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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Native American Link-up

I'm participating in a link party over at Comprehension Connections whose theme this week is Native Americans. 

For Women in History Month I created a series of adapted biographies; biographies of a wide variety of famous women each created with picture assisted text and including a few comprehension questions.  I have them individually and as a bundle of all 9 women in my TPT store.
Pocahontas is one of them, so I'll feature her here and you can find her adapted biography in my store here.

p.s. enjoy the books and ideas in the link frame above!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Leibster Award and a Thank you.

While I was out of town, I was nominated for the Leibster Award by Teaching with a Twist (Meredith).  This is an award given to bloggers with fewer than 200 followers, and yes, that's where I am.  It's tough getting a blog noticed these days - there are a million of us out there!
So, first a Thank You to Teaching with a Twist

Second, there are 11 questions for me to answer, so here goes:

I started blogging a little over a year ago, in the Summer of 2013.  I wanted to see if I could add to the information on the highway; especially since my area of expertise - augmentative communication - has fewer bloggers and websites than many other areas of language development or teaching.

The on word that sums up the heart of my blog is - LANGUAGE.  Or is it COMMUNICATION?  Probably the former.  I have worked for about 40 years with kids who have difficulty with developing language. And with communicating.  I work largely with kids with autism, although in my practice I saw adults with other reasons for why they need to use AAC, and I have worked extensively with students with language learning disorders.

Is there something I learned late in my blog journey that I wish I had known earlier?  Well, I think it's still early in my blog journey and I am sure there is a lot  don't know - and I wish I did.  Haha.
I subscribe to a number of social media newsletters that talk about ways to blog, things to do and not, and - frankly - I'm not always sure any of them are helpful.
I did subscribe at the very beginning to the Teaching Blog Traffic School run my Charity Preston, and that was worth a lot!  I think for those of us who are - at least partially - using our blog to market our curriculum materials - the most important thing to remember is that the blog needs to include real content that is meaningful and helpful to the readers without requiring them to buy anything.  I don't do much marketing on my blog.  I try to provide content that readers will find helpful.

My favorite pastime other than blogging?  Reading.  or Art-making.

How many hours per week do I devote to my blog?  That fluctuates, depending on what the topic is, how comfortable I am with the content without needing to spend a lot of time editing what I've tried to say. And whether or not I'm including some take-away that I need to create or have already created.  So, somewhere between 1-2 hours.

What category go blogs do I enjoy reading?  I read mostly professional category blogs - mostly speech-language pathologists or other assistive technology specialists. I also subscribe to a couple of app review bloggers.

My blog inspiration comes from areas of concern that are brought up to me by parents and teachers or other SLPs, or questions I've been asked a lot.  Sometimes it's just an area I think needs to be addressed, or information I think people want.
Every once in a while I pick a theme for the month (when I started out I was going to do this all the time) - like reviewing apps good for therapy, or making topic-based communication boards and giving them away.

One of the posts I'm proudest of is the core vocabulary communication board I posted.  I think it gives people some good information about aac and a place to start :

I can't think of a post I've been meaning to do but haven't gotten around to.  There is a lot I want to share, and certainly a little bit of time and space to do it, but I haven't put any of those ideas onto a list - that should be the next To-Do.
My favorite aspect of blogging is the sharing.  Putting my ideas together, making them gel into something comprehensible and getting it out there.
Teachings with whom I work sometimes brag to other teachers that they "have" me. LOL I don't get to all teachers in a district or school; I'm only attached to specific kids whose IEPs I've been written into.  Those teachers get lots and lots of information, in the form of handouts and free resources I've made and the pain of me standing around in their classrooms making suggestions.  So, this is a place to share some of that with everyone else.

What project of Teaching with a Twist might I want to try?  I love the Halloween Flower Pot!  Easy enough for the kids in the classrooms I work with to do.

SO, I'll be back to my original/usual post schedule next week.  The week off was nice, but it's nice to be back.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Where Do I Start with AAC?

The question I probably get asked the most is, “Where do I start?”  Teachers, SLPs, and parents don’t always know what to do with the new aac system their child/student has been given.  
As SLPs we know that you can’t just put the book or device in front of the student and expect them to just begin it use it.  Communication for these students is a skill that needs to be specifically and directly taught. 

Language needs to have a context. Usually it is a context that involves more than just the aac user. Communication is interactive.  If you listen to Janice Light talk about what students need, she lists social closeness, information transfer, social etiquette, and wants and needs.  For many of our students, the focus starts out on wants and needs and often doesn’t get much further.  In school, on the other hand, we start to spend a lot of time on information transfer - answering the questions posed by the curriculum.

But, Light puts social closeness at the top of the list.  Isn’t that what communication is all about?  We teach conversational skills because it is so important to connect with those around us.  We need to be able to share experiences, feelings, and more.  Many of my teens who use aac love to joke. Telling jokes (or trying to) is their way of establishing that closeness. 
As students move into school, the time and effort spent on establishing social communication grows.  We spend time teaching students to engage in eye contact, to smile at others, and to participate in activities.  For them to do the latter, they need a way to communicate what they want to say to others.

So, where do we start?  We start with the student.  What engages him?  What do we say when we are engaged with him?  What are the things he wants to or might want to say?  Take a look at the activities in which he wants or needs to interact and begin to build the vocabulary for that activity.  Not just the names of things involved; but comments - both positive and negative,  actions, and descriptions.  Provide those words in his mode of communication (usually this means his aac device or communication book), and you use them.  The more you model using the symbols or signs for the words involved in that activity the faster he will learn.

