DeKalb, IL – It can be challenging for teenagers to advocate for themselves, and even more challenging for those with a disability diagnosis. Members of NIU’s Speech-Language-Hearing Clinichope to change that with Ignite, a new program being launched in 2023.
“As a clinician at the NIU Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic, I often hear from families and school professionals that there are not enough opportunities specifically designed to empower and support middle school-aged students,” said Allison Gladfelter, professor of speech-language pathology. “We teamed up with RAMP, a non-profit organization that promotes independent living and self-advocacy to offer RAMP’s Ignite curriculum at our clinic.”
Ignite is a student empowerment program designed for students ages 10 to 16. The program is being made possible thanks to a generous donation to the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders from John and Audrey Chiricotti, who are both NIU alumni.
“We are thankful to be the recipients of the Chiricotti’s continued generosity,” said Sherrill Morris, chair, School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders. “For many years, they have provided scholarship funding for exceptional students studying speech-language pathology.”
Morris said that this year, their impact will have an exponential effect in that multiple students and faculty will participate in the innovative and interdisciplinary Ignite program. Moreover, adolescents in the community will benefit from the services the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic are able to provide.
Anna Cannone, professor of speech-language pathology, said their team realized that explicitly teaching self-advocacy is a fundamental skill that participants with disabilities can benefit from.
“A person’s ambitions, career and personal goals, and experiences will be negatively impacted if they feel incapable of getting their needs met,” Cannone said. “Partnering with RAMP to implement Ignite will help us use neuro-affirming therapy to teach the students skills they can use across all stages of life.”
The professors and speech-language pathologists speak from experience. Gladfelter has over 15 years of clinical experience supporting children and has led the NIU Autism Caregiver Group for seven years. In turn, Cannone has over six years of experience providing speech-language services with pediatrics in diverse settings and co-runs the autism diagnostic team with Gladfelter.
Gladfelter said the program has two main objectives: to empower students to learn how to advocate for themselves and to help students transition into high school/begin high school with the tools needed to be successful.
“One of the goals is to encourage students to confidently attend their own Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings,” Gladfelter said. “It’s important for students to attend to have their voice heard as decisions about their academic accommodations, modifications, and transition plans are made.”
In addition, the Ignite program is designed to help students adjust to high school by focusing on successful study habits, personal goal-setting skills, and understanding how communication and personality styles influence their academic and social success.
While they are currently seeking community members to participate in the Ignite program, Gladfelter said the program will also help a future generation of clinicians.
“Opportunities like this are also really important for our graduate speech-language pathology clinicians,” Gladfelter said. “Many of our graduates go on to work in schools or clinical settings that serve middle school students; getting firsthand experiences working with this population will set them up to be strong clinicians and leaders in their communities.”
Stephanie Good Salas, a graduate student in NIU speech-language pathology program, shared the sentiment.
“I am very excited to be part of this incredible program designed to empower teenagers to develop self-advocacy skills and navigate the world as they transition into adulthood,” Good Salas said. “I’m honored to be a small part of this crucial time in their lives.”
NIU graduate student, Olivia Zimmermann, agreed.
“Self-advocacy is a difficult skill for anybody to utilize and is one of the most necessary skills we take with us into our adult lives,” Zimmermann said. “Opportunities like Ignite are a great way to learn how to advocate in a collaborative and supportive environment. I hope that participants in this program enjoy the opportunity to celebrate themselves and the future visions they are building.”
The program is seeking students (ages 10 to 16) with a disability diagnosis who are interested in self-empowerment and advocacy to join the NIU Ignite program. Classes meet on Wednesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the NIU Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic. Dates for 2023 include: 1/25, 2/8, 2/22, 3/8, 3/22, 4/5, 4/19 and 5/3.
Learn More: NIUnewsroom
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