Midwestern University SLP Students, Faculty Work to Promote Autism Awareness and Literacy

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October 30, 2023 | Downers Grove, IL

Local educators look over visuals to incorporate into the classroom when they work with children with autism.

As part of Midwestern University’s commitment to providing community service and healthcare education, the Speech-Language Pathology Program on the Downers Grove Campus has been instrumental in fostering autism awareness and promoting literacy. Two recent community events underscored this commitment. Faculty from the program presented a community information session on autism and worked with the Midwestern University student chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) as well as faculty and students from the Physician Assistant program, on the Reading Rockstars event and book drive to help children with literacy.

Faculty members Cindy Krizizke, M.S., CCC-SLP, Clinical Assistant Professor, Speech-Language Pathology, Judy Ball, M.S., CCC-SLP, Clinical Associate Professor, Speech-Language Pathology, and Audrey Bowlds, M.S., CCC-SLP, Clinical Assistant Professor, Speech-Language Pathology presented lectures on autism at the Cicero Community Center during a school institute day. This event was attended by teachers, teacher assistants, and other members of the educational system. “We had a nice mix of brand new and seasoned teachers. We had feedback from the teachers before they came as far as their concerns, and what they were hoping to get out of this,” Ms. Krizizke noted. She explained that the Midwestern University faculty prepared a lot of visual examples to help teachers better accommodate children diagnosed with or exhibiting characteristics of autism in their classrooms. These materials included schedules with play times, and strategies for teaching the children to point at pictures to help them communicate.

Ms. Ball advises community attendees about different methods to use with children.

Other children might have sensory issues, Ms. Krizizke said. “Some kids do not like to touch certain things and have difficulty going from one activity to another. We help those children engage with different sensory experiences.” She also emphasized the importance of communicating with parents. It is “a collaborative effort on how to work with the parent.” Educators should let the parents know the methods they use to help children at school in order for parents to incorporate the same methods at home. The teachers were also informed about different ways to speak to parents and how to broach sensitive topics, such as special education classes. Ms. Krizizke and Ms. Ball also provided online sources of support as well.

Ms. Krizizke shared, “With COVID, these little ones have had a different experience than most little ones in the past. If it looks like the characteristics of autism, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is autism.” She added there are other factors to consider such as family background, experiences, and that it may be the first time the children are in a group with other kids. “Get to know the child first and give the child to acclimate to the new classroom. Having a language delay can be the result of a number of factors.”

The teachers attending the lecture also had the opportunity to ask specific questions and receive advice. “They have a resource. We made that connection, and talked about how we can further collaborate. We understand what they’re doing and we’re here to support them. Hopefully, we left them with specific ideas. I heard them say I will try this method with a certain student,” Ms. Krizizke said. In the future, Ms. Ball said she hopes to expand this event to include graduate students. “We hope to have them come in and have some experience working with students, give a presentation, and continue to partner with the teachers in providing the services.”

Speech-Language Pathology and Physician Assistant students and faculty collaborated to encourage literacy in children.

Midwestern University students also volunteered at a Reading Rockstars program with The Children’s Center at St. Pius Church. At this event, there were 12 stations, organized according to different age groups from infants to nine years old, were staffed by a Speech-Language Pathology student and a Physician Assistant student to encourage literacy among the children. Ms. Ball said, “We’re promoting fun with reading. You don’t have to wait until the child is learning to read, starting young promotes that desire and interest.” Ms. Krizizke added, “What we want them to see is reading can be fun. For kids that can’t read yet, you can still look at the pictures, talk about the pictures, and create an art activity with the book. Reading doesn’t have to be sitting and listening to the book. Act things out.” Ms. Ball added, “The students also did a book drive so people could turn in lightly used or new books.” Over 200 books were collected and featured popular characters in English and Spanish, other characters of several ethnicities, classic staples such as “Good Night Moon,” and renowned series such as “The Babysitter’s Club.” The children chose two or three books. Ms. Krizizke said, “They were really looking at every book and wanted to make a good choice. The younger children were happy they got books, and the older kids were excited to get chapter books.”

Books were available for children ranging in age from infants to nine-year-olds.

Ms. Ball spoke further about the event and interdepartmental collaboration between Speech-Language Pathology and Physician Assistant faculty and students. “One of the things that stood out to me was the Physician Assistant students learning about our program and our students, and the Speech-Language Pathology students having to understand why the Physician Assistant students are doing what they’re doing. The faculty also worked together and got to know faculty they don’t work with on a regular basis.” Ms. Ball was pleased with the reception, and she was happy to receive emails from parents who enjoyed the program.
Community service and interdepartmental collaboration are integral components of the Midwestern University experience. Midwestern University offers Speech-Language Pathology programs in Downers Grove and Glendale.