It’s About the Kids and Equity
Working for CHAT means more than simply offering speech-language services. It’s about effecting change for under-resourced and under-represented children whose communication disorders and differences contribute to their inequitable treatment. In this issue, two of CHAT’s newest SLPs, Kate Carlos and Ra Petty, share a bit of their journey to become SLPs, and why they are so thrilled to be serving the children that CHAT supports. Watch for features on our other new SLPs in future issues of The Chatter.
Much of Kate Carlos’ motivation to become an SLP and her decision to join CHAT were spurred during her experience assisting a family friend who worked as an SLP in the Akron public schools. “I was fortunate to help her a bit in the school setting,” said Kate. “It cemented for me the desire to be in a care-oriented career, and that I could make a difference in a child’s life.”
Receiving both her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Kate loves working with children of all ages. “I love being able to build up their skills and meet them where they are at,” says Kate. “Every little step is such a great accomplishment. With the little ones, it’s seeing their bright open faces, but many of my high school students truly inspire me by their sheer determination.” In fact, one of Kate’s high school clients recently brought her to tears when he proudly shared his first college acceptance letter with her.
Kate was drawn to CHAT because of its advocacy-centered approach to therapy. “It was amazing for me to find an organization in which I could use my SLP role to pursue a bigger purpose,” she explained. “Not only do we get to serve children that might not otherwise receive services, but through CHAT, I’m receiving exposure to what it takes to run the business side of a nonprofit. It’s all very complicated and so very important that an organization like CHAT exists for these kids.”
“Because so many of these kids were from low-income families, I became passionate about education equity, early childhood education, and increasing literacy and vocabulary skills for children so they wouldn’t start kindergarten behind their peers”Ra Petty
Ra Petty discovered their love for the field of speech-language pathology after a bit of soul searching their freshman and sophomore years as an undergraduate at Northwestern University. It was during an AmeriCorps program called JumpStart that Ra knew they had found what they loved. “That program was my absolute favorite part of my undergraduate years,” explained Ra. “We were able to work with these preschoolers on the language, literacy, and social-emotional skills required for kindergarten readiness. For three years I was able to work with some of these kids, and it was such a joy to watch them grow.”
“Because so many of these kids were from low-income families, I became passionate about education equity, early childhood education, and increasing literacy and vocabulary skills for children so they wouldn’t start kindergarten behind their peers,” said Ra. Becoming an SLP was the perfect career choice for blending Ra’s love of building relationships with these children and their interest in the science of speech and communication.
Coming to CHAT was instrumental to checking off Ra’s third career goal. “CHAT captures the side of equitable access to education and addresses the systemic barriers to services that all kids deserve that are so important to me,” Ra says. After receiving their SLP master’s degree from the University of Colorado, Ra is excited to be back in Chicagoland and diving into CHAT’s unique focus on advocacy, social justice and increasing equitable access to speech services.
Associate Board Connects CHAT to More Under-Served Communities
CHAT’s Associate Board is growing! We are thrilled to introduce you to three of its newest members, Victoria, Alanna, and Jill. Central to this group’s purpose, CHAT’s Associate Board members serve as ambassadors, connecting CHAT’s communication justice-minded practice to more communities that need their help.
Victoria del Real works as a Business Insights Analyst at Jump Trading, LLC. In her role, she is responsible for maintaining the firm’s global portfolio of leases, and serves as a liaison between the finance and legal departments as well as internal and external business stakeholders. Her Associate Board position at CHAT follows other volunteer roles serving people with disabilities. As an undergraduate at DePaul University, Victoria was an active member of Best Buddies, a global organization committed to ending social, physical, and economic isolation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “CHAT is a noble organization and it feels like the natural next step for me,” says Victoria. “I am eager to help make connections and use my network in communities that could really benefit from CHAT’s vital services.”
In addition to her professional experience, Victoria has watched a family member with autism struggle due to a general lack of understanding and support. “When you see firsthand the judgement of people who do not understand autism, it’s very upsetting,” says Victoria. “I think if we can spend more time educating the general public about autism and many other conditions, we will have a much more empathetic world.”
