Faculty, students facilitate communication support groups

April 07, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Speech-language pathologists and students in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) at Penn State facilitate multiple support groups for the community at-large.

The support groups are for those with dementia, Parkinson’s disease and speech disorders. Groups are open to the public.

“An important part of the job of speech-language pathologists is to take their expertise out of the therapy room and into the community. Facilitating support groups is one important way for speech-language pathologists to do that,” said Carol Miller, interim head of CSD. “Support groups can play a very important role in building a community of people who have similar experiences and needs. Speech-language pathologists help to build that community, and in doing so give clients, caregivers and family members resources they can continue to draw on for successful communication.”

Schedule of support groups
IMAGE: Dennis Maney

Chat Pack

Chat Pack is a group designed for those who face communication challenges due to stroke or traumatic brain injury. The support group is also open to caregivers.

The group meets from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month at the Patton Township Municipal Building. The kickoff meeting is Tuesday, April 19.

Facilitators Nikki Etter, Chaleece Sandberg and Anne Marie “Kitty” Kubat — all researchers and CSD faculty members — are also conducting a study in conjunction with the support group to determine strengths and gaps in the overarching support system for Centre County area participants.

“We hope that by increasing our understanding of the experiences of individuals with neurogenic communication disorders and their caregivers in the central Pennsylvania area, we can design better therapy and support programs to serve this community,” Etter said. “We want to increase the ease with which our clients participate in everyday life activities.”

Students assist the support group by planning and organizing group activities and facilitating the use of communication strategies for members, which allows students to develop their clinical skills in a group setting. Students also have the opportunity to interact with family members of participants and learn about the impact of communication disorders on family life.

The group and related study are funded through a pilot enhancement grant from the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at Penn State.

Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Stuttering Association

Started by CSD doctoral student Rupert Johnson and CSD graduate student Mark O’Malia, the Central Pennsylvania/Penn State Chapter of the National Stuttering Association meets the last Monday of each month at 6 p.m. in 101 Ford Building.

“This is a group for people on campus and in the surrounding community who are going through the hardships of everyday dealings with disfluency,” Johnson said. “This is an opportunity to get together and talk about daily challenges we go through and any successes we’ve had in certain speaking situations, whether that may be a presentation someone had to give in class or a job interview, and we support one another.”

The support group is for adults.

Centre County Parkinson’s Support Group

Anne Marie “Kitty” Kubat and Nikki Etter also facilitate a Parkinson’s disease support group offered at Foxdale Village in State College. The group, for those with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers, meets 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month.

Sessions include discussions on various topics, from nutrition to speech, and frequently features guest speakers.

“We often select guest speakers or discussion topics based on requests from group members,” Kubat said. “Over the holidays, we discussed managing stress and traveling when you have Parkinson’s disease. As we transition into spring, we are bringing in speakers to discuss physical activity and adapting recreational activities. We try to tailor our speakers and discussions to the needs of the group to increase health-related education and participation in local community events.”


BrainBuilders is designed for people who are living at home or with family and struggle with thinking, memory and communication issues. These challenges may be the result of a diagnosed disease process or condition such as Alzheimer's disease, frontal temporal dementia, Parkinson's disease, adult onset hydrocephalus, vascular dementia or other medical conditions.

Anne Marie “Kitty” Kubat and Sue Lembeck-Edens, a 1985 Penn State graduate and board certified dance movement therapist, facilitate the program, which meets weekly at Juniper Village at Brookline in State College. Amanda Byrd, a clinical instructor in CSD, also assisted with launching BrainBuilders in State College.

BrainBuilders’ clients must be living at home, able to participate in the 90-minute sessions, have an interest in attending, and not have a history of behavioral outbursts or wandering.

Simultaneous to the BrainBuilders session, caregivers participate in Circle of Support, a support group tailored to caregivers’ specific needs.

Those interested in participating in BrainBuilders should call Kubat at 814-867-6212 for an initial telephone screening. Limited space is available.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 09, 2016