Call of the Wild: Adventures in Sewing Circles

Houses in Kotzebue

Houses in Kotzebue

This was my 9th trip to the NW Arctic and also my hardest. February is still my favorite time of the year here, but I was beyond exhausted by the end. A winter storm  occurred while I was in Selawik, which meant no flights in or out and thus a missed flight home to Portland. The nice thing about being in a winter storm in the Arctic is that there isn't a lot of differences between a stormy day and a regular day, except for the sunshine. There are no roads, heading to the school on a snow mobile or four wheeler is still possible, so there aren't any school closures. I walked to the store on the evening of the storm and aside from walking into a robust wind, it felt very similar to any other walk I’ve taken here. Another wrinkle in my plans was that the internet was down in the village, which made the isolation so much more palpable.  

Luckily, the plane out of Selawik the following day was heading up river, which meant I was able to see three remote villages that I had never seen before (Shungek, Ambler, and Kobuk). The plane was full, so I was able to be in the jump seat (next to the pilot) which afforded me the best views. Thankfully, the pilot was very experienced and I later learned had flown in Iraq. The pilots here are exemplary and I am thankful every flight for their experience and expertise. I was especially thankful on this trip as the runways weren't able to be plowed very well due to the bulldozers being snowed into their parking places. Exciting!

Since I am a speech language pathologist who only comes in every other month, evaluation or new and existing students can easily get behind. For many different reasons, I had to administer 9 evaluations in 4 days in addition to providing direct service to my regular kiddos while in Selawik. Luckily, I was able to take a break when I was invited to a sewing circle recently formed in the village. Projects ranged from re-sewing a Parki to finishing up a pair of mukluks for a small child -- so cute! I was given several tasks, including making a beaded bracelet and sewing appliqués on the underside of my ruff to make it more “feminine." The thread I was given was waxy and strong; used primarily for sewing fur. By far, this was my favorite activity on the visit. Becoming friends in the village takes a long time, especially as an itinerant specialist, so I was happy to be invited and involved. Although my sewing skills are basic to say the least, I was thankful to meet so many friendly and wonderful ladies.

I’ll see you in April for my last trip of the year!  

Sara Ecker's ongoing series documenting her trips to Northwest Arctic Borough, AK as a traveling Speech Language Pathologist

Hi!  I’m Sara Ecker and I am a speech-language pathologist in search of exploration and adventure.  Last year I found the ultimate assignment as a SLP in the Northwest Arctic Borough, Alaska. This year, I invite you to come along with me as I blog about my experiences in the Great White North. Join me as I travel to remote villages, survive extreme conditions and learn about the rewards and challenges of therapy 30 miles above the Arctic Circle. (You can read all of my prior entries here.)

5 Ways to Support Carry-Over and Work Towards Dismissing Students with Articulation Goals

At any given point in the year, there are always a couple students with articulation goals on my caseload who stand out as “short-timers”, those who are close to meeting their goals. Maybe they are working on that last target sound, and they’ve got it in words and sentences. Often they are the ones who are acting out or getting silly in our small group. The structured articulation exercises are no longer as challenging for them as they once were.

This is when I start looking for ways to push them towards graduation from speech! I address this with great excitement - parents and teachers can be quite supportive at this point when they are given direct instructions on what to do. Students also may give it some extra effort when they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. A change in the way we serve these students - either in schedule or environment - is a signal to everyone that we are nearing the end!

So what should we do differently in this final stage of therapy? I always look for ways to get more “bang for my effort-buck”. Just practicing common words with the target sound in a different environment is usually not enough. I choose words, phrases, and passages that will be repeated even when I'm not there. For example, reading aloud from a choice book and practicing target sounds as they come up is fine, but there is little to remind the student of this exercise next time they pick up the book.  If, on the other hand, I choose target words from a passage that the student will read repeatedly over the coming week - think 6-Minute Solution, Read Naturally, or a partner-reading program, especially if you can highlight or mark the words in some way - and I have created an automatic reminder for the student to think about and practice speech sounds in my absence. 