DEI is in her DNA. And according to Alanna Diggs, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) ought to be in everyone’s deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). “You really can’t separate DEI work from life,” says Alanna. “Unfortunately, in many organizations, DEI work sits off to the side when it really should be intertwined with every aspect of the organization’s culture.”
As a college student, Alanna received three years of diversity peer education, learning about systems of oppression, and providing workshops in the community to train individuals and organizations to understand and implement DEI in their everyday work and lives. She was able to offer her DEI knowledge in a corporate setting when she worked for Veterans United, a full-service VA mortgage loan company, by providing DEI advising and blogging on the issue for the company and its clients. As a Fulbright Scholar in Andorra and tutoring first generation students of color in Western literature, Alanna honed her teaching and DEI skills. “It’s difficult to understand To Kill a Mockingbird without teaching about slavery and the Jim Crow South,” said Alanna. Most recently as a development professional at the University of Chicago, Alanna was able to serve on the Senior Vice President’s Inaugural DEI Council.
“I’m so happy to be a part of CHAT’s Associate Board,” says Alanna. “With CHAT, DEI is the main tenant. It’s part of the mission and you can’t separate it. Making CHAT’s services accessible to all people is a big deal. Never turning anyone away is a big deal. Access to resources is a major step toward equality and we are all more powerful because of it.”
“Serving on CHAT’s Associate Board melds my passion for advocacy, outreach and social justice with my love for speech-language therapy.”— Jill Teitelbaum
You can see Jill Teitelbaum’s passion for children and the field of speech language pathology written all over her face when she talks about her profession and the little ones she serves. “I love being silly with the kids that I support,” says Jill. “For me, the job has always been about the amazing people I get to meet and the deep connections I have with my clients.”
As an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis and during her master’s program at Northwestern University in Chicago, Jill always found that she gravitated toward children. Through her many clinical rotations at Northwestern Jill found the Development and Diagnostic Program for children birth to three most motivating, leading to her first job as a pediatric SLP. She spent two years working in early intervention with a private practice in Chicago, loving the opportunity to be welcomed into so many families’ homes. And then the pandemic hit.
With family still in her home state of Maryland and a fiancé in New York, it made sense to move back to the east coast. “The move and the events of 2020 gave me a moment to think more deeply about my work, and what was missing in the SLP field that I love so much, especially in regard to the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Jill.
“There are so few SLPs of color and our profession really doesn’t reflect adequately the people we serve,” says Jill. “Serving on CHAT’s Associate Board melds my passion for advocacy, outreach and social justice with my love for speech-language therapy.” Even though she now works at a multidisciplinary K-12 nonprofit private school for children with speech and language delays in New York City, Jill is thrilled to use her ties to Chicagoland to make important connections in furtherance of CHAT’s mission.
Four-year-old Thrives Through Deep Connections to CHAT Therapists
“I love Miss Katie and Miss Ciara,” Nyla giggles when asked about her CHAT therapists. Having a dialog via Zoom is nothing new to this four-year-old, who regularly attends CHAT 1:1 therapy both in-person and via teletherapy.
Nyla’s mother, Angela, was deeply relieved when she found CHAT in early 2020, as Nyla approached her third birthday and with it, the end of her state-sponsored early intervention services. “I would not have been able to get the therapy that Nyla needs for her hyperlexia anywhere else,” says Angela. “CHAT is a special place. The therapists are phenomenal. There’s no doubt that this is the place for Nyla.”
Hyperlexia is a term that describes a child’s precocious ability to read far beyond what would be expected at their age or developmental level, and generally within the context of another developmental disorder. Children with hyperlexia often have a difficult time processing what is said to them, but are fortunate that their language learning can be supported by written language. For over 40 years, CHAT has been at the forefront of hyperlexia diagnosis and therapy.
“At first I thought I was hearing things,” explained Angela, of hearing a six-month-old Nyla humming and sounding out words to songs. “But by 11 months, she was recognizing letters, numbers and words.” As amazing as Nyla’s abilities were, Angela knew there were challenges related to her hyper-focusing, her intense emotions, and sensitivity to light and sound.
