Race track therapy
By Hoyt Smith
A local couple is using slot cars as a therapy tool.
Christian and Noemi Grasso are both licensed and certified speech and language pathologists. Together, they own and operate Vocal T.R.A.C.K. Speech & Language Therapy Center, which combines as a clinic and a recreational slot car track in Rancho Bernardo. This unique operation was scheduled to be a main attraction at the Poway Americana Festival this month, now postponed until September due to the COVID-19 crisis.
“We’re pretty geeky. We share an interest in comic books and slot car racing,” Christian said. “I got an idea in my head a while back that this would be a great activity for my patients. My wife said, ‘Let’s give it a try and see if we can incorporate some therapy concepts.’”
So, they built a 68-square-foot, four-lane track which now doubles as a means of healing and having fun.
“I thought merging this with our business would create something very unique,” Christian explained. “It’s turned out to be a very creative tool and something that everybody really seems to enjoy.”
The Grasso’s track was designed to be accessible to various special needs users, including people in wheelchairs. Christian designed it so that there aren’t any blind spots or hidden areas on the racetrack that the racers can’t see.
“It’s something that anyone can do with some assistance,” he said. “We have trigger controllers. If someone has cerebral palsy and can’t manipulate a trigger controller, then we have a controller where they can compress a plunger.”
A slot car fan since he was a kid, Christian said he started getting back into it as a hobbyist later in life.
“It’s been good therapy for me too. Even my dad and wife race with me. It’s very family oriented,” he said.
Christian said he is often asked: what is the connection between speech pathology and slot cars?
“People want to know, ‘How can this therapy benefit people?’ Well first of all, there are socialization opportunities. Families may come in with a special needs child and the parents may not know how to interact with their child or manage behaviors that may manifest,” Christian said.
“We’ve had individuals with cognitive and physical issues, but they appreciate that they can control a little car,” Christian said.
The Grassos use slot cars to treat patients with autism, attention deficit disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, cognitive impairment, dementia, traumatic brain injury, genetic syndromes or neurological disorders that might affect an individual’s ability to communicate.
“Even problems reading and writing,” Christian added.
The slot car track can be used to assist patients with socialization or to help parents learn how to better interact with their special needs child.
The Vocal T.R.A.C.K. Speech & Language Therapy Center doesn’t just serve children, it also works with teens, adults and seniors. The Grassos also have people contacting them to do special events and fundraisers. So, they built a portable slot car track that they take out into the community.