Here are 5 ideas for extending your reach beyond the therapy room and creating automatic reminders for students generalizing articulation targets: 

  1. Oral reading exercises in the classroom - Repeated reading is a method commonly used to build fluency. Ask classroom teachers what passages students are using for this. Ideally, you could spend 10 minutes reviewing the passage and marking target words at the beginning of the week, and another 10 minutes at the end of the week. 
  2. Spelling or vocabulary words - Just like repeated reading, a spelling or vocabulary list usually represents words that will be used and studied and repeated over the course of the week. Remembering their speech sounds while they're learning the spelling or definitions might even help cement the new learning!
  3. Review the lunch menu - If students have to talk to their teacher or cafeteria staff about lunch choices, this can also be an opportunity to practice. Review the lunch menu for the week, highlighting target sounds and challenging combinations. Maybe the student could even have a job announcing the day's lunch choices to his class?
  4. The Pledge of Allegiance or learning a poem - The Pledge of Allegiance may offer an opportunity to practice speech sounds, but if the student doesn't really know all the words or the words are too unfamiliar it might not work out. In this case, try a fun poem that the student can learn little by little and recite for friends and family - or just repeat for practice!
  5. Reach out to others for ideas! If you explain to parents and teachers what you are looking for - phrases and passages that the student will be working with repeatedly over some period of time - they may be able to think of opportunities you didn't know about. Watch for words that are too automatic, though! Names or common phrases like 'let's see...' or 'I don't know' may be spoken without enough thought. Look for language the student has to slow down and think about, manipulate, or learn something about! 

Any of the above ideas may also involve a schedule change. Can you redistribute their service time? 10-minute check-ins during independent work time or when the teacher introduces the new reading unit? Maybe it makes sense to decrease service time? If there is concern about reducing services before a student has fully reached his goals, provide reassurance that you will continue taking data, and making adjustments as needed. 

Meanwhile celebrate the hard work that has gotten the student this far. And keep your own work fresh and interesting by always looking for new solutions. 

Free Infographic! The Special Education Process

If you've been in this special education business for any time at all, you've likely had the experience of trying to explain The Process to someone with no background knowledge -- and failing miserably at it. Maybe you offer too much detail (guilty), maybe you over-simplify, maybe you get caught in a web of "but, if . . ." It seems like no matter what I do, I somehow end up making the whole thing sound more complicated and convoluted than necessary (and we all know it's complicated and convoluted enough all on it's own). 

Enter our new Special Education Process infographic.

I've cobbled together a few sped flow charts on my own over the years, but this graphic, lovingly put together by our graphic designer Meagan, puts all of my previous efforts to shame. Click on the image if you'd like to see it larger in your browser, and, if you'd like to download it as a pdf, click on the black button down below. Check it out, share it, and let us know what you think! 

"Never heard 'me' before": Using Technology to Give People Their Own Voice

Famed physicist Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with ALS when he was a student at Oxford University, and lost his ability to speak long before he was done sharing his thoughts with the world.  He was given a speech generating device (SGD) to help him express himself through augmentative communication. While his device has given him the ability to speak about his many groundbreaking theories, there has always been a bit of a hiccup: he is from England, but his device has an American accent. 


Most users of speech generated devices have a limited choice of pre-programmed digitized voices that speak for them when they are accessing a communication system. Unfortunately, these voices may not match their age, regional dialect, or personality.

Rupal Patel, a former speech pathologist who is now founder and director of the Communication Analysis and Design Laboratory (CadLab), has committed her professional life to ensure that every SGD user has their own voice in a way that had never been done before.


Along with her team, Dr. Patel has created a program that will allow users of speech generated devices to embed their own voice within a digitized speech output system so that their own voice can be heard. In her TED talk, she states, "We wouldn't dream of fitting a little girl with the prosthetic limb of a grown man, so why would we do this with the same prosthetic voice?"  

I saw Dr. Patel speak at the annual American Speech-Language & Hearing Association (ASHA) conference in November, and it was inspiring to see how scientists are using technology to improve the lives of people who literally don't have their own voice.  

As one boy stated when he was given his own voice on a SGD, "Never heard me before."  What's even better, you can help!  Watch Dr. Patel's moving TED talk and find out how you can help to give each person their own voice. 

March 2015 THF Clinician of the Month

Lucinda joined our team over 7 years ago, a talented clinician with a variety of work experiences under her belt. Little did she know that she would go on to have opportunities working with students and clients aged preschool to adult, in locations from Oregon to the arctic circle, in ’traditional’ models, Hello There, and online!

Across these settings, Lucinda has consistently stretched to meet new demands, learn new skills, and develop new ideas. Her current placement as an assistive technology consultant uses all these talents in a new and unique way, so well suited to her flexibility and experience! At Hello, we love that she shares her knowledge with her colleagues. She is involved in our internal online community and frequently has resources and recommendations for co-workers. Lucinda, your continuous efforts toward high quality service benefit all those around you!

Thank you, Lucinda, for providing quality service! Congratulations on being our March 2015 THF Clinician of the Month!