Linda Bonnar-Ivery, MA, CCC-SLP, ATP, is the director of Pine Tree Society’s Communication Pathways program. We recently caught up with her to talk about how she and her team work with non-verbal clients to help them find their voice.
What is the goal of Communication Pathways?
“Just because you can’t speak doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to say. Our goal is to empower non-verbal people of all ages to be able to communicate anything they want to say, and not be dependent on others to do that for them. Through learning to communicate, we help individuals discover they have a lot of power and control over the world around them.”
How does your team help non-verbal people learn to communicate?
“It’s all a matter of connecting each individual with the right tool. We believe everyone has the drive to be socially connected, and our job is to help them find a way to do that. It doesn’t matter how challenged a person might be, with the right tools, methods, strategy and mindset, people come to understand that they can communicate anything. Whether it’s through pictures, eye-gaze technology, or text, our team helps each individual person tap into their potential to communicate.”
What is your philosophy?
“We believe that everybody has potential. We don’t go in with the mindset that someone can’t do something. We go in with the philosophy that everyone has the potential to communicate and we just need to find a way to help them do that through connecting them to the tools that open up the doors for them.
We’re taking one of the most core rights that people have — which is being able to communicate and share their wants, thoughts, needs, and opinions — and creating the pathway for them to be able to get there.”
Do people have to travel to your offices?
“Our impact spreads far and wide. Not only do we serve people at our offices in Scarborough and Bath, but, if the need is there, we travel to pretty much all areas of the state. Some people are bedridden or can’t travel because of medical fragility or other medical reasons, for example. We also work at eight different schools across southern Maine.
In addition, we have the technology in place that allows us to offer remote programming to rural areas of the state. I can be in Scarborough and remotely connect to someone in far northern Maine.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve travelled to 14 out of 16 counties. Believe me, Maine is a big state!”
Who are your programs designed to help?
“Our impact is pretty vast. We run the gamut from people who have had strokes, to children with sound production delays, to people on the autism spectrum, to individuals with ALS. Right now, our youngest client is two years old and our oldest is in their eighties. Age doesn’t preclude anybody from getting a service.”
Is there a recent success that stands out to you?
“There’s a young, medically fragile girl who I see at home because she can’t go to public school. We developed strategies for how she can communicate and make choices through eye gaze technology. Through eye gaze, she expressed herself by writing a story titled “Moonlight Dance” about a world she imagined where a princess left her castle every night to dance with her friends in the moonlight. The music made them feel happy and they would swing from the trees and eat sandwiches together. She dedicated the book to me with the inscription ‘Dedicated to Miss Linda, who helped me use my words.’”
It’s stories like that that keep Linda and her team motivated each and every day to help people find their potential.