Sunday, June 18, 2017

P is for Planning: More AAC From A to Z

In past posts I've talked about planning what to say and model during an activity where you're using Aided Language Stimulation to focus on core words and language used within routines or activities.

When you're just learning a system, it can be difficult for  you, the communication partner, to navigate the unfamiliar AAC system in order to provide the aided input.  That's why it is important for you to plan out what you're going to say and learn where the vocabulary is that you will need.

I have provided some planning sheets in the past, and you can find a detailed one for free in my TPT store here.
I am also including a link here to a video all about planning out your aided input for a given activity.  There are examples in the first handout, and information in the video you should find useful.

Are there other topics you would like to see me cover in this blog?  Please feel free to comment below with topic requests, and I'll do my best to cover them.
In the meantime, have a great summer and......... Keep on Talking!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Communication Everywhere?!

“Spring has sprung. The grass has ris.’  I wonder where the birdies is.”  You don’t hear that too often anymore, but “back in my day” (the Dark Ages, that is) you used to hear it all the time.   
Here in Southern California it’s almost always time to go outside, but I do remember those cold Massachusetts days hoping that Spring was coming soon.

Warm weather means walks through the neighborhood, picnics and beach trips, kite flying and playground fun, trips to the park and evenings on the porch.  

Do you know what else all of those things mean?  Great opportunities to expand your child’s communication skills.  Especially if you have a child who is using AAC (augmentative-alternative communication) and needs practice in finding and using the varied vocabulary that those experiences need.

Many kids with disabilities don’t get the same experiences as other children; thus they don’t acquire the background knowledge needed when these topics or experiences come up in conversations or books.  And they don’t learn the unique vocabulary of each of these experiences.

Our kids with significant communication needs really need for us to give them genuine communication opportunities in real-life situations.  So don’t go to the beach or the park, or even for a walk around the block, without their AAC system.

I recently took a walk around the block with a young man and his AAC system.  When we got to the end of the block, I pointed to the Stop sign and told him “We have to stop,” using both spoken words and core words in his AAC system.  I was also able to model use of describing words; such as bright, pretty, and broken.

Smarty Symbols; all rights reserved

One of my all-time favorite activities when my kids were little was going on a picnic.  Preparing the food was more fun than chore when the objective was a picnic.  Grab the toys, pack the blankets, and head outside.

We always had one or two favorite picnic spots.  When my son was really young we lived near a great little park with a pond and ducks, and one particularly mean goose.  Having a picnic invariably meant having lots of feathered friends around us, just waiting for the crumbs.

For your AAC user, this experience would have engendered the words careful, bite, loud, soft, run, eat, and even fight

If you have  an emerging communicator use these fun activities to have meaningful interactions with the child. Remember to model using relevant vocabulary, core words, and lots of comments.  What can you say when modeling?

Feeding the ducks (or, in one young man’s case, feeding the sea lion): hold it, throw it, they’re hungry, don’t fight, throw more, give it to him, need more?

Flying a kite: hold tight, pick it up, run, look, it’s flying, it’s high, uh oh, it fell down, try again

Blowing bubbles: blow, blow again, big bubbles, little bubbles, catch it, pop it, uh oh, all gone, do more

Taking a walk: go, stop, watch, watch out, look there, look at that, cross now, those are pretty,  see the dog/cat/bird?, walk slowly, go fast, don’t go, that’s a tall tree 
Walking the dog: let’s go, hold tight, walk slower, walk faster, not there, go here, look there, see that?, pretty flowers, that’s nice, I like this, don’t stop, let’s turn, big tree, look, home, all done, go in

Here is a topic-specific communication board to take with you on picnics.  (Just right click to download).
Remember that activity-based communication boards do not take the place of a robust AAC system, and should never be all that a child has to use.  But they can be useful in the midst of a specific activity - as long as you have ways for your user to talk about other things, or let you know that’s what he wants to do.

Have a great Spring and Summer!  Stay sunny, and Keep on Talking!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Top 5 Tips for Teaching AAC

I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed on Carrie Clark's Speech Show.   If you've ever been curious about what I look like, how I sound, and what I have to say on the subject, check it out here.

