Oral Motor Institute

News - July 2016

Steve Sacks, Board Member, has written a beautiful tribute to our beloved Pam Marshalla who founded the OMI

It is approaching the one year anniversary of Pam’s death (June 8th).  I had hoped that ASHA would have written a tribute for her but I checked with the editor of the ASHA Leader and they only write tributes for former ASHA Presidents.  So I decided to write my own tribute to Pam.

First, some biographical information:  When she went to the University of Illinois, Pam was planning to become a math teacher but she struggled with advanced math. A friend of hers was a student in our field and thought that Pam might enjoy it so she gave it a try. Later in life, she told her daughter Shanti that she felt it was her calling to be an SLP.  She completed her Master's Thesis in phonology under the direction of Elaine Pagel Paden and Barbara Williams Hodson in 1976, and later studied feeding with Suzanne Evans Morris.  An interesting little known fact—in 1975, Pam received a varsity letter in gymnastics at the University of Illinois.

She was one of ASHA's first Continuing Education providers in the early 1980's.  Pam created Innovative Concepts, Inc., the largest company providing CEU presentations in the country.  She loved to teach but never meant to be a presenter— she said that she found herself in the role of giving presentations and discovered that she liked it and was good at it. Her presentations are remembered for being brilliant and full of practical techniques and ideas that SLP's could use the next day in their therapy.

In 1994, she created Marshalla Speech & Language.  She wrote numerous books and articles on speech, phonology, feeding and child development.  Pam’s company continues to be run by her family which is fortunate as there is a wealth of valuable information on the website:  http://www.pammarshalla.com/   Pam loved gardening and nature and went for daily walks and hikes with her beloved dogs.  She had an enormous heart and raised three beautiful daughters who loved her and miss her dearly.

My first encounter with Pam was a small workshop in my school district in Fresno in the early ‘90s.  I recognized her name but had no idea what was about to happen.  As I watched her slides and listened to her presentation, I kept saying to myself things like “Wow!” and “Why didn’t I learn this 10 years ago.”  That workshop changed my professional life as I became aware of oral placement and how systematic our speech really is and it helped me in my development of the SATPAC Program.  I attended a couple of other workshops by Pam over the years and there were always “Wow” and “”Why didn’t I learn this before” moments.

Through the years we had an active email correspondence and that is how we became friends.  She was funny, smart, genuine and didn’t have an ounce of pretension which was so refreshing.  She had a breadth of knowledge in our field that was staggering in that she could see the big picture of how speech and language developed from infancy on.  Her Apraxia Uncovered book and CDs talked about the 7 stages of phoneme development.  I was so impressed with this information and came to the realization that this information needs to be shared and learned by SLPs.  For that reason, I developed a presentation of her work.

Pam founded the Oral Motor Institute (OMI) with Diane Bahr in 2007 and I was honored to be asked to be one of the Board members.  She was a strong advocate of correct oral placement and how to achieve it which explains why her techniques were so successful. The OMI also showed that there is a significant amount of peer-reviewed evidence for oral-motor techniques. 

Pam helped so many in our field become better SLPs and as a result probably tens of thousands of students have benefited.  So a year after her death, Pam needs to be remembered for the exceptional therapist, teacher and wonderful human being that she was.  She is missed!