Times are Changing

Well…it’s that time again. All of my colleagues in Chapel Hill are preparing their classrooms and offices for the start of another school year. I write this with a heavy heart because I will not be joining them. 

Over the summer, my little family and I packed up and moved to Michigan. We wanted to be closer to family for our baby and a job opportunity came up that was too good to pass by. 

I am now a SLP specializing in AAC in outpatient pediatrics at the University of Michigan Hospital System. 

It hasn’t been an easy switch. I feel like a CF again! In NC, I had all of the processes and paperwork down. In MI, I feel like I’m starting from scratch. It’s been quite the learning curve figuring out insurance and how to navigate such a huge system. Everyone says it will get better. 

I’ve been there for less than a month and I’ve already gotten my hands on some pretty cool devices. I’m learning how to program a lot of different systems and navigate insurance funding. On Wednesday, I had two separate families ask me if I knew of Dr. Karen Erickson. They were thrilled to know that I actually do know her and had the distinct pleasure of working with her in the schools. 

I miss NC like crazy, but I’m trying to stay open to the possibilities that UofM has to offer. I can already tell that I’m a better clinician after this move.

Who knows what’s next? 

For now, I’m going to try not to mess up the documentation too bad, enjoy treating a broad range of patients, and focus on my AAC eval and treatment skills. 

Good luck to the staff and students returning to CHCC this fall! 

“I’m going to Carolina in my mind…”


AAC Devices: Tip of the Iceberg There’s More to Good AAC Implementation Than Meets the Eye

By Ruth Morgan M.S. CCC-SLP  and Ashley Robinson M.S. CCC-SLP, ATP


How often have you heard this?:  “I saw XYZ new device and I think it would be great for my student,” or “Last night I saw XYZ device on tv and it was a miracle!”

High tech AAC devices are just the tip of the iceberg of things that need to be in place to make students successful communicators. Here are 10 other key components.


Image by Ruth Morgan. Use but PLEASE CREDIT

    1. Systematically organized core and fringe vocabulary. Here are some examples:
    2. Peer language models. This doesn’t even have to be other device users. Kids need to see other kids using language.
    3. Opportunities for functional communication (including commenting, asking questions, greetings/salutations, requesting, and rejecting). Not just making choices
      • The Communication Matrix is one of many tools that allows you to see a range of communicative functions
    4. Data collection methods
    5. Lite Tech backups should always be in place for high tech devices. Batteries tend to die at the most inopportune times.
    6. Room for growth. Students need to be able to combine symbols to make more complex language. Always be thinking ahead.
    7. IEPs with SMART goals
    8. Training and planning time for staff. This is crucial!!!
    9. Adult modeling of AAC use.
    10. Stakeholder support (including parents and administration) for funding of devices and implementation of all of the above!


If teams focus solely on the device (the tip of the iceberg), then you may very well end up with a really expensive book end or fancy choice board.  What’s underneath the surface is vital to successful implementation.


Author Bios:

Ruth Morgan is a full-time speech language pathologist at Ephesus Elementary school and author of Chapel Hill Snippets. You can find her materials on Teachers Pay Teachers.


Ashley Robinson splits her time between providing speech language pathology services at the secondary level and working as part of the district Assistive Technology team. 


2015 NCACA Conference Handouts: Building Classroom Communities to Support AAC Users

I had the distinct pleasure of presenting at the 2015 NCACA Conference in Winston-Salem NC (my first time ever!). It was an honor to be a part of a conference with people that I truly look up to and see the great work they are doing all over the state.

During my presentation, I outlined the training process I have been using in my district this year. Basically, I am working to help classroom teachers build a foundation to support AAC users in the classroom. This is not where I’m going to end up, but it’s a start.

Check it out!

NCACA 2015 Conference

Blank AAC Training Plan

Completed AAC Training Plan

Communication Environments: Part 1


The first thing I wanted to do was get my stakeholders on board. Since I am trying to disseminate information across the district, I established a group for speech language pathologists (SLPs) in my district who work with students who use AAC (or would benefit from AAC use). This could easily be applied to professionals who work in a school setting. Basically – just get together the people who you will need to enlist to help carry out the process.

We meet once per month as part of already scheduled SLP meetings. I know not everybody has regular scheduled SLP meetings, so I would suggest looking into alternative times where people are already gathering – faculty meetings perhaps? I know this is an added thing, but I’ve found it so helpful and our group has grown in the last three meetings!

Our first meeting focused on brainstorming topics that we wanted to discuss. This was helpful for me to see what the concerns were across the district. Funding, consistency, and equity were some of the issues that came up. These issues are going to take time, and I don’t have the answers off the top of my head. Luckily, I work with a great group of SLPs who can help me figure it out.

Since our first meeting, we have met three times. I’m following a plan set by Lauren Enders on my favorite AAC website – PraAACtical AAC. Our first topic included a crash course in vocabulary organization.

I mostly pulled from information from the UNC Center for Literacy and Disability Studies but also included information on PODD. I realize that these are not the only two, but I wanted to hit on the two that we see the most right now. Remember: this is just our starting point…

The topic we discussed at this training was my idea for getting some resources in the classroom. Luckily the grant was funded!!!! Stay tuned for more information on that!

What vocabulary organization resources have you found?


It’s that time of year to stop and reflect on what we are thankful for. Today I got some WONDERFUL news and I want to thank those who made it possible.

The grant I wrote was funded!!!!

Thanks to the generosity of the Public School Foundation and A Better Image Printing in Chapel Hill, all system level teachers in my district will have resources to support the instruction of our low verbal and nonverbal students. It’s actually happening!




