Our Stories

ASHA-certified professionals are committed providing the highest quality care. Read below to learn more about how some of our members are making a positive difference in their patients’ lives.

Speech language pathologist Emily Kinsler helps students learn valuable life skills by venturing outside the classroom to explore the world and their passions

As a speech language pathologist and Coordinator of Countywide Services in Howard County, Maryland, Emily Kinsler knows some lessons don’t come from a textbook. She came to that realization early in her career while running social skills groups for adolescents on the autism spectrum who had trouble communicating verbally. Whenever she worked with them on how to interact socially, classroom time always seemed too short. She needed more hours in the week to help them gain valuable skills for communicating, making friends, and finding jobs.

She also believed that by observing students in settings that resembled their lives outside of school, she and other educators would be able to better understand how to boost each student’s social skills. Students could benefit from the real-life settings, too.

“There is some level of appropriate behavior when we are out in the community and interacting with others,” says Emily. “So being able to talk about and see what is appropriate in regular conversations and why it’s appropriate makes students more independent.”

With permission from parents, Emily created the Leisure Time Activity Group. Students and some of Emily’s friends whom she had managed to recruit as chaperones hopped in the school van one Saturday a month and went to bowling allies, corn mazes, arcades, baseball games, lunch spots and museums. Often, the students gave input on where they wanted to go.

Over the course of the program’s two-year run, the impact was significant and clear. Emily remembers one particular student who knew all about fires and fire prevention. A trip to a Rockville, Maryland fire station gave him the chance to come out of his shell.

“He was just so excited,” Emily says. “They were speaking his language.”

Throughout the experience, the student was just a regular kid — because of the practice he’d had on the monthly outings and his passion for the topic at hand. People talking to him might not have known he was on the autism spectrum or had any difficulty speaking and interacting with others, Emily says.

“People spend a lot of time making connections with each other, and these kids have a weakness in their ability to do that” Emily says. “By giving them a chance to work on it in a natural setting, we give them more opportunities to see what’s out there and what they’re capable of doing.”

Speaking Their Language – Helping Autism Patients Develop Social Skills

Speech-language pathologist Dr. Fred DiCarlo, assistant professor and clinical supervisor at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, draws on the arts to enhance communication skills and inspire new confidence in clients and patients with speech-language disabilities. 

“Quite often, when someone loses the ability to communicate, they become invisible,” observes Fred. “But when you give them an outlet that allows them to express themselves another way, people look at them in a different light.”

Fred works every day to inject a sense of creativity into the lives of his clients, most of whom have aphasia or Parkinson’s disease, and his speech-language-pathology graduate student clinicians. His lifelong passion for the arts motivated him to earn an undergraduate minor in theatre and dance, and he knows how the arts can increase social interactions and instill confidence and self-esteem.

“I think it’s really on the clinician to be creative when developing treatment plans that foster communication and engage clients,” he says. “That’s why I try and pull from the creative components of music, art and acting to motivate my clients to interact.”

When it comes to using the arts to treat his clients, Fred considers these events most memorable:

Introducing the Parkinson’s Players

To give some of his Parkinson’s clients the opportunity to tell their stories comfortably, Fred invited them to compose and later perform dramatic monologues that described their experiences with their disability. The idea came to him as an ode to the Vagina Monologues, an off-Broadway play in New York that tells individual stories of the” feminine experience”. The play inspired Fred to present monologues that instead would show the “Parkinson’s experience.”

The result was The Parkinson’s Players, a group of adults who participated in a weekly support and treatment group at NSU that not only helped them deal with their struggles with speech and language, but also turned them into actors with a capital A. By the time the players stood on the university stage and delivered their soliloquies to a 150-person audience, they were speaking with a clarity, conviction and confidence Fred always knew would surface if they had a more creative platform to express themselves.

… And the Aphasia Dancers

Several years later, when Fred became actively involved with an aphasia group at NSU in 2015, he found out two of his aphasia clients were ballroom dancers who came to life on the dance floor. Aphasia is a communication disorder that results from damage to the parts of the brain that contain speech and language, making it very difficult for individuals to communicate and engage with others.

