The progress may seem small to an outside observer. A student enunciates words a little clearer. Another student broadens their vocabulary. A third speaks, without being asked a question. But, for speech therapist Laura Koch and for her students, it’s something to celebrate!

Koch works with about 20 students each year at ECLC of New Jersey’s school in Chatham for students with disabilities. All have significant, lifelong challenges, including Down syndrome, autism and other special needs. She is part of the ECLC team that provide specialized services and supports as part of the students’ Individualized Education Plan, or IEP.

She has been with the Chatham school for six years and has relished the reward of helping dozens of children make progress in speech therapy. “From September to June, I see significant progress in social and communication abilities, which definitely brings me a great feeling of satisfaction,” said Koch. “What is even better, though, is witnessing students' pride in their own abilities, as they begin to independently use the skills we once worked on together.”

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For her success and caring, Koch has been selected as the “Related Services Provider of the Year” in Region II by ASAH, the umbrella organization for special-needs schools and agencies serving children with special needs. The award is part of an annual competition among dozens of schools. It culminates in statewide winners being named and recognized at ASAH’s annual conference in November.

“Laura is a caring and supportive therapist who encourages her students to do their best through constant praise,” said Principal Jason Killian. “Students enjoy working with her because she is creative, fun and uses hands-on and interactive activities to help them progress.”

Her professional credentials are impressive. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Boston College and a master’s in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Montclair University. She also participated in an advanced studies semester abroad at Oxford University College in England. She is a New Jersey Certified Speech and Language Specialist; a New Jersey Certified Speech Language Pathologist; a certified member of the American Speech and Hearing Association, and a Certified Elementary and Special Education Teacher in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Laura also is proficient in American Sign Language.

Koch helps students speak spontaneously, without being prompted; to express their basic needs and to communicate their emotions. She opens up the world for these students by helping them connect with their peers, teachers and their own families.

In working with students, she understands that each child has a different learning style and adjusts her lesson plans to motivate each one. “I view therapy as a joined journey that uses rapport, flexibility, compassion and clinical expertise to facilitate change,” said Koch. “The therapy I find works best does not follow a repetitive, ‘I say, you say’ or Q &A procedure.”

Adds Principal Killian, “We are so proud of this award for Laura. She is easy to work with, a good role model and has a way of helping the teacher she works with see that there is more than one approach to helping a student. She is an asset to any classroom she enters, bringing warmth and understands the needs of the student and the teacher as well.”

About ECLC

ECLC stands for “Education, Careers & Lifelong Community” and serves nearly 900 children and adults from 11 counties with special needs, including autism, Down syndrome and multiple disabilities. ECLC is an accredited, nonprofit with two private schools in Chatham and Ho-Ho-Kus, educating nearly 300 students, and offering adult programs and services.

All ECLC students graduate with a clear plan for their future. ECLC offers transition and employment services through an affiliate, Community Personnel Services (CPS). Specialists from CPS help adults with disabilities find jobs in their communities and provides ongoing support and advocacy in the workplace. Graduates who are not ready for the workplace can enter the P.R.I.D.E. Adult Program, with centers in Florham Park and Paramus. More than 170 adults are enrolled in the P.R.I.D.E. Program, which is exclusively for ECLC’s graduates. Adults in P.R.I.D.E. spend meaningful days continuing to learn and grow throughout adulthood. Learn more about ECLC.