That should keep you busy until next week.
Enjoy, and..... keep on talking!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

School's Out For the Summer! What Does This Mean for Your AAC User?

Often times, AAC users get to practice using their language systems only while in school.  Sometimes, the AAC system is owned by the school and students aren't allowed to take them home - either for long Summer breaks or even for over the weekend!
So how are they supposed to continue to learn to communicate without the means?  Good question.  And one I often fight with districts about.

What can parents do?  The simplest answer is: keep on talking to your child, all the time.  Use whatever pictures you have on hand to create some communication pages.  Unfortunately, this isn't the best answer.  What are some alternatives?

1. Ask the school to take screen shots of the AAC system if it is an iPad app, and send you the pictures or - even better - a print out of the pages.  If you can only get the images, then print them out and take them to your local office supply store to be laminated.  Punch holes, add rings, and - Voila!  A communication book that looks like the  high tech device he usually uses.

2. Some device manufacturers offer pages of their systems to print out.  These are limited, and may not have all the pages you want, and won't be customized, but it can be better than nothing.  To customize, print out pictures of whatever people, places, or things you need and adhere with clear packing tape to the pages.

This core word communication board is from Assistiveware's website.  They are the makers of Proloquo2Go.

3. Many states have technology loan centers, where you can borrow devices to use.  There is often a limit on the length of time you can keep a device, but you might get lucky and have it for more than 30 days.  I know that here, in California, we have a number of programs; including the California A.T. Exchange program (CATE) with 13 centers across the state.  Check your state's possibilities.

4. Check out the internet.  There are some free image sites available where you can create communication pages for little or no money.  These sites come and go, so I am not going to list links here that might be obsolete by the time you read this.  

5. Before school ends and you have to let go of the device, take pictures of each screen with your phone/ camera.  Check that you don't have a glare from lights or flash to interfere with the picture.  Again, print out and make into a communication book.

In a pinch, I also have a free Core Word Communication Board available here.

I'd love to hear about any other options you've found!  In the meantime, have a great summer, and keep on talking!

Thanks to Assistiveware and Smarty Symbols; all rights reserved.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

What's That in My Bag? My 5 Top Toys for Assessments

Because I travel from school to school, home to district to office and back, I have the mother-lode of wheeled bags.  Included are several bags of toys and activities roughly divided by age and/or interest.

When I do AAC evaluations I worry less about the technology and more about communication. That is, after all, the point.  And gone are the days when I would ask the student to "Point to the dog," in a field of 2.  "Now point to the dog," in a field of 6, etc.  
We did a lot of testing, but not nearly enough talking and listening.

Now, when SLPs, teachers, and parents watch me do an AAC evaluation they are sometimes confounded.  "You're just going to play?  That's it?"
Yes.... and No.

Yes, I am playing with your student.  I play with bubbles, with Lego blocks, with play houses, with fun apps, with my portable DVD player that I would not be without.  I also have nail polish and eye shadow.  I have DVDs from Sesame Street to High School Musical to the Super Bowl.

Because what happens during play and fun interactions is "real" communication.  I have written in past posts about how often I can go from "Barney" to "want Barney" and "more Barney" and "watch Barney," and eventually to "want watch more."

So, today I thought I'd take you through some of the other toys in my bag and how I model core word use with them.

1. I can't get away from bubbles.  I love bubbles, as do most of the kids I work with.  My bubbles pages are full of core words; such as blow, pop, catch, more, big, little, high, low, like, sticky.

2. Lego blocks can be difficult for some small and metrically challenged hands.  But, if I can get a student to give me directions to build with the legos we have a fun activity.  Put it on.  Put it next to.  Put red.  More blue.  Yellow on. Make high.

3. Cars and trucks are great fun for kids.  I have big. chunky plastic cards for smaller kids and smaller Matchbox type cards for bigger hands.  We can Go fast, Go slow, Crash, Beep, Move, Stop, Turn.

