Clovis-based Empower Speech Therapy holds seminar at California Autism Center

Johnny Martin | Reporter

Empower Speech Therapy and Life Skills Center in Clovis held a seminar to educate the community about alternative and augmentative communication for autistic children.

Licensed Speech-Language Pathologist Natalia Morozova and Licensed Assistive Technology Specialist Londa Nerland led the seminar, which was held at the California Autism Center in Fresno on Feb. 21.

The speakers discussed how various types of electronics and applications can help the advancement of autistic children.

Nerland said the goal is not only to help children point to what they want, but also to make sure they can share information, comment, and request.

“We believe every child needs a way to communicate, but also a way to type, a way to write, because not every child is going to write their answers the way we want them to,” Nerland said.

Whether it’s gestures, low-tech or high-tech, Morozova said all these different types of augmentative communication serve a purpose.

“We don’t necessarily want a child to stop using gestures,” Morozova said. “Sometimes AC communication is not 100 percent reliable. If someone is saying ‘I like it’, but they’re clearly in distress, we’re still going to take advantage of the information we get from gestures. But we communicate through a variety of functions. We don’t just communicate for requesting. We express our emotions ,we protest, we like to share information.”

If a child can’t consistently rely on verbal communication, Morozova said the augmentative system they’re using must have capacity to express more than just “I want ball” or “more” or “all done.”

“There’s more language that has to go into it,” Morozova said.

In order to make communication more effective, Morozova and Nerland said children must have fun.

“There’s more to life than just ‘I want to go to the bathroom,’” Nerland said. “It’s about getting these kids motivated to talk. It has to be exciting. You want to generate fun activities for them to communicate.”

Nerland adds that most classrooms focus on teaching academics, but she has never met a  kid who is motivated to learn about shapes, colors or days of the week.

“Most of the time when I work with teachers, that’s what they want the children to communicate,” Nerland said. “That’s great. I want them to be able to share what they know. But I have to yet to meet a kid that says ‘Ohh circle.’”

If teachers talk about a more fun topic like the weather, Nerland said kids get more motivated.

“I just saw a kid two week ago. When it was raining, that’s what he wanted to talk about,” Nerland said. “He was saying ‘rain, rain, rain.’ He was our little weather report guy.”