1) Why did you decide to work with individuals with autism? What was your strongest motivator?
When I went to high school, there was a small private school on the campus that serviced individuals with developmental disabilities. When I was 16, I started volunteering at the school, and I was placed in a classroom with children that had Down syndrome and autism. I felt immediately drawn to the children and knew in my heart that this was my calling. As I worked with them, I noticed all the speech and language deficits they exhibited, so I was fortunate enough to accompany them to their speech sessions. The drive and passion I had for these children was my strongest motivator to pursue a career in speech pathology.
2) Did you have any personal connection with autism before you began at Eden II Programs?
The children that I met while I was in high school were my first connection to the autism population. During this time, I started working for an agency that serviced children with autism and other intellectual disabilities, and we worked on community integration skills and recreational activities.
3) What do you see as the most important developments in speech therapy since you started in the field?
I think that the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) has exploded since I started in the field 7 years ago. When I first began practicing, devices like the Dynavox were the “next big thing” for our individuals that had difficulty communicating. In reality, most of the devices were bulky, heavy, and stigmatizing when seen outside in the community. Now, the iPad has really taken over the autism world and it helps our students in such a functional way. Applications on the iPad that assist with schedules, reinforcements, and programs are all increasing the rate of communication for those with autism.
4) Where do you hope to see the field in 10 years?
I would love to see the field grow with more research studies being conducted with our adolescent population. There have been studies that seem to focus on working intensely with our younger population and not enough research about implementing the use of iPads, focusing on social skills groups and life after the age of 21- what to work on when their speech services end from the school program.
5) Where would you like to see Eden II Programs in 10 years?
I know that Beach Street is going to be a wonderful experience for the school program in the years to come. Our students will have the opportunity to work on skills in a functional environment with the intention of generalizing them into their everyday lives. Personally, I think that it is essential for our students to have access to this type of environment to increase their quality of life. In addition, within the next 10 years, I’d love to see Eden II publish some more research articles and possibly create an assessment or evaluation tool.
6) What has been your proudest moment working at Eden II Programs?
My proudest moment working at Eden II was when I had a parent call and thank me for giving their child a means to communicate. I had been working with this student in school using a picture exchange communication system. Every time he gave me a picture, he would get that item. I wasn’t sure it had generalized until the mom called me up and said that she was making dinner one night, and he came to her with a picture of an orange. He placed it in her hand indicting he wanted the orange. She was so happy he communicated with her and I was so proud that this moment was able to happen. Even though it was as simple as putting a picture in her hand, to me, it was the greatest accomplishment knowing that he was able to connect with his mom!