Kate Ahern is an intensive special needs teacher, certified for ages birth through adult in Massachusetts, and an assistive technology specialist. She has spent twenty years working with children and young adults who have complex communication needs. She is also the author of a popular special education blog and moderates several social media groups about augmentative and alternative communication. Kate is often asked to guest speak or provide training about many issues in the field of complex communication needs.
Kate holds a Masters of Science in Special Education from Simmons College. She has also been a Proloquo2Go Trainer and has completed the advanced Pragmatic Organization of Dynamic Display (PODD) course. She has experience with the following communication systems: PODD, TouchChat with Word Power, Proloquo2Go with Crescendo and Gateway, The Grid 3 with PODD and WordPower, Compass with PODD and Word Power, Communicator 4 and 5 with SonoSuite or Literaccy, Snap + Core First and others.
Maggie Wurm has a background in working directly in Early Intervention and elementary aged children in schools on the Autism Spectrum. She is fluent in English and Spanish and is an assistive technology (AT) specialist having completed the AT program at California State University, Northridge. Previously; she has worked in family support services under the Federation for Children with Special Needs and has a vast knowledge of resources in Western MA and nationally. She also has state grant management service experience for families of children with multiple disabilities. She is skilled at organization of educational and medical information and training others to implement such organization. Maggie is also a trained special educational advocate focusing on those with complex communication needs and use of assistive technology. As a parent of a teen age girl who has Rett Syndrome, Maggie brings the unique experience and compassion of being a parent of a child who has Complex Communication Needs to all her clients.
Our mission, as AAC Voices, is to reach individuals and help them develop their own unique voice through access to robust augmentative and alternative communication systems, immersive aided language input experiences and targeted interventions for communication, literacy and life and leisure skills. As part of this mission we wish to bring supports and tools to the caregivers and families of those with complex communication needs.
The AAC Voices Story
AAC Voices started as Angel Voices in 2014, a group for young children with Angelman Syndrome who were learning to commmunicate using Alternative and Augmentative Communication or AAC. Originally held in families living rooms we moved location three times that first year and had to split into two groups to accommodate all of those who wanted to attend. At the same time Kate Ahern's private practice providing educational services for AAC users with complex needs and presenting keynote addresses and workshops was growing.
For the 2015-2016 school year AAC Voices expanded again to offer groups for individuals with Rett Syndrome and related disorders and a general, open group for all children learning to use robust AAC systems. We moved to a location in Chelmford, MA.
In 2016-2017 AAC Voices relocated to the YMCA in Andover, MA and currently run three groups approximately every three weeks. Cost has remained at $25 per family/per day all of this time. AAC Voices and Kate's private practice also merged to be under one umbrella - AAC Voices providing Communication, Literacy and Life Skills interventions for children and adults with complex communication needs individually and in groups, as well as parent and professional lectures, training and workshops.
Groups are designed so that parents act as communication partners and assistants during the session, providing support and modeling of the communication system. Groups generally include singing/music, a story and a related activity (usually a craft or game) and a writing activity. The focus is on providing emergent to independent communicators with opportunities to use their AAC systems during motivating activities while offering a chance to meet other children who also communicate through AAC. Siblings are welcome and included.
Parents report that their children enjoy group and look forward to attending. Many children have shown growth in groups including increased appropriate behavior and attention. Friendships between group members have blossomed with individuals contacting each other outside of group sessions.
Individual education sessions typically happen in the family's home and focus on communication, literacy and/or life skills using a positive, child centered, strength based approach. The philosophy of Motive, Model, Move out of the Way is used to ensure children are engaged, aided language stimulation is constant and the focus is on the child moving towards autonomy and independence. Attention to underlying issues such as anxiety as it connects to apraxia, learning and behavior allows the individual to grow while connected in a secure and safe relationship. Parents, siblings and extended family may be involved to encourage communication, literacy and life skills as a family endeavor that carries over between sessions.
AAC Voices Groups, individual sessions and speaking engagements are offered by Kate Ahern, M.S.Ed. Kate is a certified intensive special education teacher and assistive technology professional. Kate has presented across North America about AAC, literacy, behavior support through communication and other topics related to special education. Her interests include AAC, literacy and behavior supports for Rett Syndrome, Angelman Syndrome and those with similar low incidence disabilities.
Since starting AAC Voices Groups and presenting about them at conferences others have become interested in having similar groups in their locations. A community of group leaders sprang up on Facebook and community based AAC groups are being held by families and professionals around the globe based on this model. In 2017, AAC Voices Groups will expand to Western Massachusetts.