As the student begins to use the system, acknowledge, reinforce, and expand on what he says.  Offer choices as often as possible. Ask open ended questions rather than yes/no.  Model use of those action and descriptive words consistently.  Make sure you are not overwhelming the student with too much language, but keep your language a step or 2 above his.  Don’t talk so much. Pause in interactions to wait for a response. Assume that he can and will respond.

Overall, make sure you are providing sufficient vocabulary, sufficient models of a wide variety of communication purposes, and constant access to the system.  I often tell SLPs, teachers, and parents that they are going to do the same things they do with their other kids/students.  Just add pictures to your communication mode.

Where do we start?  Start with the student.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a free core word communication board.  I have also posted boards for use in the library, the motor lab, and at snack time.  All of those boards are based on use of core vocabulary; adding additional vocabulary needed in that context.
If you are building boards or pages for activities, make sure that core vocabulary words are available, and focus on those.

Today I am adding a slightly different core word board for you to use.  How do you engage your student?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Busy October, Be Aware: Awareness Month for AAC, Dyslexia, Mental Health

October is a very busy month in terms of special remembrances and observations.  
First of all, it is World Mental Health Awareness Month, and last week was Bipolar Awareness Week.  

The International Bipolar Foundation repeated its #SayItForward Campaign aimed to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

October is also National Dyslexia Awareness Month. I created a press release on this topic that was picked up by many news outlets, listing the major signs and symptoms of dyslexia, a language-based reading/learning disability.  I also put both of my apps - Question It and SoundSwaps on sale October 1-14 in celebration.  You’ve got a few days left if you want to catch them.  Here are the iTunes links:
for SoundSwaps

and for Question It.

October is also AAC Awareness Month worldwide.   If you follow this blog, you know that just about every month is aac awareness month for me.  The vast majority of what I do revolves around children - and adults - who use augmentative communication.

So, this month, I am going to post about some of these issues, starting with dyslexia.

Approximately 10% of the population suffers from some symptoms of dyslexia; including lack of fluency in reading, difficulty writing, confusing similar words, difficulty with spelling, and more.  Dyslexia is not related to an intellectual disability. It is not “reading backwards.”  It is a language-based learning disability found in people with average or greater intelligence; people who can learn to read if given appropriate educational strategies.

Signs of dyslexia can include:
  • Delayed speech and language milestones. 
  • Difficulty learning the alphabet and letter-sound correspondence. 
* Difficulty with pronouncing multisyllabic words, and with recognizing which words begin or end with the same sounds.
  • Difficulty memorizing number facts and ordering math operations.  Much of math is language based.
  • Difficulty organizing oral and written language.
  • Difficulty learning to spell.
  • Difficulty with reading comprehension due to the need to focus all of one’s attention on decoding the words.
* Difficulty learning a foreign language.

Children with dyslexia can learn to read.  If a child displays any of these symptoms, it is important to talk to his/her teacher, request a formal assessment, and read up on dyslexia facts.  Rule out any vision defects or cognitive problems.
There are places to get help for adults with dyslexia who are still struggling. The International Dyslexia Association has a newsletter and information to share.   Dyslexia cannot be cured, but its impact can be overcome. 

There are some great technology tools for students with dyslexia. is a free resource for people who have difficulty with accessing print.  There are thousands - actually more than 250,000 - books on the site that can be read to the user, can have altered font size and some color modifications for those with vision issues.  It is a free resource - I repeat that because schools are not always aware that it exists and it doesn’t cost them anything to set up an account for a student.  is another great free resource.  Begun by Karen Erickson’s literacy research and practices group at UNC-Chapel Hill, this website (and app) give students access to high interest low print books with great graphics. These books have been written by teachers, therapists and students.  It also allows for either reading on the computer oneself  or having the computer read to you.
A lot of software aimed at this population is also now available as iPad apps; including Clicker Sentences, Co-Writer, and iReadWrite. 

What tools do you use for your students with dyslexia?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Are Your AAC Users Prepared to Talk About Halloween?

October is here.  I love the Fall, and here in Southern California it is finally thinking about cooling off.  Although, today is supposed to be in the 90’s.  Oh well.

(And if, like me, you live in an area with a greater chance of fires, don’t forget to grab last week’s fire drill visual symbols!)

This week, I am joining the crowd and gearing up for Halloween.  With today’s free communication board students have the vocabulary to talk about Halloween.  Give them the opportunity and tools to talk about scary books and silly costumes and pumpkins that are frightening and funny.

All too often our nonverbal students get left out of the fun, even when they’re included in all-school events.  Costume parades and parties and group assemblies can all be great places to practice using your language skills.  But without an adequate aac system, our students don’t have a way to engage with peers.

This illustrates one of the problems I have with the PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) books and boards.   I want students to do more than say “I want…” or “I see…”  I want them to describe what they see, or how they feel.  I want them to be able to tell someone, “I like your costume,” or “That’s so… (cool, funny, scary, silly, awesome, etc.).  And I want them to have the core words to combine into phrases or, if they aren’t doing that yet, that staff can use to model using phrases.
And you know what?  Students don't need to be using all of these words before their communication partners use them to model.  Having the words available to them and having others use them is the best way to teach the student to use them.
SO, grab this Halloween topic board and use it.  Halloween is a great opportunity for building vocabulary and language.

How are your kids describing Halloween?