The speech department at Reach for the Stars Learning Center (RFTS) is an essential component to our intensive model and it focuses on the development of students' communication skills through development of receptive and expressive language skills. There is a designated Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) in every classroom who follows Reach for the Stars' integrated model and collaborates with classroom teachers to develop a language-rich environment across all daily activities. This allows the SLPs to individually instruct students and facilitate language development naturally and within context, during activities such as circle time (greeting classmates and teachers), art (asking peers for items), lunch (requesting by using their individualized communication systems), and general group instructions. The SLPs also run daily and weekly language groups, in which they target socialization, as well as generalization of learned skills to a group activity. Play programs foster emerging language and encourage development of imagination. The SLPs set up programs targeting appropriate isolated play, pretend play, and interactive play with peers. Pragmatic language focuses on socialization with peers, commenting on the environment, and conversation. They also participate in outings to generalize learned communication skills to community environments. RFTS prides itself in its intensely collaborative approach, in which the SLPs continually interact with the ABA teachers in the classroom and work together to provide the students with the continuity of speech and language therapy throughout the entire school day.

At RFTS, the SLPs practice evidence-based teaching, whereby student progress is tracked using data collection, and then monitored on a daily basis. Daily and weekly team meetings are held with members of the Occupational Therapy, Music Therapy, and Academic departments, to discuss each of their students' goals, ensuring carry-over across all staff. The Speech Department performs annual speech and language diagnostics as well as augmentative and alternative assessments throughout the school year. Individual goal revision and updating occur on a weekly basis to adjust the students' goals as they progress.

In addition to speech and language development, the RFTS Speech Department also focuses on Feeding Therapy, which addresses the needs of those students who experience difficulty chewing foods and those with limited food repertoires. The SLPs are trained in feeding therapy and use a combination of behavioral and sensory techniques to expose the students to new tastes, textures, and temperatures. Along with the highly experienced SLP team, RFTS has ongoing feeding experts on-site to aid in specific feeding challenges.

Some of the strategies we employ in the Reach for the Stars Speech Department include:

PROMPT (Physically Restructuring Oral Musculature Phonetic Targets)

PROMPT is a multidimensional approach to help develop motor skills to improve interactive language skills. The speech language pathologist provides the student with tactile prompts to facilitate production of speech sounds. Treatment goals are developed to provide the student with immediate sounds, words, or phrases that are useful in their everyday interactions for requesting and commenting.

PECS (Picture Exchange Communication)

PECS is an a unique augmentative/alternative communication intervention package for individuals with autism spectrum disorder based on B.F. Skinner's book, Verbal Behavior. Functional verbal operants are systematically taught using prompting and reinforcement strategies without the use of verbal prompts, leading to independent communication. Students learn how to communicate their needs and wants through PECS which then allows them to be transitioned to either verbal speech or to a high tech voice output device.

SIM (SOUNDS-IN-MOTION)

SIM is an interventional program designed to develop listening skills in children which helps to improve articulation, vocabulary skills, auditory memory, and phonemic awareness, and early literacy. The program uses a multisensory approach which pairs kinesthetic gross motor movements with phonemes. All of the body movements are based on the characteristics of each speech sounds including pitch, duration, tension, place of the articulators in space, and intensity. At RFTS, SIM is utilized during both individual and group sessions. The SLPs lead the students in a variety of listening activities prior to learning the movement for a targeted sound. The movements are then practiced throughout the day with their teachers.

Kaufman Apraxia Protocol

This is a way of teaching children with apraxia of speech the easiest way of saying words until they have increased motor-speech coordination.

Lori Overland Feeding Strategies

These strategies focus on the sensory-motor aspects of eating, and are based on the notion that the sensory reaction of the child to dysfunctional motor skills may often underlie some of the pathologic eating habits in autism, such as food refusal and extreme self-limited diet.

One of our SLP's help a child in a feeding session
An SLP helps a child request his water at lunch by modeling sign language
An SLP helps a child use his voice output communication aid to label pictures in his classroom.

In utilizing these and other recognized therapeutic techniques, RFTS provides the students with a variety of evidence-based practices that have been proven successful. In addition, each SLP is trained in the use of both low- and high-technology augmentative and alternative communication strategies (AAC), and they use a number of other modalities to facilitate expressive language, including visual supports and sign language, as well as low- and high-tech devices such as Dynavox Devices and the iPad. Technology in the form of software is incorporated into therapy to target skills such as language processing, sequencing, and responding to questions, as well as social skills and grammar.

The Speech and Language Department at RFTS is honored to host graduate students and clinical fellows from a variety of universities including New York University, Brooklyn College, Long Island University, and St. Johns University.