According to her therapists, Nyla’s language has progressed significantly over the last year and half. “She is extremely bright and learns so quickly,” said SLP Ciara Nally. “I love seeing Nyla’s eyes light up when she’s learning something new, or when she’s co-authoring a social narrative with me during our therapy sessions.” “Nyla works so hard in her therapy sessions,” added SLP Katie Trainor. “We spend a great deal of time on problem solving and independence. It is so rewarding to see her confidence in her own abilities grow each week.”
“From the very beginning, I was so amazed at how Nyla’s therapists were able to meet her where she was and help give her language and emotional support at the same time,” said Angela. “They are a group of compassionate people. They’re like family and I recommend them any chance I get. CHAT therapy is truly life-changing. And I’m not just saying that, it really is!”
“They are a group of compassionate people. They’re like family and I recommend them any chance I get. CHAT therapy is truly life-changing. And I’m not just saying that, it really is!”Angela, Nyla’s mother
Voices of Value
Giving Motivated by Business and Personal Passions
According to Rajiv Dahiya of Shree Partners, supporting CHAT was an easy decision, both from a personal and business perspective. “CHAT was doing such innovative work even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It was something that excited me,” said Rajiv. “Telehealth was something that people had heard about, but teletherapy was not something many people knew about.”
Shree Partners’ first significant donation enabled CHAT to buy technological equipment that facilitated more life-changing teletherapy at the height of school closures, giving much-needed support to CHAT’s clinical team. It is hard to overstate the challenges of providing teletherapy to disabled, under-resourced children during a pandemic. Rajiv’s generosity mitigated these challenges, equipping CHAT’s team, and some of the children CHAT serves, with much-needed laptops, monitors, computer cameras, and mini-projectors. His continued generosity has enabled CHAT to buy iPads for all of its SLPs, which are optimal tools in our new hybrid world, enabling maximum use of the online content created during the pandemic.
Rajiv’s generosity is also motivated by his daughter Shriya, who has an extremely rare disorder—glutamine deficiency syndrome—and relies on countless therapies to address her many neurological complications. “I try to donate to organizations that provide therapy to improve the lives of people with disabilities,” says Rajiv. “CHAT and its model of therapy needs to be replicated. It needs to be available around the world. By giving to CHAT, I hope to not only help them enhance their own practice, but somehow inspire other companies to invest in programs that support all children regardless of where they live and their socio-economic situation.”
“By giving to CHAT, I hope to not only help them enhance their own practice, but somehow inspire other companies to invest in programs that support all children regardless of where they live and their socio-economic situation.”Rajiv Dahiya
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Sister’s Struggle Inspires Equity-Focused Career Choice
Growing up with an autistic sister shaped Minna Natsuko Ito’s outlook on what it means to be neurodivergent, and how equity and access—or lack thereof—play a significant role in providing resources and supporting many neurodivergent people. “Different people think differently,” said Minna. “It’s not just because of differences in culture or life experiences, but because their brains are wired to work differently.”
Minna grew up in Saipan, part of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Western Pacific Ocean and a commonwealth of the United States. “Even though my sister was only a year older than me, we grew up with very different opportunities when it came to education,” Minna recalled. “There were no programs or structures in many of the Saipan schools that supported special educational professionals or kids like my sister.” In response to the dissonance between her own privileged education and her sister’s struggle, Minna was motivated to become a speech-language pathologist (SLP), but from a social justice lens.
As an undergraduate at Northwestern University and now in her SLP master’s program at Boston University, Minna has worked hard to connect her career goals with her passion for special education, providing access to health services, income inequality and racism. “When I was a junior at Northwestern, I was searching for an organization in the Chicago area that would have a similar perspective as me,” said Minna. “I was so excited to find CHAT. It was the first time that I saw a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) officer listed as part of an SLP organization.” She called that DEI officer, Brittany Armstrong Sowle, and asked if she could join CHAT as a DEI Intern…the rest is history!
“Minna is one of the most passionate, mission-driven, and articulate people I have ever met. She made CHAT better from her first day with us. She has an extraordinary future ahead of her, and we will be supporting her throughout her journey.”Karine Fiore, CHAT CEO