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Meet Tasneem Kajani and Vanessa Zimmer-Powell of The Learning Sphere – Speech Therapy

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tasneem Kajani and Vanessa Zimmer-Powell.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
“Next patient…..Next Patient……Next Patient……” The constraints of working in a large insurance driven clinic left us feeling unsatisfied. We felt that we were unable to provide the quality of care that was important to us, and the kind of care that we felt our patients and their families deserved. The last straw for Vanessa, was when insurance denied another claim for a child who she knew she could help. Vanessa approached me (Tas), a former colleague, and I was feeling the same frustrations. From here, the journey into private practice began.

We both agreed that we should create an environment that prioritized the family and child, built in flexibility for families, and truly offered collaborative individualized speech therapy sessions. We gave ourselves a date to open in 3 months, and decided to call ourselves The Learning Sphere – Speech Therapy! We have been open a little over a year, and it has been such an amazing experience.

Has it been a smooth road?
We are highly skilled and knowledgeable therapists, so providing therapy was the easy part. It was a little more challenging learning how to run a business. Luckily, Vanessa has experience directing a pediatric therapy clinic and Tas grew up learning from her father, who is a business owner.

We are blessed to have family members and medical/business professionals who have supported and believed in us along the way. These relationships were key in building our practice.

The greatest challenge for us has been getting the word out that we are open. Understanding marketing, especially social media and the online world has been a big challenge.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into The Learning Sphere – Speech Therapy story. Tell us more about the business.
In just one year we have built a supportive, intimate space based on the concierge medicine model. We take time to get to know our patients and their families and are always happy to be available for them. We are able to give our families extra time and they never feel rushed out the door. We build meaningful connections with the children, and the children receive therapy based on his/her unique interests, attention skills, and sensory needs.

We see a wide variety of children at our office and in private schools. This ranges from: children who are picky eaters – eat less than ten foods, children with difficulty socializing and building relationships with their families and peers, children with difficulty saying their sounds (for instance the R or S sound), to children on the Autism Spectrum and ADD/HD.

We also recently began providing Hearing, Vision, Speech & Language screenings at ten private schools in the Houston area. In addition to the screenings, we offer speech therapy and/or continuing education presentations to the teachers/staff.

We are very proud of our exceptional care. What really sets us apart is that ALL of our therapists are fully licensed Speech- Language Pathologists (versus a speech therapy assistant) with at least ten years of experience. We have extensive training in: DIR®/Floortime™, Social Thinking® (Clinical 1A training), Prompts for Restructuring Oral Musculature (PROMPT), Talk Tools, Melodic Based Communication Therapy, Sequential Oral Sensory Approach to Feeding (SOS).

Another unique aspect is that Vanessa loves developing products, and is currently working on an app to help young children who have very limited speech and have extreme difficulty saying sounds.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
We continue to see growing trends for increasing positive patient experiences (e.g., ease in scheduling, time and interaction with healthcare providers, ease of access to providers). Therapists are collaborating with other professionals (e.g. teachers, doctors, mental health professionals, etc.) to provide value-based, holistic treatment with a client-centered approach.

Within the last 10 years, the internet and technology has seen a new role in therapy, and the burst of energy on the web has provided greater support/networking for families and therapists. Teletherapy has been trending for some time especially in those communities that are underserved. The advancements in computerized technology have allowed for greater growth and affordability for augmentative alternative communication (AAC). Now there are apps on iPads that help people to communicate who are unable to use their voice. Also, there are many apps expressly designed to carryover treatment.

However, amidst the rise of our connection to technology, we do not want to forget the importance of one-on-one engagement and social interaction. We realize that this will be an ongoing area of struggle as technology advances.

One of the greatest challenges that our industry faces is related to insurance. Large clinics are trying to survive and adapt to new mandates. Many therapists are impacted by these constraints and are choosing to start their own private practices in order to focus on quality of care. Unfortunately, it is a difficult time for families who are looking for affordable quality care covered under their policy. We are hoping that in the future we see improvements to insurance that make it easier for small speech therapy offices like The Learning Sphere to afford to participate in insurance programs.

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