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?

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