In the Limelight: Navigating High School and Beyond School-Based Clinician Helps Teens With Autism Spectrum Disorders Succeed In the Limelight
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In the Limelight  |   January 01, 2011
In the Limelight: Navigating High School and Beyond
Author Notes
  • Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at krowden-racette@asha.org..
    Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at krowden-racette@asha.org..×
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Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / School-Based Settings / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   January 01, 2011
In the Limelight: Navigating High School and Beyond
The ASHA Leader, January 2011, Vol. 16, 32. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.16012011.32
The ASHA Leader, January 2011, Vol. 16, 32. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.16012011.32
Name: Audrey Isack, MA, CCC-SLP
Audrey Isack, SLP with the Delaware Autism Program.
Position: Speech-Language Pathologist, Glasgow High School
Location: Newark, Delaware
High school can be brutal for everyone. For students with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), high school can have the added drama of being the springboard into a potentially scary adulthood for which the students may not be entirely prepared. They have to learn how to get jobs, keep jobs, and live as independently as possible—tough stuff for the ASD crowd.
Luckily for teens in the Delaware Autism Program (DAP), they have a leg up in this process—speech-language pathologist Audrey Isack. A nationally recognized program where the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) was developed, DAP provides speech-language intervention for students with ASD at all grade levels, but Isack admits to having a soft spot for the older set.
“I love working with older kids and preparing them for when they won’t be with us anymore,” Isack said. “The entire team looks at where our students are going vocationally, where they will be living, and what kind of support they’ll have. I love helping them become functional for whatever lies ahead.”
And they’re making good progress, she said. The program is getting students into solid vocational programs and ensuring these young adults are functional in a variety of settings. Much of the success, according to Isack, is due to children being diagnosed earlier and also the advances in personal assistive technology such as the ubiquitous iPod Touch or iPad.
“These gadgets are much cheaper and more portable than our former electronic devices, they’re more available, and parents can often afford them,” Isack said. “And the kids look so much more typical—what teenager isn’t holding an iPad or an iPod these days? It’s so exciting to see where everyday technology is going.”
Isack’s enthusiasm is contagious; considering her career path, she’s the perfect person to help these students. As a Pennsylvania high school student in the 1970s, Isack took a test revealing that she would be a good SLP. Not really knowing what that was but willing to believe the test results, Isack applied and got into New York University’s Communicative Science Disorders program.
“I thought [being a SLP] was like being an English teacher. I had no idea it was a medical field,” she laughed. “After a few science classes it slowly dawned on me, but by then I was into it and really loved it. If I had known how much science was involved I might have said no. So I’m glad I didn’t know.”
After graduating from Temple with her master’s degree, she worked with the geriatric population, first as a clinician and ultimately in management, serving as a director for clinical outcomes for a corporate nursing home company. She was happy enough, even earning her MBA, dressing professionally, and figuring that was the path she would stay on.
And then she got laid off.
“I was scared and didn’t know what I was going to do,” she recalled. To make some money, she served as an adjunct faculty at a local college and took contract jobs as a clinician. One contract was at the Brennen School in Newark, Del.—a school that serves only students with ASD and is part of the DAP. She hadn’t really worked with the ASD population, but once she did, it was an “instant click.”
“I loved the intricacy. I loved that each person was so very different. There were no formulas I could use and nothing was consistent. They worked with a collaborative approach and I fell in love with it. I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
As a contractor, however, Isack was forced to leave when her assignment was over (“I told them I’d be back, but they probably didn’t believe me”). After letting the non-compete clause in her contract expire, she moved to Delaware specifically to work for the DAP. An SLP position opened up and she jumped at it. That was almost five years ago.
Looking ahead, Isack wants to see more programming and funding for ASD students who are aging out of high school but still need appropriate communication and social interventions and vocational and living situations. It’s a challenge every state faces, she said, but it’s the logical next step to serve the growing numbers of students with ASD.
“As far as they’ve come, I’m still absolutely afraid for the students on some levels—I’m afraid they’ll be taken advantage of, or they’ll get lost and they won’t be able to communicate where they’re supposed to be,” she said. “But I love it, love it, love it. Every day there is something new and there’s no way I could ever get bored.”
Contact Audrey Isack at isacka@christina.k12.de.us.
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January 2011
Volume 16, Issue 1