Sunday, November 30, 2014

Where in the Standards are Referential Definitions? A Cautionary Tale

I spend a lot of time in mediation meetings and Due Process Hearings.  I did it as an administrator. I did it as a clinician in a district.  Now I do it as an "expert witness."  I have a lot of not-so-funny stories that come out of these things, and I spend a lot of my time shaking my head.
So, as I was hunting for a topic for this week's post, a memory came to me of a particularly nasty - and ridiculous - IEP meeting; one which was dominated by the lawyers on both sides.
So, I read my report and presented my findings.  Then the district's lawyer proceeded to try to pick them - and me - apart.
This is the part I hate about these things.  I feel under attack.  I don't mind my professional knowledge being attacked, because, frankly, I know I know what I'm doing.  But some of these lawyers get personal about it.
Anyway, this particular lawyer was running through my recommendations, wanting me to cite chapter and paragraph - or number, to be exact - of the standard to which each recommendation referred. Now, this was before the Common Core State Standards and, quite frankly, I couldn't have told him any of the numbers of any of the standards at that time.  It's just not something I ever memorized.  Like the ICD-9 codes or diagnostic procedure codes.  You look them up when you really need them.
So then he pounced on one recommendation in particular, in which I said that someone should be working on teaching this student how to define and describe and compare and contrast.  (If you know my TPT resources, you know I'm big on this skill - and for a reason).  Sounding masterful and triumphant, he defied me to quote the standard that required students to learn how to provide referential definitions.
He clearly didn't know what a referential definition was. Or is.  I attempted to explain that students in classrooms in every school in every state in this country are asked to produce referential definitions every day of the school year.  He wasn't listening.  So pleased was he that he had found what he thought was a weakness in my report, he tuned me out.
For most of the kids I work with these days, being able to tell that a chair is a piece of furniture made of wood or metal that you sit on is a long-term goal.  For most of the language learning disabled kids I've worked with - of whom this boy was one - being able to tell that Saturn is a planet in our Universe that has rings and - I think? - 3 moons and appears red when we view it and.... Yes, it's something we work on.  (I, too, should perhaps work on my science skills.)   Find me a Biology or Chemistry teacher
who can get through the year without referential definitions.  Find me an English teacher, for that matter.
As the Common Core State Standards work their way through our schools and down into our special education classes and speech-language therapy caseloads, the role of SLPs will become more defined and more focused.  We do know how to teach language. It's what we do.  A speech-language pathologist is  a person who..... 
You get the idea.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Cyber-Monday Sale at TPT - What's in Your Basket?

In conjunction with Jenna Rayburn's post and linky for the Cyber-Monday sale at Teachers Pay Teachers, here is a link to the sale along with the sale special code and a link to Jenna's (Speech Room News) linkup party, with lots of great resources and posts to explore.


The theme is "What's in Your Basket?"
I try hard not to spend time on my blog selling resources, but the occasional  exception is ok, I suppose.


Some of my most popular items buyers might want to put in their basket include my Wh-Question Program - which is the paper version of my Question It app (find it on the iTunes store using the button on the side-bar).  It is by far my best-seller.  It's a program I used for years to successfully teach kids with autism how to answer Wh-questions.


An Adapted U.S. Geography - I Love the U.S.A.  informational text for special education is another popular item in my store.



I have lots of great augmentative communication resources - go check them out.

In terms of what's in my shopping basket, it's always clip art.  There are some fabulous artists on TPT making clip art that I use both to make resources fun - like my speech therapy materials - and to provide interesting visual cues or scenes to support language learning.

There are these great food photos I want to use in AAC materials.

I use a lot of Teacherscrapbook's kids in action clip art for my AAC materials, as well.

Awaywiththepixels always has clip art that I want. Her work is amazing. I've used lots of it in book adaptations, book companion resources, and speech therapy games.
Her compare and contrast sets look like I can use them, too.

I'll have to check the rest of my wish-list for more clip art.  It's going to be a great sale!  Come grab resources at a great price.

I'll be back for my usual weekly post on Sunday night.  Have a great Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Is Your AAC System Organization In-Tact? Keep it Stable.

I hope everyone is ready for a good Thanksgiving (if you’re in the  U.S.), and I hope anyone who will be sharing Thanksgiving dinner with an aac user found and downloaded my Thanksgiving picture communication board.  I’ve been posting free boards a lot these past few months, both here in my blog and in my TPT store (http://teacherspayteachers.com/store/susan-berkowitzhttp://teacherspayteachers.com/store/susan-berkowitz  - or use the button on the right).  In the upcoming weeks I’ll be putting together and posting boards for Christmas and Hannukah.  I’m sure there are lots of other cultural celebrations I’m missing, so I apologize. I just don’t know them all.



I’ve also been sharing some stories and information about aac successes and ways to assess and implement.  I was reminded just this past week about just how important it is to have a single person who monitors and programs the aac device.
Over the years I have been called in to “fix” systems that have gotten out of control, either because the person doing the programing had no idea how to organize vocabulary in the system (or how to maintain the initial organization) or because too many people had added vocabulary willy nilly.