Stay tuned for Phase 1…

Creating Communication Communities in the Classroom

Is that enough of a tongue twister for you?

I haven’t had much time lately, but I want to fill you in on what’s happening.

I’ll go back to the beginning. Over the summer I was able to attend a PODD workshop. It was AMAZING! You can find a link to that post here. While the information on creating and implementing PODD systems in the classroom was important, what really stood out to me was the information Gayle Porter provided on creating an environment that supports aided communication. In our excitement to get students a communication system, I think we forget to really spend time building a foundation to support device use. I am guilty of this – think back to my huge PODD role out last year. Spoiler alert – it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. Mostly because I was not able to provide the NECESSARY staff development to make it work.

This year I’m really taking my time to build that foundation in my school district. Of course I am still working to address AAC referrals, but I’m walking a parallel path of providing resources and professional development regarding AAC use. I want to empower school staff – not just dump one more thing on their plates.

I want to share this journey with you. I’m thinking a series of posts that details my steps along the way will be the most useful. While these aren’t new ideas (there are all kinds of resources out there on this topic), I want to make sure that I am telling the real story from the view of a public school employee.

Let me know what you think!


Whew… This year has been off to a fast and furious start. I’ve started at a new middle school, picked up where I left off at the high school, and my time on the Assistive Technology (AT) team has increased! The increase in AT time has given me an opportunity to really tackle some projects to support our AAC users (and the professionals that work with them). Here are the two major projects that have consumed most of my time:

1. AAC support group for our SLPs that work with students who are using/could benefit from AAC. It’s a great way to share information and evidence based practices, and we talk about what’s working/not working for us. We’ve had our first meeting, and have the next one in a couple of weeks. This seems to be a success and I’m going to go ahead and add it to the win column.

2. Grant writing. After the PODD roll out didn’t go so well (due to my lack of availability to train staff), I thought it was time to take a step back. At the PODD training over the summer, Gayle Porter talked about the need to establish communicative environments for our AAC users. This foundation is KEY and I realized that I skipped this step last year. So, this year I’m going to change it up and support our professionals to effectively work with AAC users. That’s where the grant writing comes in. I’m writing a grant to our Public School Foundation to purchase materials for teachers to implement with their AAC users.

I will blog more about this in detail later, but the major points are:
* Professional development on myths/misconceptions of AAC users
* Professional development on the importance of aided language input
* Core vocabulary training
* Creating core vocabulary boards for teachers to use in the classroom

It’s important for me to really support teachers and staff, instead of adding one more thing to their unending list of demands. I don’t want this to be just one more thing, but something that teachers can easily put in place and will really make a difference for our AAC kids. I’ll keep you posted on how it all turns out.

Has anyone else done training like this before? Any info is helpful!

Camp Chatterbox Wrap Up


After a full week, I have recovered enough to blog about my week at Camp Chatterbox. To summarize my experience in one word – it was amazing. If you’re interested in the nitty gritty details, read on…

I left on a Friday morning and drove 11 hours!!! Yes, what was supposed to be a 7 hour drive took me 4 extra hours. This was because I didn’t know to expect major Friday night traffic on the Jersey Turnpike. Lesson learned. Once I finally made it to camp, I got to know my bunk mates. I shared a space with four other camp related personnel. The coolest thing about this was how immersed you were in the AAC culture. We talked about it at night before turning out the light, and brought it up first thing in the (very early) morning.

We spent Saturday and Sunday morning in training and preparing for the campers and families to arrive. That feeling of anticipation was the hardest for me. I just wanted everyone to get there. Finally, the campers arrived on Sunday afternoon and we had an awesome kick off event. Joan Bruno, camp director, planned an awesome theme – Road trip New Jersey. We started off in Hoboken with a Cake Boss themed introduction. All week we had cool New Jersey activities that culminated in the Ms. New Jersey pageant (in Atlantic City). The amount of detail and work that went into planning these activities was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. All of the families had attended the camp previously, but everyone was so welcoming and supportive. I cannot thank them enough for the kindness, patience, and acceptance I felt.

I worked with an awesome teacher and a great group of teens. Earlier this year I attended a PODD training with Gayle Porter. She said that it was important to talk to competent AAC users and boy did I meet some competent users there. I met an author, an artist/inventor, a world traveler, a budding entrepreneur, and a number of other great people. All individuals who use AAC. I left with many new friends and lots of connections.

In summary, camp was a lot of work. I was exhausted and spent most of last week trying to catch up on sleep (while starting a new school year). It was worth it. I had an incredible experience. I can’t even describe the feeling of being totally immersed in an AAC world. The number one lesson I learned was to SHUT UP! Just stop talking and let things happen. Good advice for anyone.





Three days! On Friday, I will be driving to NJ to spend a week at Camp Chatterbox. I’m so excited and a little nervous to try something new so far from home. I know it will be a great experience and I can’t wait to blog about it when I get back. At the PODD training I attended earlier this summer, Gayle Porter said that it was important to talk to individuals who are competent AAC users.  I know that I will have the pleasure to meet lots of individuals who use lots of different types of communication devices. It’s gong to be a blast and I’m looking forward to soaking up all of the information I can. In preparation, I read a book by a former camper  from Camp Chatterbox. It’s a lovely work of fiction about a young girl with CP who goes to camp for 10 days. I loved it and got some insight on what to expect (I have never been to an overnight camp). The book is called Dancing Daisies by Sara Pyszka. You can find her website here and a link to the book on Amazon here. I’m looking forward to meeting Sara and all the campers and staff at Camp Chatterbox. Stay tuned for updates on how it goes!