4. Puzzles are fun and come in a vast array of degrees of complexity.  From chunky wooden puzzle pieces with handles to 50 piece jigsaws I can engage kids with puzzle pictures of their favorite things.  We can Put it down, Turn it around, Need more, Not that, Get different one, It fits, Not fit, Pick it up, Give it to me, All done!

5. Play sets are great.  I've finally stopped carrying my Fisher-Price Sesame Street House around, but I do keep some pay furniture and home accessories in my bag.  As an alternative, I also keep several apps on a separate iPad; such as Toca Tea Party, Play Home, and similar apps where students can direct me to move things around and can interact with them.
With play sets - real or digital - students can experience and try out a wealth of language. More than I can even list here.

I also keep some games on my"fun" iPad for kids who are into gaming, as well as storybook apps that are interactive for some spontaneous shared reading interactions, and some apps that actually tell me something about a student's language skills (i.e. categorizing, matching, labeling, and more).

So, sit down and have a good time with your students when you're evaluating their communication skills and needs.  It is possible - and preferable - to determine the array size, vocabulary organization, symbol preferences, and all the other features we look for in an assessment session in a meaningful interaction rather than a "show me what you know" session.

Have fun, and..... Keep on Talking!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Do You Have a Purpose?

Communication needs a purpose - an intent.  The individual must have something that he wishes to communicate - impart - to someone else.  It is important to make situations motivating and meaningful in order to create an environment in which an individual who is just learning to communicate has something he wants to say and the means to say it.

A case in point: I was called in to consult a district regarding a boy of 10 with autism several years ago.  

He had been using a PECS board with symbols for favorite foods and activities.  

Pictures were also used during specific activities in the class.  These velcro’d pictures were only available during the specific activity, and were limited to symbols required for that activity.  They were also limited to nouns, with a few activity-associated verbs.  

They told me he had been successful for a while with pictures, and was great at using them to request food (he was always hungry), but wasn’t using them for other activities and so they did not think he was “ready” for a more complex system.
When I observed in his classroom, I saw him first during an art activity where he was required to cut and paste, then color.  This was a boy who had poor fine motor skills and did not like or ever want to do cutting and coloring.  
But the symbols for the activity required to him say that he wanted scissors, he wanted glue, he wanted the red crayon, etc.  He most clearly did Not Want any of these things – and “Not” was not available among the symbols.
Given an activity he enjoyed and appropriate symbols to use, he was clearly able to use them.  His vocabulary was limited, as he had always been restricted to a noun-based vocabulary, but he clearly knew what the pictures were for and how to use them.
Lessons learned: 

1. Verbal communicators are able to tell you when they don’t want something or don’t want to say what you want them to.  Nonverbal communicators have the same right to say “I don’t want to” as everyone else. 

2. Only giving the individual the words to say specific, limited messages does not give them the ability to communicate.  

3. As Gayle Porter says, “…a child who uses speech will independently select the words she wishes from the vast array she hears/uses every day.  A child who uses AAC will independently select the words she wishes to use from the vocabulary other people have chosen to model and, for aided symbols, made available for her to use.” (Porter & Kirkland)   

And a child who uses a limited AAC system will sometimes NOT choose to select words that do not say what he wants them to.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Two Best Reasons to Shop Tomorrow

Teachers Pay Teachers is holding their annual "Teacher Appreciation" sale tomorrow and Wednesday; May 9 & 10, 2017.  Everything in my store is 20% off, and TPT gives you another 10% with the code: THANKYOU17.

So, if you're looking for speech-language therapy materials; especially resources for working with AAC users, please stop by my store and save a bundle.
But what makes it even better?  TPT has given away gift cards, and LooksLikeLanguage and I are giving away 2 to some lucky winners!

So, go to my store, check out the resources, and leave a comment below to tell me what you'd love to buy from my store with a $10 gift card to TPT.
Then, hop over to LooksLikeLanguage's post here and leave a comment for her resources, too.

We'll announce 2 lucky winners on Tuesday night, so you can catch the sale on Wednesday and use your certificate while saving big on resources for your caseload or classroom.