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Meet Katherine McKernan

Today we’d like to introduce you to Katherine McKernan.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
Imagine having all sorts of thoughts and feelings in your head that you are unable to communicate. This is the reality for the approximately 20% of children who have a speech or language impairment. Traditionally, speech therapy has been the solution to these difficulties. In traditional speech therapy, the speech-language therapist works directly with the child while the parent either watches or comes back when speech therapy is over. However, in the past ten years, a more effective model for speech therapy has been developed, called parent coaching. Instead of working with the child, the speech therapist works with the parent and teaches them how to improve their child’s communication skills. Most speech-language therapists still use the traditional model of therapy.

I used the traditional model for the first seven years in my work as a speech-language therapist. When I began my doctorate in speech-language pathology at Northwestern University in 2018, I learned about the parent coaching model and began to implement it in my work with families. Children made faster progress and parents felt empowered to work with their children. I wanted to make this more effective style of speech-language therapy available to more families, so in 2020 I founded North Star Speech and Language, where parent coaching is the foundation of the therapeutic model. Through North Star, I provide in-home speech-language therapy in central San Diego and online speech-language therapy throughout California and Florida.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
COVID-19 has of course, been a challenge. The pandemic pushed my opening date back by about six months. I originally hadn’t intended on providing online speech therapy and had only provided online therapy once prior to March 2020. I quickly learned that parent coaching can be as effective or more effective online, even with toddlers, because they aren’t distracted by having a new person in their home and it helps me rely more on the parent to work directly with their child. Many parents are reluctant to try online speech therapy, but it can be really effective with the right provider. It also allows me to work with families who live too far away for in-person therapy but need a specialist.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
During speech-language therapy, my goal is to make our activities as functional and natural as possible. I teach parents how to pay attention to the nonverbal ways their child communicates and to use that to increase their communication skills. I specialize in toddler language delay, a rare difficulty speaking called childhood apraxia, augmentative and alternative communication, and neurodiversity-friendly speech therapy with many years of experience working with autistic individuals.

In 2018, I sat down with my partner and made short- and long-term goals for myself. I wanted to get a doctorate, open my business, teach at a university, and get published in an academic journal. I reflect on my goals and set new goals every few months. This year, when I reflected on my goals, I realized that the things that used to be my dreams are now my reality. I have a doctorate, am full-time at my private practice, teach an online course for Emerson College’s online master’s in speech-language pathology, and am collaborating with colleagues from Northwestern on a research project. It’s incredible to realize that you have created your reality just the way you want it.

So maybe we end on discussing what matters most to you and why?
A few years ago, I created a personal mission statement which I often refer back to as a reminder of my values and what’s important to me: My personal and professional purpose is to give others the tools they need to be happy and healthy by creating an environment where clients, co-workers, friends, and family can come together and thrive. I will help others build confidence in their skills and in who they innately are so that they can realize their life’s purpose. I will be confident in who I am, do what I say I will do, speak kindly and speak the truth, lead with vulnerability, ask for help when I need it, and be a model of happiness and health.

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