Kelli Knight, a Speech and Language Pathologist for Char-Em ISD, has been selected to serve on a national committee of the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA). Knight is a specialist in teaching students in kindergarten through age 26 to communicate using alternative communication tools and technology in an area known as Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).
She was selected by ASHA in summer 2019 to begin serving on a committee that will work to establish board certification criteria for those specialists nationally who, like Knight, connect children and young adults with the communication resources and technology.
Knight’s students have not developed verbal communication or struggle with communication, for a variety of reasons such as neurological damage, developmental delay, autism or other underlying causes. “A lot of my students are emerging communicators, and they need to learn ways to communicate their basic needs,” she explained.
“I am very passionate about the work I do here with augmentative and alternative communication users in our Char-Em ISD districts,” noted Knight, who has worked for the ISD since 2012 and in the field since 2008.
That enthusiasm for her work and her growing level of expertise in the field gained the attention of the national ASHA organization and led to her appointment to the specialized committee, which includes about 25 members from around the country.
In her daily work, Knight pairs the students and young adults in her caseload with tools that aid their ability to communicate simple and more complex needs. She said some tools students use include PODD books, iPads with apps such as, TouchChat, Proloquo2GO, Words for Life, and even infrared technology to track eye movement for helping communicators. She works throughout Char-Em ISD districts in special education program classrooms.
Knight said her interest in this niche field was piqued when she was growing up and a neighbor had a child with autism, and she found herself interested in learning how that child could communicate. She pursued undergraduate and graduate level work in the field and sought out placements during graduate work with students with complex communication needs. Over the past decade plus, she has grown a personal network of professionals around the nation who share practices and resources with one another.
That network will be particularly useful as she serves on the Test Question Development Committee for Augmentative and Alternative Communication, a specialty recognition committee of ASHA. ASHA is the credentialing professional entity for speech and language pathologists, and ultimately the work of Knight’s committee will be to develop credentialing standards for practitioners like herself who seek Board Certification in Augmentative and Alternative Communication.
“The field of speech and language pathology is huge. There are a lot of different areas that we practice in; all aspects of language, speech, cognition, and swallowing across the lifespan. There are currently specialist credentials in other areas such as childhood language therapy, swallowing, fluency, and specialists interest groups in various age groups, and numerous causes of communication impairments,” Knight said.
“We will be developing specific tracks for clinical practice, academic master clinicians and examination questions in intermediate and advanced practices for board certification in AAC,” she said. “This is going to lead to mentorship opportunities and ultimately, our students will benefit. We will be able to reach further and coach and teach the people around these students – school staff, their parents, their communities – about how they can help support them in communicating.”
“The best way to help a lot of these students is ongoing support in their natural, daily lives. Having this level of connection in Char-Em ISD through my role will help expand what we can provide students and their families.”
Knight said she enjoys that her work allows her to work closely with students each day as she travels from district to district. She makes note of students who she once thought didn’t know her name, who are able to communicate it to her through devices. Knight explains how she has the pleasure to hear her students communicate things she doesn’t already know, such as their favorite characters, their feelings and health-related needs; and working with another student to tell their mom when they needed a hug. Part of the work includes addressing social skills – what to say and how to say it – and working with the limited vocabulary that some devices offer – how to teach the students to use the words at their disposal to communicate their needs. They begin to learn to direct others; to “boss the teacher around,” to express their needs, thoughts, opinions, and desires, but above all, connecting with their peers.
“It is powerful to learn to communicate,” Knight said..
“I’m immersed in it all the time. I do believe to do it effectively it does take the extra work of training, professional development, and maintaining a network of similar professionals, including serving on this national committee and taking the extra time that requires. I can be a resource for Char-Em SLPs and others in this field,” Knight said.
Once her committee develops the criteria for testing for board certification, in about 2 or 3 years she estimates, she plans to turn around and take it herself and achieve the Board Certified Specialist AAC recognition, noting that the hard work is worth the effort when it comes to student success.
“Some of the kids say the funniest things now. They blow me away,” Knight said. “You can really see their personality come out, and it’s so rewarding. The motto of the ASHA is ‘Making effective communication, a basic human right, accessible and achievable for all.’ I truly believe in that mission.”