By: Kathy Smith, MSPA, CCC-SLP/L (retired)
AAC Spotlight is a series of interviews that we hope will be another resource. Reading about other people who are interested in AAC (augmentative-alternative communication) can help us connect with each other and share experiences and concerns. NWACS will occasionally interview people to help all of us learn more about each other and AAC.
In the Spotlight: Carol Goossens', PhD, SLP
As our 2017 NWACS Annual Conference nears, we are delighted to shine the AAC Spotlight on this year's conference speaker, Dr. Carol Goossens'! Dr. Goossens' is an internationally known SLP and special educator currently working as an Augmentative Communication Consultant based in New York. We are looking forward to learning from her in person on October 21, 2017!
How did you get interested in becoming an SLP and particularly working in the field of AAC?
I decided in grade 8 that I would be a Speech-Language Pathologist. I had a younger brother who needed dysfluency therapy and my mom routinely drove him to a city one hour away to get the therapy he needed. My brother is now a doctor. This early exposure to the profession was the ‘initial hook’.
When I graduated from high school, there were only three undergraduate programs in Speech-Language Pathology across Canada. Fortunately, I was accepted by the University of Western Ontario. While completing the requirements for that program, I had an internship at a provincial institution serving adults with developmental delays. That placement sparked an interest in developmental delays. So … off to the University of Wisconsin (Madison) to gain knowledge relative to the provision of speech-language intervention for individuals with developmental delays.
My first job after graduating with my Master’s degree, was working on the severe-profound wards of a provincial institution in Ontario, Canada. It was there that I made my first shift toward embracing the benefits of using an environmental approach to speech-language intervention. I would routinely go in… don the hip waders …and do verbal language stimulation while helping residents shower in the morning. Although that shift was a pivotal one, I soon realized that something more was needed … and that something was Augmentative and Alternative Communication. So back to school I went … this time to Purdue University to pursue a Ph.D. in Special Education with an emphasis in Augmentative and Alternative Communication. I had found the path that would be my passion for the next 30 plus years!
Since that time I’ve really had the pleasure of implementing AAC in a variety of settings (self-contained, blended, regular, ABA classrooms) with the help of a full range of disciplines (OT, PT, Vision Teacher, Audiologist). If there is a common thread that runs throughout my work, it is probably ‘classroom implementation’. I really love the challenge of problem-solving differentiated instruction within ‘mixed abilities’ classrooms and I really enjoy working collaboratively with an interdisciplinary team.
You must be engaged in a variety of AAC related activities. Can you describe a few?
In settings where the need for AAC is great, it’s important to adopt a ‘big picture’ approach, developing systems and protocols that work for the ‘greater good’ of the organization. While working at a school for children with physical challenges, for example, we routinely worked on yearly ‘school-wide projects’ that would ultimately allow us to concentrate on implementing AAC as opposed to constantly being on the ‘treadmill’ of creating AAC materials. For example, we converted all of the books (K through Gr. 4) of the school’s Scott-Foresman reading series into a digital format with a full spectrum of access then moved on to the school’s science curriculum. We were able to ‘broker’ those e-books to develop a program for working on motor access. Not everything we did was high tech. We also developed a protocol for training low tech eye-gaze. In essence, we always had a ‘background project’ on the go that got everyone ‘pulling the wagon in the same direction’. This ultimately freed up time to allow us to concentrate on the art of implementing AAC creatively.
Of all the activities you do, which one or ones do you enjoy the most?
It’s usually whatever is the most current project!
Within the school setting there are many academic needs that must be addressed over the course of the school year. Many students with Complex Communication Needs (CCN), however, continue to have ongoing needs relative to their language development and their AAC proficiency. Currently I’ve been devoting a lot of energy toward creating curriculum materials (Animated Step-by-Steps®) that provide a forum for simultaneously addressing literacy, language and AAC across a full range of activities. I feel learning should be fun for students (both regular and special education) and staff … and I’ve certainly been having a lot of fun trying to achieve that goal.
What is the most challenging part of AAC?
We now have access to a lot more AAC resources. That (in an of itself) can be challenging as there is just soooooo much more information / materials / devices to sift through to make informed decisions. This can leave you with the constant worry …. what have I inadvertently overlooked?
AAC is certainly an adventure, not for the faint of heart. If you are looking for a field that guarantees a great challenge with a lot of personal satisfaction thrown in for good measure, Augmentative and Alternative Communication definitely fits the bill!
Thank you, Dr. Goossens', for taking a moment to participate in our AAC Spotlight series!
You can read our other posts in our AAC Spotlight series by clicking HERE.
Do you have a suggestion of someone you would like to see us interview for AAC Spotlight? Let us know in a comment below or send us an email.