What is TALK School? 

Talk School is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the development of clinical and educational programs serving children with autism and other significant speech and language disorders.

Talk School provides the intensive, integrated academic instruction and therapeutic interventions essential to children currently coping with these disorders.

The school is located in Newtown Square, PA and serves children from throughout the greater Philadelphia area.


Who does TALK serve? 

At this time our efforts are focused on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) and other severe communication disorders resulting from neurological disease or impairment. These include children with receptive and expressive language disorders and processing problems, among others. Ultimately, Talk School hopes to serve the broad community of all persons with speech and language-based needs. 


How large is the population of children with speech and language deficits? 

Very large. The numbers are frightening and growing at epidemic rates. Accurate tallies are hard to reach because many of the individuals fit more than one reporting category and would therefore be counted more than once. However, we do know this: If we look at the figures for autism alone, we know that there are over 500,000 persons with autism in the U.S. (more than 18 thousand in New Jersey alone). According to the CDC in 2015, the current incidence is one in every 68 children. According to data gathered from the U.S. Department of Education, the number of autistic children has grown over 900 percent since 1992. Therefore, if we add to these figures all those children who have CAS without autism, or the many thousands who have other neurological problems leading to speech and language deficits, we are clearly talking about staggering figures. 


In our region, how many speech schools currently serve this population? 

Talk School is the only one. Formerly known as Magnolia Speech School Demonstration Program, the school was established in 2002 by parents of children frustrated by the lack of appropriate programming for their autistic and language-disordered children. The seed money was raised through a grassroots effort including the generosity of individual and corporate donors. The name was changed in early 2008 to better reflect its activities and mission. Talk School remains the only full-time program serving school-age children with severe communication disorders in the entire Northeast. 


What is childhood apraxia of speech? 

"Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) is a neurological childhood (pediatric) speech sound disorder in which the precision and consistency of movements underlying speech are impaired in the absence of neuromuscular deficits (e.g., abnormal reflexes, abnormal tone). CAS may occur as a result of known neurological impairment, in association with complex neurobehavioral disorders of known or unknown origin, or as an idiopathic neurogenic speech sound disorder. The core impairment in planning and/or programming spatiotemporal parameters of movement sequences results in errors in speech sound production and prosody."  -ASHA's Technical Report on Childhood Apraxia of Speech, 2007


Why is autism included in a discussion of speech disorders? 

Communication disorders including absent or impaired speech and language are a hallmark of autism. With the tools, resources and delivery systems in general use today, it is expected that no more than half of autistic children will ever acquire speech. In addition, most language-disordered children, no matter their medical diagnoses, share many features with people who are autistic. These include delayed social/relational development, disturbances of the sensory system, motor planning difficulties and behavioral issues.


Why aren't these children getting the services they need? 

Federal and state law mandates that all children receive a "free and appropriate" education

"(Pennsylvania's) Current Education System does not Meet the Needs of People Living with Autism."  - Autism Task Force

PA Department of Public Welfare Final Report (December 2004) 

There are many answers to this question and most are complicated. However, Talk School believes that the exponential rise in the occurrence of autism and other language disorders in the pre- and school-age population, has overwhelmed local school districts and caught them unprepared. Many have insufficient experience with these types of problems and are just now learning how to address them. Cost is also undeniably an important factor. Because appropriate remediation and education for these kids is both time and labor intensive, the cost is high. In addition, the inefficiency of current delivery systems adds significantly to the expense. Pennsylvania 's Autism Task Force (Department of Public Welfare) released a report in December 2004 which states, "In the last 15 years, the number of individuals in PA diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder increased 2000%." It goes on to state, "The current education system (in PA) does not meet the needs of people living with autism. Schools must focus on the communication, language and social skills needs of children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Extensive language training should be provided." Too often, the Task Force found, "Required related services (such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, education audiologist, etc.) are often not provided on a timely basis, if at all."

In most cases, educational agencies have not been able or willing to mount a speedy and adequate response. As a result, there is often hot debate over the legal and practical definitions of "appropriate" in each individual child's case.

Kids are squeezed into existing programs that partially meet needs. Some curricula cap a child's potential by assuming its limits and then working only toward this lower standard. Most children receive no more than one to two hours of speech therapy each week. And, clearly, this is hardly sufficient for the child with severe impairment. Therefore, those parents who can manage to afford it pay out-of-pocket for a few costly additional hours of treatment. Moreover, nearly all of these students have associated problems that require other services, occupational therapy being chief among them. 

Talk School believes, and clinicians overwhelmingly agree, that the only truly appropriate program is one that provides full-time immersion in a language-based, fully integrated therapeutic and educational environment. 


Why does TALK School promote The Association Method? 

To date, we have seen no other program that compares for teaching oral and written language.


What is The Association Method?

The Association Method is a phonics-based, multi-sensory and multilevel curriculum designed to teach oral and written communication to people with severe communication disorders. It was developed by the late Mildred McGinnis at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St Louis over fifty years ago. 

The curriculum matches the strengths and needs of each individual child and works on the core deficits of speech and language, social interaction and behavior. Instruction progresses from the teaching of individual sounds to syllables, words of gradually increasing length, basic sentences and questions, more advanced sentence structures and the corresponding questions. Ultimately, when sufficient language skills have been achieved, a transition is made to traditional textbook formats for instruction. 

The teaching procedures are specifically designed to reduce or alleviate the language-disordered child's difficulties in decoding, organizing, associating, storing and retrieving information pertinent to the production of clear, articulate speech. 

The Association Method is available in a number of areas throughout North America and has a long history of bringing speech, reading and writing to children previously rendered nonverbal and illiterate by severe speech impairments. It has been used successfully to teach children with severe apraxia to speak. It is also effective with all degrees of aphasia (language-disorders), autism, dyslexia, hearing impairment, attention deficit disorders, teaching English as a second language, stroke, head trauma and the regular education of elementary students and adult non-readers. 


If the Association Method has been around for so long, why isn't better known? 

The method was passed down from Ms. McGinnis to her students, who established their own schools and mentored a few colleagues. Dedicated to their schools and the children, most were unable to devote much time to promotion.* And because there is nothing to buy or sell, no one has ever had an interest in marketing the method. In fact, in all but the most advanced levels of the Method -- when students are transitioned to traditional texts -- the teachers, themselves, make nearly all of the materials. It is also worth noting that an effective Association Method program is not that easy to replicate. While the basics of the technique are relatively easy to acquire, truly effective application requires significant skill, experience and diligence.

*It must be acknowledged that Maureen Martin, Director of the Dubard School for Language Disorders in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and her predecessor, Etoile Dubard, have made it their mission to provide professional development in the Method. Thanks to their efforts the Method is more readily available in the South. 


Is programming at the school limited to the Association Method? 

Hardly. Talk School's model is Multi-pronged. The Magnolia Speech School Demonstration Program also encompasses full-time occupational therapy with a sensory integration focus as well as a relationship-based approach to social and emotional development drawn from the internationally recognized principles of DIR/FloortimeTM. All these techniques are used in conjunction with and to support learning through the Association Method. A more complete description of our program model can be found in the document, "The Talk School Model". 

Used in concert, all the methods employed at Talk School addresses the specific physical, social, emotional and academic needs of the children it serves. It is, in fact, the full-time, language-based fully integrated therapeutic and academic environment of which our founding parents could once only dream. 


Does the TALK School provide academic instruction? 

Yes, our program is specifically designed to teach language and communication within an academic context. Our academic curriculum for Pre-K through 12th grade students runs for 11 months each year. We are confident in our students' ability to achieve academically. One of our core beliefs is that each of our students is intellectually intact.