Speech and Language
Most Gateway students are nonverbal or severely limited in their ability to use and understand spoken language. Our mission is to develop our students functional communication skills in any way possible, enabling all students to make choices, express their wants and needs, interact socially with other people, and better understand their world. Learning to communicate basic wants and needs gives students control over their lives, reduces frustration and negative behaviors, motivates further communication, and frees energy for further learning.
Students use a wide variety of communication strategies. Some use manual signs, some use object-symbols (for instance, a cup could mean "snack time"), and many use picture-symbols. Picture communication may mean handing a picture of pretzels to the teacher at snack time, touching a picture on a switch to say "good morning," pointing to pictures on a language board to request and comment during play, or using a sophisticated electronic voice-output communication device to do schoolwork or chat with friends.
For the many students who have poor understanding of spoken language, object-symbols or picture-symbols can show them the sequence of activities during their day, reducing anxiety and resistance at times of transition. Picture-symbols can also help students understand task and behavioral expectations and remind them of appropriate ways to communicate in different situations. Because pictures don't rapidly disappear, like spoken words, visual communication is very helpful even for students who have some speech.
Speech/language services include consultation with classroom teachers about individual student needs and about how to arrange the classroom to facilitate communication for all; direct therapy with individual students or groups; creation of picture-symbol communication arrays for individual students; programming of students' communication devices; working with physical and occupational therapists to determine the best way for students with physical impairments to access switches or voice-output devices; and the creation of varied contexts for students to practice functional and social communication, from cooking pancakes to playing interactive games to reading adapted story books. We may also serve as consultants in the assessment and management of feeding problems related to oral motor deficits, but our primary focus is on functional communication for all students.