I like to use a file cabinet analogy, although it’s not entirely accurate.  But it works for the purpose.  We all have all of the many words we know stored in mental filing cabinets in our heads.  Some words are in multiple file drawers because they can be used multiple ways, or relate to multiple topics.  We don’t consciously think about where to look for them when we need to use them.  For most of us, they just appear when we need them, once we’ve learned them. (Except for those of us getting older.)
Back when we were just learning a new word, we learned its definition, we saw it in context, we may have drawn pictures of it and used it in a sentence.  And once we knew it it got filed away.
For aac users, that filing system is concrete.  It is really there, it is the system, and they and their communication partners do need to think about where to find it.  Which page is it on?  What topic folder contains it?  Is it in more than one place?  How do I remember where it goes?
And because the filing cabinets - or folders - are there in black and white  (or high definition color, really) we need to be consciously thinking about where new words go.
As a part of the process of Aided Language Stimulation, we are modeling for the user not just how and when to use the words, but also how to find them in the aac system.  Our users can’t afford for words to keep moving around.  One  of the key factors in learning to use vocabulary in an aac system is its stability.  
So, when I see new folders popping up all over containing words that have been isolated into a folder for a specific IEP objective or ABA drill, I worry about how the users is going to learn - and why does he need to -  that when we’re sitting down at this task, these words are in this folder , and he doesn't have to learn where else they are.  But when he needs them for “real, genuine” communicating, they’re somewhere else.  It’s confusing.  
AAC users, like any other children, need to learn to use language in context.  They need to know where to find words for genuine interacting; not just for this academic drill.   As Lovaas himself once said, you can’t teach language in isolation.

I’m posting a link, here, to a free handout about IEP objectives for aac users.  I wrote it after hearing Gayle Porter and Linda Burkhart  speaking in a workshop about PODD and how to re-think how we wrote IEP objectives.  It sounds as if it’s much easier in Australia.


How are you writing goals for your aac user?  Do they represent genuine communication?  Share any ideas you have with me.  I’m always interested in your thoughts.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Can Your AAC User Speak Up at the Thanksgiving Table? Here is a FREE Communication Board to Use.

I know Free Communication Board September is over, but I added a board for Halloween last month, and it felt like I should make sure there was one for Thanksgiving, as well.
Thanksgiving dinner tables can get noisy, especially if you have a large family with kids, or people who haven't seen each other in a while.  One of the problems many aac users have is that of not always being heard.   Using voice output devices has helped that a lot, but there are still so many users who don't have an electronic device.  And, for that matter, many who don't have comprehensive - or any - communication books or boards.
So, in the spirit of giving, and of making sure everyone can have something to be thankful for, here is a picture communication board for your aac users for Thanksgiving.

I admit, I did focus on the food when it came to the few nouns I add to these boards.  But, I did make sure there was a way to say that the user was thankful for family and friends.  And that, after all, is what many holidays are all about.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

More From the AAC Case Files - How Much Can We Expect?

One of my favorite student success stories is one I tell over and over again.  While you may have noticed I am a big fan of using and teaching core vocabulary, I am also a huge user of PODD communication books.  That is Pragmatic Organized Dynamic Display books, designed by Gayle Porter, a speech pathologist in Australia.  She has been using this system very successfully with children for decades.
I have been to trainings with Gayle, and with Linda Burkhart, when they have presented them here in the States.  A week with Gayle is mind-numbing - in a good way.  The first workshop I took with her was a week of 9 hour days and we learned so much it was amazing!  I don’t honestly think I could have absorbed one more idea by the end of Friday.  She is one of those rare people who are both a wealth of information and a master at transmitting it to others.  (Of course, you have to work your way around her accent). 

I have been using PODD books with my nonverbal students with autism for the past several years, and with great results.  Teachers usually get that ‘deer in the headlights’ look in their eyes when I walk in with a 125 page communication book.  I’m very careful to talk about taking it slowly as they get familiar with it and begin using it with their student(s).


I’ve taken to using this story.  The story of Aaron.  Aaron was a 16 (then) year old student with autism in a classroom for students with severe disabilities.  When I first met him, Aaron had a single page PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) “system” by which he could request his favorite reinforcers.  He had no other appropriate mode of communication.
What Aaron did have was a history of self-injurious behaviors.  He has done permanent neurological damage to himself.

On the day I arrived in the classroom with his new,  >100 page PODD communication book, both his teacher and aide regarded me with looks of …. outrage? amazement? overwhelming dismay?  I spent some time going over how the book was constructed and how it worked. I reviewed the navigation conventions and where and how vocabulary was stored.  I gave them examples and phrases to try.  We talked about Aided Language Stimulation and how it worked.  And I carefully explained how to begin with a single activity, gradually increasing use of the system as their comfort level increased.

