This year Madison Logan, Caitlin Martin and Emily Gerth joined the Cornerstone team! Read below to learn about what led them to Cornerstone Autism Center, what their goals are and how they implement speech during their sessions.
Q: Can you tell us about your speech background?
A: I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences & Disorders and Psychology from Augustana College. While there, I began my speech journey! During my clinicals, I worked primarily with children with speech-language disorders. I then went on to receive my Masters degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Purdue University. While at Purdue, I was able to work with a broad span of clinical populations across various settings. I completed two 10 week externships at the end of my program, one in an elementary school in Crawfordsville, IN and the other in a hospital in Davenport, IA. I graduated with my Masters degree in August 2016 and have been happy to remain here in West Lafayette!
Q: What made you interested in working with children with autism?
A: I worked with various populations of children, but the group that stole my heart was a group of 4 kiddos on the autism spectrum. I spent an entire summer with them working in Augustana’s summer clinic, and actually used them as the subjects for my senior thesis. We primarily focused on social skills that summer, and we went on several field trips out in the community. I assessed the extent to which the kiddos could carry over the skills we were teaching them in the clinic out in the community. To our delight, they displayed this generalization of skills quite nicely. While at Augustana, I also had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in Sydney, Australia and intern at Sydney’s largest premier ABA center, The Lizard Centre. I worked directly with the speech-language pathologist there and provided therapy to children on the spectrum. This was my first experience seeing ABA therapy with the ASD population and how speech plays a role in that, and it is definitely something I was glad to be a part of, and something I wanted to continue to pursue as a career.
Q: Can you walk us through what a speech session looks like at Cornerstone?
A: A typical speech session is 30 min long. The goals vary from child to child, targeting receptive language, expressive language, pragmatics (social skills), articulation, and phonology. I am very intentional when I interact with the kids, making sure I have their full attention while we are working on our speech goals. The ABA therapists are often a great help with this focus component as well. The kids get to “work for something” in speech like they do in ABA therapy as well. This positive reinforcement piece helps them to stay motivated and work hard in speech.
Q: If we were looking at speech therapy practices like tools in a toolbox, what is your favorite tool to use with the kids and why?
A: Encouraging conversation is so important, and this can be done at home as well! Instead of asking a Yes or No question, think about asking open-ended, thought-provoking questions. By asking questions that elicit a detailed response, you are encouraging your child to express his or her ideas without the fear of being right or wrong. And in this, the child can practice the art of good listening! When your children are talking to you, offer thoughtful responses so that you validate their language, as well as their ideas and feelings. Lastly, another favorite tool I incorporate is reading. Reading is SO important for the development of these kiddos. Asking questions about the pictures, asking them to point to items on each page, and for older children, asking them to think of experiences they may have had that relate to the story. All these help our kids make connections with what they are hearing.
Q: What’s your philosophy in life (and why)?
A: Love God and love people. As a Christian, my life philosophy comes from Mark 12:30-31, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Q: Who or what was your inspiration to become a Speech-Language Pathologist?
A: I first became interested in speech pathology when I took an elective class in communication disorders. I had always been interested in languages, I spent hours studying Spanish just for fun when I was growing up. However, I enjoyed science and assumed that I would do somet
hing with chemistry or math. It wasn’t until that communication disorders class that I realized I could study linguistics, the science of language. I switched majors that semester and have loved studying linguistics and speech and language ever since!
Q: Can you share some of your goals in your position?
A: I love working with Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices. Since I started here, it has been my goal to get some sort of communication system, whether it’s low-tech like a paper system, or high-tech like a speech-generating device, for all of my kids who are nonverbal or minimally verbal. It is also my goal to communicate more with parents by having regular meetings to discuss results of speech and language evaluations or progress of goals.
Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a SLP?
A: I love seeing my kids progress through goals. Many times progress is slow, but when I look back at my data I can see how far they have come. It is also very rewarding to help kids who previously had very limited means to communicate learn to use an AAC device. Sometimes they take off with a system and express more than they were able to express before. However, it is often a slow process of teaching them words one at a time to learn how to ask for things they want and interact with others.
Q: How does speech therapy combined with ABA help children with autism?
A: It is a huge advantage to work closely with behavioral therapists in the treatment of kids with autism. I consult with ABA therapists and leads about how to best manage different behaviors. The collaboration makes my sessions more productive as I can engage the kids and maintain their attention and cooperation. It is also beneficial as the ABA therapists are present during the speech sessions and can use what they learn throughout the day with the children.
Q: What is your greatest achievement and how has it shaped you?
A: My greatest achievement while working here has been to go through the whole process of getting an AAC device by learning about AAC devices from different companies, trialing different devices with each kid, comparing the data and choosing the most appropriate device, completing the paperwork for funding from insurance, and finally giving the device to the child. It is a long process that is typically done by a designated AAC team or specialist and I am proud that I can complete the process in-house. It has definitely made me more aware of the pros and cons of each device and taught me how to set up and edit a variety of devices.
Q: How would you describe speech therapy to someone who hasn’t heard about it before?
A: Speech-language pathologists help people with communication difficulties in speech therapy. Some disorders a speech therapist treats includes:
Each speech therapy session looks different for each child because treatment plans are individualized. Treatment for speech-related problems frequently focus on practicing on how to correctly produce sounds as well as sounds in words, phrases, and conversations. Treatment for language-related problems tend to focus on building vocabulary, understanding simple to complex directions, learning new concepts, correctly producing grammatical sentences, improving social communication skills, etc. Many speech therapy sessions target these areas through fun and engaging activities such as play, games, books, arts and crafts, and other hands-on activities.
Q: What led you to become a SLP at Cornerstone?
A: I have always enjoyed working with children, and throughout my time as an undergraduate and graduate student in college, I developed a passion for working with children on the autism spectrum and I knew I wanted to specifically work with this population. I am originally from Greenwood, Indiana, so working as a speech-language pathologist at Cornerstone in my hometown is literally a dream come true!
Q: How do you come up with a plan for each child?
A: The first step is completing an assessment for the child. We initially develop rapport with the child by playing with him/her. This also allows us to determine what types of assessments would best fit the needs of that specific child! Assessment plans vary among each child, but some evaluations you might see in a speech-language evaluation report would be a language assessment, a speech evaluation, a pragmatic (social skills) assessment as well as observations and interviews from parents, the lead therapists, and ABA therapists. Once all this information is collected, we can analysis the results to determine the child’s strengths as well as communication difficulties/needs. We then take these difficulties and develop an appropriate treatment plan to focus on in therapy as well as using the child’s strengths to assist with this plan! Throughout speech treatment sessions, we are also frequently assessing the child’s progress on his/her goals, and changing/adding/removing goals to assist with continued speech and language development.
Q: What is an example or story of how speech maximized the life of a child with autism at the center?
A: In speech therapy, we have implemented AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) devices for several children at the Lafayette and Greenwood locations. For many of these children, their communication was significantly limited. With these AAC devices, we have been able to give these children a voice to be able to express themselves. I have been amazed at how quickly they pick up on how the devices work. It’s been wonderful to see the look of accomplishment on their faces when they successfully communicate their wants, needs, and feelings.
Q: What does your perfect day look like and why?
A: My perfect day would include a day of just relaxing and spending time with all my family and friends (probably on a beach somewhere!). My family and friends are very important to me, and my most memorable days are the days spent with them!
April 21, 2017, Morgan McClellan