October is International AAC Awareness Month!

page22The children’s book, “How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname),” is the perfect way to raise awareness about speech generating devices and other assistive technology, and it’s on SALE through the entire month of October at Speaking of Speech.com!

“How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname)” is a beautifully illustrated story of challenge, triumph, and acceptance. The students and teachers of Cherry Street School all have nicknames that celebrate their differences. But the new girl, Katie, is really different. She can’t walk. She can’t talk. It seems like she can’t do anything! So how can the other students involve her in their activities? And how can they give her a nickname?  This sweet story is told from the perspective of Katie’s classmates who initially only see her as very different from them.  Once Katie is given access to assistive technology (switches and a speech generating device), they suddenly see how Katie is very much like everyone else;  she just does things in a different way. Following the story is a kid-friendly section on Disability Etiquette that even adults can learn from.

Visit http://store.speakingofspeech.com/products to order your autographed copy today! Also available in German from both www.amazon.com and www.amazon.de.

Extend the lesson even further with a free discussion guide, the Reader’s Theater script (great for having students tell the story through theater!), and disability etiquette video. These extension materials are available through www.patmervine.com.


“What goes on in that Speech Room?”

Kids are curious about that little room down the hall, next to the nurse’s office.  What is that room for?  Who goes there?  It looks like a fun place!  Why can’t I go, too?  Kids who WILL be going to speech/language therapy have different questions.  Why am I going to Speech?  What is therapy like?

To help SLPs and teachers explain speech/language therapy to newly identified students AND the rest of the class, I’ve written three children’s books that address three different aspects of what we do.

Matthew cover“The Mouth With a Mind of Its Own” is about a little boy with such significant articulation issues that he can’t even say his own name.  He is isolated from his classmates, who think he is speaking a foreign language, and he misses out on daily activities because he can’t make himself understood.  Fortunately, the speech/language pathologist comes to the rescue and leads him through the process from screening to articulate speech. At the end of the book, I’ve answered questions submitted by students from my own elementary school in a section called “Get to Know a Speech/Language Pathologist.”

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 12.06.24 PM“There Was a Speech Teacher Who Swallowed Some Dice” is a silly rhyming tale to introduce students to all of the items commonly used in therapy. Kids love this “speechie” twist on a familiar tale.  The book ends with a glossary of all of the therapy items and how we use them, and has a “Speech Room Scavenger Hunt” that you can photocopy for the students as they hunt for all of  the items in your room — a language lesson in itself!


Katie cover“How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname)”  acquaints students with assistive technology, including augmentative communication, and how it changes the way classmates view a fourth grade girl who has significant physical and communication disabilities.  This book ends with a section on disability etiquette.   Katie is also available in a German translation from Amazon in Germany.



Each book can be a stand-alone lesson, but you don’t have to stop there!  Here are additional resources that will extend each book into lessons in articulation, vocabulary, language, story mapping, and more. Click on the colored text below to get to the resources, the majority of which are FREE!

“How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname)”:  I’ve created a Reader’s Theater version of the book and PowerPoint “scenery” you can project, a free Discussion Guide which can also be used as writing prompts, and a Communication Word Search.  A Disability Etiquette video, “Making Everyone Feel Welcome,” told by the characters of the book, is on my YouTube channel. While on YouTube, check out the amazing video made by Polish students who have disabilities, inspired by Katie’s story, ideal for middle and high school students.  Clever SLP, Truvine Walker, offers a number of free artic and language activities related to this book at her TeachersPayTeachers store.

“The Mouth With a Mind of Its Own”:  Truvine Walker offers a free Speech/Language Companion Packet for this book on TPT that extends the story in many directions to meet a variety of s/l therapy goals.

“There Was a Speech Teacher Who Swallowed Some Dice”:   Truvine Walker created an amazing Speech/Language Companion Packet for this wacky story — again, it’s free!

These books are super gifts for student clinicians and SLPs in the school.  Autographed and personalized copies are available through Speaking of Speech.com.  Did you order your copy from Amazon but wish it was autographed?  Send me an email at pat@speakingofspeech.com, and I’ll send you a free signed bookplate!

Guest Post from Samantha Alcorn: OIC – The Cambodia Project

Note from Pat: I’m delighted to welcome SLP Samantha Alcorn as a guest blogger.  While we devote our time and energy to students on our caseload, Samantha is extending her reach to the underserved country of Cambodia.  She has a fascinating story to tell and a way for you to extend your reach, too.

OIC: The Cambodia Project – We’re getting Speech Therapy going in Cambodia and you can play a part.

Intro from Samantha Alcorn:  I’m a Speech Pathologist originally from New Zealand, now living and working in Melbourne, Australia (yes, that’s the terminology we use over this side of the world). I have utilised Pat’s Speaking of Speech website ever since I started studying, which was quite a few years ago now! I am involved with OIC: The Cambodia Project and emailed Pat about the project. She kindly encouraged me to share a bit more detail with you all on her blog.