Aaron was lucky.  His aide was extraordinary.  She did a wonderful job of learning and doing and being consistent.
TWO weeks later the teacher called me.  I could hear her jumping up and down.  The excitement was palpable. The day before, Aaron had been upset because A.P.E. had been cancelled and he needed some time to run off some of his energy.  He had started out, she told me, by starting to engage in his SIB.  But he stopped himself.  He looked at the communication system.  He pointed to “More to say,” and then proceeded to move from the feelings page (“angry”) to the people page (“no APE teacher”) to the activity page (“run" and "


outside”) to the places page (“baseball field”).  With a string of single word responses he told a perfect narrative, expressed his feelings, and told what he wanted - needed - to do.  The aide, of course, took him straight outside to the baseball field to run around.  I’m pretty sure she was crying most of the way.  I know I was when I heard the story.

Now of course, most students need more than 2 weeks of consistent teaching to learn to communicate so effectively.  But this certainly speaks to the power of appropriate aac intervention.

How are your students learning to use their aac systems?


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Using Books to Develop Language and Literacy: Gregory, the Terrible Eater

Here is another post that links up with  another blogger - Life Long Learning  for Book Talk Thursday.

If you follow my blog you've already heard how much I like using kids' books to develop language and literacy skills.  I'm a huge fan of good shared reading sessions.

Gregory, the Terrible Eater  (ages 4-8) has always been one of my favorite books to use in intervention with kids with language disorders.  It’s a fun story that kids get a kick out of, and offers lots of opportunities for working on some basic language skills. 


The story is about a little goat who worries his parents because he likes healthy food.  Real people food.  He won’t touch old tires or pants or tin cans.  Not a good eating goat at all.  They take Gregory to the doctor, who comes up with a plan that, of course, works for everyone.

The story has a fairly simple story line, which makes it good for having kids develop a simple story frame or Somebody-Wanted-But-So organizer.  
There are lots of opportunities to discuss categorization - health foods vs junk or edible vs non edible, things Gregory puts in a sandwich vs what you put in a sandwich, where you find different foods in the grocery store, you can even categorize the ‘junk’ that goats eat into recyclable categories.

I am always encouraging teachers in special education and SLPs to use literature in their classrooms and sessions with special ed kids.  There are so many ways you can build language skills through shared book reading (you might remember my previous posts about shared reading) that make the skill building activities meaningful and encourage enjoyment of reading.

Here is a link to one of my companion resources - for Gregory, the Terrible Eater - that demonstrates the kind of activities, the multiple days’ of purposeful readings, and the use of the Four Blocks reading strategy that have been demonstrated to be effective strategies for kids with special needs.
And here is a sample activity from the resource:



How are you building language through literature?


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Assessing Kids’ Needs for AAC (Augmentative-Alternative Communication) - How Do You Look?

So many things go into an AAC evaluation. And, while the format of most of those evaluations has changed over the years, the things that need to be taken into account haven’t.
Over the years, some of the device manufacturers and some software (and now app) developers have created formalized (though not standardized) assessment activities.  These look at the size, style/representation format, array size, location on screen, amount of contrast and color that the user responds best to.  These are all important factors that we have to think about.  
Some students have difficulty when there are more than, say, 6 buttons or symbols on a page.  Some users with cortical vision impairment (c.v.i.) respond best to specific color contrasts; such as the use of bright red, or use of a dark gray background.  Some students need picture spaces/buttons to be at least, say, 2” in size, due to motor issues.  There are lots of these functional details to consider.

Another thing we need to look at is the user’s support system and environment.  Who will be communicating with the individual?  Where do they spend their time? How consistent can those communication partners be with using Aided Language Stimulation, or with learning a completely new symbol language system; such as Unity?  How much support are parents going to get from other sources?

Recently, I did a consultation with a 4 year old boy with cerebral palsy who had no prior experience with using pictures at all.  He was unable to move any part of his body volitionally, except for his head.  He wore glasses, AFO’s, and sat in his mother’s lap during the assessment being completely supported.  He was unable to move his arm to reach without support/full assistance, although he was reported to be able to reach out and touch somethings sometimes.  His family said that they had an iPad that he could “touch.”  (His hands were fisted. After trying unsuccessfully to touch an iPad, I demonstrated 'Accessibility' features of the system and created a new gesture for him.)
I started blowing bubbles at him.  He smiled each time.  His mom said he likes bubbles a lot.  If he had been able to access a device I would have continued with the bubbles activity, using any combination of bubbles activities pages on a variety of systems.  I would have tried to get from "blow" to "blow more" to "blow more bubbles," and see where I could get him to go.


Right off the bat, without a way to utilize direct access to pictures through point or touch, I had to think about scanning in some form.  But this was a little boy who had no prior experience with using pictures to communicate.  He had no idea, yet, of the power of communication beyond the few gestures and vocalizations he had been using.  So, I want to get him a good, solid start with picture-based communication and picture aided input.
So I demonstrated the PODD (Pragmatic Organized Dynamic Display) communication book (designed by Gayle Porter) for them, and modeled how to provide Aided Language Stimulation.  I talked about how the pragmatic branch starters work; how finding words for different message functions was an important part of learning how to navigate.  And I modeled Partner Assisted Scanning.  

Unusually, for me, they did not show disappointment at not walking out with a shiny, bells and whistles, communication device (or at least a recommendation for one).  They were happy to find a place to start, and one that would provide sufficient vocabulary for their son to communicate about lots of different things in his life.  He smiled.

How are you assessing AAC users?