Want to be an even better speech pathologist? Read to see how Jo-Anne Matteo, MS, CCC-SLP, speaks on the science-backed Pyramid Approach to Education and the impact it has had on her career.

My name is Jo-Anne Matteo and I am a consultant at Pyramid Educational Consultants. I came to Pyramid over 20 years ago after working in the Connecticut Public Schools for 21 years as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and Special Education Administrator.

I started my career as an SLP working with students with language learning challenges. Many of my students were also receiving services from a Resource Room Special Education Teacher. These students presented with speech, language, and communication delays and my speech-language therapy techniques were effective in improving their articulation/phonological skills as well as their receptive and expressive language skills. After four years, I moved to a different position. My new caseload now included students with complex communication needs. They had diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Angelman Syndrome and other neurologically based challenges. Most of them were not speaking and had significant cognitive and motor challenges. I was finding that some of my traditional speech and language therapy approaches were not as effective. Many of my students did not have imitation skills so they were not able to model. They had difficulty understanding and following oral directions which resulted in multiple verbal prompts. There was an increase in contextually inappropriate behavior which at the time I didn’t know how to accurately determine the function.

My public school in CT hired Pyramid Educational Consultants to come to our district and consult with our team. We all received the 2-day PECS Basic Training which included a review of the Pyramid Approach to Education. The Pyramid Approach is a unique model of teaching that establishes effective learning environments for students with complex communication needs and severe learning challenges. It was designed by Dr. Andy Bondy and based on principles of broad spectrum Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

The base of the Pyramid includes structural components for creating effective learning environments. These components are Functional Activities, the use of Powerful Reinforcers and Reinforcement Systems, Functional Communication and Identification and Replacement of Contextually Inappropriate Behaviors (CIB). The top of the Pyramid includes instructional components to create effective lessons and addresses Generalization, Lesson Formats, Teaching/Prompting Strategies and Error Correction. All the components involve data-based decision making. Overall, the Pyramid emphasized how to teach rather than just what to teach and assists educators to individualize IEP goals.

Finally, I found a framework that allowed me to create activities that led to greater independence, incorporate reinforcement systems, teach functional communication (most of my students were using PECS) and to determine the function of the CIBs. The top of the Pyramid taught me how to identify what type of lesson was required to teach a functional skill, how to teach it by using the correct prompting strategy and most importantly how to eliminate the prompts. Before the Pyramid, I was just fixing errors that my students would make within a lesson. The Pyramid taught me to apply effective error correction procedures so that I could turn those errors into teachable opportunities and my students were learning through the process. Collecting relevant data that related to my objectives was now much easier.

My advice to any individual working with students with complex needs is to learn more about the Pyramid Approach to Education. The Pyramid is functional, easy to implement, evidenced based and it works! Try it…you will like it! I know for sure that you will be a better educator. The Pyramid has made me a much better and more effective Speech-Language Pathologist!