Unseen Unheard image 2We have just celebrated Mother’s Day in Australia and New Zealand so naturally over the weekend I was reflecting on some advice passed onto me by my Mum. The words that have stuck with me the firmest (perhaps because they give me permission to indulge in what is a love of mine anyway) are a variation on a quote I have seen in various forms, to ‘travel, and see the world, the world is more than one page in a book.’  I’m certain this wasn’t an encouragement to take endless, extravagant holidays but rather to open my eyes to the lives lived by others. More specifically, those who don’t have the same opportunities in life that I do.

So I’ve tried to do exactly that.

This little life mantra led me in 2011 to plan a trip to several countries in South East Asia. This included Cambodia. I arrived, embarrassingly, not knowing too much more about the country other than that it housed the Angkor Wat temple complex and that Lara Croft Tomb Raider was filmed there. Fortunately, my experiences and conversations with the local people left me with a new perspective and a much deeper understanding of the country’s culture and history. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to walk away and let this become a trip remembered only by flicking through photos. I didn’t know much about volunteering overseas other than what a few fellow travellers shared with me. Meeting in tourist cafes I came across people who had done short stints in orphanages. Their experiences sounded so inspiring. I felt that with my skills as a Speech Pathologist, perhaps I could make a difference too.

Several years passed by. The memories and emotions I had formed in Cambodia remained strong. I revisited my idea of volunteering but became highly discouraged through reading negative accounts about ‘voluntourism’ particularly in regards to orphanages. Life progressed. I moved countries, I got married. Volunteering in Cambodia went on the back burner until one day where I happened across an ad in a professional newsletter. It shared details about a volunteer position specifically for Speech Pathologists for a project in Cambodia. I didn’t hesitate to make contact and a year down the track I am now volunteering (from my home base) for OIC: The Cambodia Project.

I can just hear my Mum saying ‘See! It’s all because you listened to me all those years ago’.

Now, what’s ‘OIC’ you may be thinking? It refers to the expression “Oh! I see,” often exclaimed at a moment of understanding, when something becomes clear. The project is about working to see more of these moments for the more than 600,000 people who have a communication or swallowing disorder in Cambodia.

And why does Cambodia keep hitting home for me? Well, because health services for people there are nearly nonexistent and as for speech therapy as a profession – it doesn’t even exist.

You can find more information about OIC at oiccambodia.org.

In brief, we are currently focusing on a training program to up skill teachers, health professionals and government officials in speech therapy knowledge. Educating teachers will better integrate students with communication and swallowing disorders into their classrooms.

I have a bit more experience as a Speech Pathologist under my belt now and I love the work I do. If you are a Speech Pathologist or person who has worked in partnership with one, then I’m certain you would find it easy to imagine why establishing universal access for Cambodians to speech therapy support would be a worthy cause.

Beyond this there are numerous reasons why OIC ticks all the boxes for me in the way they are approaching this massive challenge. I’ve narrowed it down to my top three:

  • OIC’s focus is local. This is not about developing an eternal reliance on overseas Speech Pathologists to service the community. It’s about empowering and building the capacity of Cambodian people to deliver services in their own context and their own language. That’s why OIC are working through educators and disability workers to support children to attend school and participate and communicate with their families and communities.
  • The OIC team are endlessly passionate about the profession and know that every person deserves the opportunity to live to their full potential. They recognise that if no one in Cambodia has any awareness of anything related to speech therapy – then for individuals who have disabilities related to communication and swallowing, this just can’t happen.
  • OIC are spending a great deal of energy advocating and building awareness of the profession throughout the country.  This will ensure that Speech Therapy can be recognised as the priority we as Speech Pathologists know it is, at every level.

This final point leads me to tell you….

OIC are going stand up in front of the United Nations and influential members of the Cambodian government to highlight the need for speech therapy.

In order to deliver a powerful message OIC will find 20 children who need speech therapy in Cambodia and tell their stories. Video, photos and narratives will be used to tell their tales. These stories will help change perceptions and attitudes towards these children, which is critical to getting people and organisations on-board to address the gap in health services 

And now for the best part!

I get to extend the opportunity for YOU to have a long lasting impact on the future of speech therapy in Cambodia too.

You can do so simply by visiting our campaign page in the lead up to the meeting, reading through the information and videos, sharing this with your networks and making a contribution to the campaign.

We are getting close to reaching our tipping point, but we have less than a week to make our target.


Your support is very much appreciated.

If you would like more information about OIC or how else you might be able to support the project, you can contact me directly at sam@oiccambodia.org



“Don’t Limit Me!” — Presume and Foster Competence in All Students

“Presume competence:” these two powerful words challenge educators to make a fundamental shift in their thinking.  Once a child with disabilities was viewed in terms of what he or she can’t do. We now are charged to assume and expect that the child can and will learn, communicate, participate, and develop, and it is our responsibility to facilitate this by finding ways to eliminate or reduce the barriers that would otherwise be limiting to the child.  This is absolutely right and essential, but it isn’t always easy.

The Internet abounds with references and resources, but for SLPs and special educators who are seeking information that they can immediately put into practice, I strongly recommend starting at PrAACticalAAC.org.  Here you will find an amazing amount of information on presuming competence and a gazillion other topics, delivered in bite-sized, highly readable posts.