It struck Fred that learning the waltz and foxtrot could nudge other aphasic clients out of their shells, too, and move them to interact and talk to others. When his clients agreed to give it a go, the “Dancing with the Aphasia Group Stars” show was born.

Over the course of a semester, Fred’s seasoned ballroom-dancer aphasic clients taught others the steps while he and his graduate student clinicians planned an event modeled on the Dancing with the Stars TV show. While they learned to dance, the clients followed specific instructions and used words tailored to their needs.

In the end, more than 50 people attended, from faculty members and students to clients and their families. After the dancing, the judging (by two speech-language pathologists and an occupational therapist) and the awarding of winners’ trophies, one patient’s spouse stood up to share her ultimate praise for the show and care received by her and her husband.

“Dr. DiCarlo, students, NSU, you changed our lives. You make every day worth getting up for. Now my husband is talking more and is more engaged.”

The effort proved so successful colleagues in Fred’s department have come to look to him for ways to inspire clients’ communication skills through creativity. He hopes his artistic movement in future therapeutic projects will continue and include those from other disciplines to foster inter-professional education and practice at NSU.

“It’s been a chain reaction ever since that show happened in December of 2016,” he says. “My plan now is to, at least once a year, have some artistic project that will showcase the students, the clients and NSU.”

Creativity at Work: How an ASHA-certified SLP Inspires Patients with the Arts

Audiologist Julie Martinez Verhoff says a team approach helps her get to know patients and find the right treatment for each

Julie Martinez Verhoff thinks of herself as not just an audiologist, but also a listener and a coaxer of stories.

“All of the kids I work with have some story,” says Julie, who in March 2017 became director of pediatric audiology at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Florida. “No child just has hearing loss.”

Stories, in other words, give a picture of the whole child. And understanding a child’s story, Julie says, requires multiple points of view. Previously, she was director of audiology at The River School in Washington, D.C., an infant through third grade independent school that includes children with hearing loss in every classroom. In that role, Julie served on a team of occupational therapists, audiologists, speech language pathologists, educators and psychologists.

“I’m not sure I could have done my job unless we had each other and each other’s expertise,” she says. “If I worked with a parent and heard something that sounded like a red flag, I could walk down the hall and talk to someone about it. I rely on getting second opinions from professionals who know more about a subject than I do.”

For each child with hearing and language disabilities, Julie and her team pieced together a narrative that enabled them to ensure students got exactly the treatment they needed, with parents actively engaged in the process.

Bundle of Issues

One 18-month-old child had difficulty with balance, speech and language development because of hearing loss caused by meningitis. Julie and her team knew immediately where to start. They observed how the child interacted with the surrounding world through each of the five senses. Then they observed, tested and treated the child to improve function and performance.

They came away with a story whose progression toward a solution involved the whole family. The parents soon enrolled in a 16-week parent-child interaction therapy course, in which psychologists coach parents on communicating with their kids. Because parents who have children with disabilities tend to treat and talk to them differently, it’s important to help guide those relationships and that language and support the family as best as possible, Julie says.

A Wrong Fit Righted

Another child, four years old at the time, wore a loaner hearing aid that didn’t work consistently — and that she didn’t want to wear. The child’s mother said she tried to get attention in dangerous ways, like unbuckling the car seat belt and running onto the road. The family’s finances were tight, which explained why the hearing aid was on loan and hadn’t been replaced. Furthermore, the parents were overwhelmed and the mother needed support and guidance.

Julie and her team devised a solution that combined tactics for managing the girl’s behavior and helping her hear consistently. Drawing on each person’s expertise, Julie managed to weave together a care approach that more properly framed the child’s diagnosis and subsequent treatment.

“Every story is important,” Julie says. “And every story can have a happy resolution that sets children and families up for a positive future.”

Finding Patients’ Stories to Pinpoint the Right Treatment