thrilled to be in Mt Kisco.
How did your business evolve?
Carla: Not every landlord would let us put in a kitchen. We used a $50,000 loan from Community Capital NY to create a home environment—a unique therapeutic atmosphere that is the cornerstone of our therapy. We gutted everything but the shower and reconfigured the space. The area that is now the playroom—with soaring 20 foot ceilings—is perfect. Our office looks like a house and a home. We functionally use it therapeutically. So we use the kitchen to teach the context of dirty—a dirty shirt, a dirty plate, a dirty table—and to teach parents how to target language in the home setting. We could not have opened our business without CCNY.
Shaina: We share and collaborate with school districts and school teams to take abstract concepts in language and make them concrete.
Carla: Sessions run 45 minutes to an hour, usually one on one. We have iPads connected to video cameras so parents can sit in the reception area and view the session, and send parents and school teams training videos. We make the videos in real time, so parents can use them as a guide. It helps parents to feel informed and confident. We’re teaching children to be confident in using language and their parents confident in getting their kids talking.
Shaina: We work with children learning very beginning language through to high functioning autism and to social cognition, to understanding and thinking about how our actions change how others think about us. Those are higher skills. Our real expertise is in working with children with autism and those with apraxia of speech—a motor planning disorder that makes it hard to get the words out.
Carla: We work with language learning issues, like those that might exist with the presence of ADHD. We are an out of network provider, and are building our business with referrals from our website, word of mouth, and by reaching out to school districts. A large part of our case load are clients that came with us, traveling from Norwalk and New Canaan.
What’s the best advice you got along the way?
Carla: I feel we’re learning everything at the exact time we need to learn it. Being speech therapists, our style is not a businessman’s. Billing, accounting, managing a business are not our first skill sets. We’re the staff. Holly Perlowitz (CCNY’s Business Manager) guided us through opening our own business, and held our hand through the process and we really needed that. She helped us with our Profit and Loss projections and setting up bank accounts.
Shaina: Without CCNY, we would have just been white knuckling it. Now we find ourselves sitting at the kitchen table—in our office—meeting with parents and clients, helping families.
When did you know you’d arrived?
Shaina: We brought our philosophy to a new area, and the fulfillment is doing what I love and believe in so much.
Carla: Every phone call from a new client, every referral, feels great as we share educating parents on what we can do and what can be done. It is so gratifying. Parents know they have a problem. We can talk them through it and help them.
Carla: Bringing our therapeutic approach to more new children and parents.
Contact Talk of the Town at 39 Smith Avenue, Mt Kisco, NY 914.244.9600, http://www.talkofthetownspeech.com/