Don't Limit Me!For IEP teams and individuals who would benefit from a pep talk on presuming competence, there can be no better speaker on the topic than Megan Bomgaars.  The “Don’t Limit Me!” video delivers a powerful message from a special young lady who refuses to be defined by her disability label.


A young man who also defies labels and has benefited from a rich, inclusive education is Tim Harris, owner of Tim’s Place Restaurant in Albuquerque, NM.  I had the delightful experience of meeting Tim twice and dining at “the World’s Friendliest Restaurant.”  You can read about my visit with Tim in my post “Take a Tip or Two From Tim.”  Then visit Tim’s website to see videos of Tim in action, learn about Tim’s Big Heart Foundation to help individuals with intellectual disabilities start their own businesses and achieve their dreams, and even book Tim for a guest speaker gig.

I’ve done a lot of team trainings over the years on presuming competence, maximizing participation, and facilitating independence in students who have multiple disabilities.  Some of what I share in my trainings involves changing well-intentioned but ultimately limiting behavior in educators and caregivers, and is mentioned in my post “How to Get to ‘I DID IT!'”

For a chilling account of what happens when caregivers only see profound disability and have no expectations of understanding or ability, I recommend the autobiography by Martin Pistorius, GHOST BOY, which I reviewed on this blog. Spoiler alert: you’ll also see the dramatic, life-changing results when someone does, finally, presume competence.

Here’s another spoiler alert:  If you and your school teams make every effort to presume and facilitate competence in your students who have disabilities, you’ll witness, first-hand, some pretty amazing results, too.

Becoming a Children’s Author, Part 1: Deep Roots and Inspiration

I have always been a writer at heart.  I won a prize for a poem I wrote about a kangaroo in first grade.  I loved diagramming sentences (a lost art today, alas!).  I read everything I could get my hands on.  And I attacked every writing assignment in English with passion.  My junior year Advanced English thesis was on the relationship between the libretto and musical motifs in Handel’s “The Messiah,” complete with footnotes and graphic examples;  oh, what I could’ve done with this theme on Prezi!  My teacher didn’t know a thing about music, but he gave me an A+ and wrote that I should be given a B.S. in English.  I’m not sure he meant Bachelor’s of Science.

In high school, I worked as a stringer reporter and contributor to the Teen Beat section of our local newspaper, received the school’s journalism award as a senior, and flirted with the idea of journalism as a major in college.  Instead, I went into a different area of communication — speech/language pathology — but my love of writing never waned.  As an SLP, I published more than a dozen books and software programs with Mayer-Johnson Company, contributed a series of articles to “Exceptional Parent Magazine” and “Closing the Gap,” and self-published materials for SLPs on my web site, Speaking of Speech.com.  This blog is another extension of my passion for writing.

About 5 years ago, a kernel of a children’s story worked its way into my imagination.  The inspiration came from the work I do as an SLP and assistive technology specialist.  In those roles, I support students who have little or no verbal skills, and who rely on alternative and augmentative communication (AAC), from no-tech systems, such as pointing to pictures, through high-tech, multi-thousand dollar devices that generate speech output. I have worked with countless students, teachers, aides, and parents to provide a means of effective communication and a reason to use it.  I’ve taught undergrad and graduate courses in AAC, and have devoted hours of lecture time on the barriers to using AAC.  I won’t get into them here but, suffice it to say, there are many….and all too many are related to reluctance, resistance, or flat-out refusal of adults to use AAC with children who would benefit from it.  Implementing AAC and other assistive technology (AT) takes lots of time and effort, sometimes enormous amounts of both, and that can be a barrier right there.  Sometimes, people just don’t realize how life-changing AAC/AT can be for children and adults who have significant disabilities.  Demonstrating the benefits, then, was one goal of the story I wanted to write.

Another source of inspiration, and the reason I wrote the book from the perspective of classmates who don’t know how to be friends with with a girl who has multiple disabilities, came from the reason I went into speech/language pathology and specialized in AAC/AT in the first place.  My dear uncle was stricken with a progressive neurological disease; the first function to go was his ability to speak, followed by a loss of writing skills, and then a loss of facial expression.  As communication skills diminished, so did his humanity.  Family members, friends, even medical professionals (who should know better!) were unprepared to communicate with someone who couldn’t communicate back.  After a brief greeting to him, he seemed to cease to exist, as people talked around him, over him, and even about him, but not TO him.  And, sadly, this is frequently the case in other families, and in classrooms, too.  As a society, we all too often just don’t know how to communicate with people who can’t talk.  There is also the tendency to view people with disabilities as “less than,” as we focus on what they CAN’T do, rather than what they CAN do.

So, demonstrating the value of AAC/AT and telling the story from the perspective of those who feel unable to relate to people with disabilities became the story line for How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname).  I will talk more about the process of writing the book in future posts, and would be happy to answer any questions you have about my book and the process of becoming a children’s book author.  Please post your questions in the Comments section!  Check out my author site, www.patmervine.com, for more info, videos, and freebies.