Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Trick or Treat With AAC

For anyone who missed the free communication board I posted last year for Halloween, check out the post here and get your free communication board before Saturday!


thanks to:


Keep on talking!


Sunday, October 25, 2015

How Do I Provide Therapy for AAC Users? Try This.

Speech-Language Pathologists often ask me how to do therapy with aac users on their caseload.  They want to know what to do and how to work with this student who is different from all of their others.  My answer often surprises them: Do the same things.

AAC users need to learn to use language just like the rest of the kids on your caseload.  What is different is the mode of their responses.  Now, it’s not quite so easy as that, of course, because, unlike your other students, AAC users can’t just rely on saying the words they have in their heads.  These students have to rely on the words they have in their aac systems - which is often not sufficient for saying what they want.



In talking about AAC evaluations, Gayle Porter often refers to the “Catch 22” of aac assessment.  That is, that we can only see what the child is doing with what he has been provided.  If we think this is all he can do then we don’t provide anything more.  If we don’t provide anything more, then he never learns more.

The next step is teaching the student where all of  the words are in the system.  And then, of course, just like we do with any of our students, we need to teach when and how to use these words.  And that is where good old-fashioned speech-language intervention comes in.

So, now I have taken 3 paragraphs to get to the point.  Which is, that many of the intervention activities we do with our other language delayed or disordered kids can be used with our aac users.  So, today I am going to give you one example.
I have a fun activity I used to do with both my students with language learning disordered and with developmental disabilities in therapy.  It’s a take on the “I Spy” type of activities.
I create a visual scene - and this can be done with any level of complexity or simplicity - full of interesting and colorful objects in no particular order or arrangement.  This is actually pretty fun to do.
The next step can be done one of 2 ways.  For students who need the help of a visual cue to get started,  make 2 copies of the scene.  One of them gets cut apart so that each of the pictures is a separate little piece.  This creates a “draw” pile from which students choose.  They keep this to themselves while they try to provide sufficient descriptive and locative information for other students - or just you - to guess what it is.
The other way to play involves letting the student(s) choose which image to describe.  One warning, though:  Some students tend to pick the same 1 or 2 items each time.  Other students in the group might catch onto this.

I have done this activity many, many times with a wide variety of students.  For AAC users, the activity focuses them on use of a variety of vocabulary.  And these words are usually all core words!  Adjectives, prepositions, verbs of function - these are all core words that should be on any AAC user’s system.




Here is a free mystery picture hunt scene for you to use.  Go here to download the whole resource, which includes the images laid out in a neat, easy-to-cut-apart  grid.  Make your own, or find another in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.


Keep on talking.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

What Did You Do? 2 Steps to Building Personal Narratives

Being able to talk about what we did recently is the basis for all of our conversations.  It’s so important for our kids with communication disorders to be able to talk about their experiences.  Otherwise, they are at a loss in social interactions.  What can they do beyond just listening to others?  And that’s not an interaction at all!

Beyond the social participation component, telling about events is important in school for being able to talk about stories and to tell about history - which is basically one really long series of stories.
And then there is the safety aspect.  Because, unfortunately, these kids are at risk for other people being mean to them or mistreating them and, once they leave the shelter of home and nurturing school environments they need to be able to advocate for themselves.



So, long story short, every single kid - and many of the adults - I work with has an objective for being able to tell about recent events.  And for the AAC users, that means - you got it - having a robust AAC system with sufficient core and fringe vocabulary to tell about the Who and What and Where and When of those events.  Because - too often- they do not have the vocabulary to spontaneously generate novel utterances (called using SNUG) from collections of core words and important fringe.

Years ago Caroline Musselwhite and Linda Burkhart wrote a program called “Can We Chat?” that I still recommend to schools today.  What I like about it is that it teaches not just memorizing scripts for a bunch of pre-arranged topics, but actually teaches the structure of a basic conversational interaction. 
You need to get the person’s attention.  Then introduce the topic.  Then prolong the discussion with a follow-up comment, or ask a question of your partner.  You need to wrap it up, and end it appropriately.  

The part that I focus on with building personal narratives is that middle parts; the “Guess what I did?” part.  Because that is the meat of the conversation, as well as the important piece for not just telling about experiences, but also for talking about stories (developing literacy skills) and talking about the past (developing academic skills re:historical events).

So, look at building

  1. Recounts, where students respond to a directive to tell about an experience.  This usually requires additional prompts, cues, questions, and scaffolding to produce a complete response.   And, next -
  2. Accounts, where the student initiates telling about an experience.  Often this begins as a single word or a series of single words and requires continued questions, prompts, and scaffolding to become complete.  This is where students begin to ask, “Guess what I did?”

In both cases we, as the adult communication partners, need to be careful about providing support for the narrative, rather than asking too many questions and giving continuous prompts.  Provide support, give models, and give the student “room.”

If you want more explanations of narrative structure and additional templates and graphic organizers, take a look in my TPT store for Building and Expanding Personal Narratives in AAC Users:





Have fun, and keep on talking.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

3 Steps to ELA in Special Education Classrooms

I’ve been attending a series of live webinars this week about literacy and students with disabilities.  I always try to keep up with the current best practices, and current research, and what is new and changing in AAC and literacy skills for AAC users and others with significant language impairments.
Some days you just keep doing what you’re doing, thinking it’s the right thing.  And every once in a while you wonder.  At least I do.  So, it’s nice to read the literature or hear a speaker and get affirmation that I’m still on the right track and doing the right things.

As you know if you follow this blog, I am a huge proponent of using literature in speech therapy and in special education classrooms.  I used books almost exclusively in my practice when I did therapy, and continue to urge teachers and SLPs to look at grade level books for use in their special ed classes.


So what do we need in order to teach literature in special education classes?
  1. Choose your book and adapt it to fit the needs and abilities of your students
  2. Create language-based lessons around that story
  3. Create comprehension activities for students to show what they know and have learned


What should those language-based lessons include?
1. Vocabulary instruction that is systematic
2. Comprehension activities that provide a way for students to show what they understand
3. Writing activities that provide genuine opportunities
4. Reading instruction that provides opportunities to increase student independence

Make sure you’re providing these opportunities for your students with significant disabilities.  You might be pleasantly surprised at what they can do.


Keep reading, and keep on talking.



Sunday, October 4, 2015

5 Days to Learn Language Through Books

I write a lot about shared and interactive reading with kids to build language skills.  It's especially important for kids with special needs who get fewer experiences, fewer opportunities to be read to or to interact with books, and certainly fewer opportunities to talk about books - especially AAC users.

I subscribe fully to the concept of reading the same book every day through the week, setting a different, language-building purpose for reading each day.  I tend to focus on language activities; describing, compare/contrast, sequence and re-tell, tell about the story elements or story grammar.  I also often include some activities for working with words, although literacy is not usually my primary focus in these readings.  (Not that that shouldn't happen, just that I haven't gotten to that side of the readings yet.)

I am working this year with 3rd grade and with Middle School books a lot for the kids for whom I consult.  It's quite a jump from 3rd grade to 6th or 7th grade books, but the structure of the story and the interactions around them do not change considerably.
(Note: this post contains an affiliate link)



Last week, I was working with the book, Verdi; by Janell Cannon.  This is a book about a young snake who is full of energy, who sees the older snakes as lazy and boring, and who desperately doesn't want to grow up to be one of them.  His antics to avoid getting older - and changing to his requisite python green color - are fun.  And they provide very clear steps to sequence in the story.


The descriptions Ms. Cannon uses provide great opportunities to describe Verdi and to compare and contrast him with the old "men" snakes.
Verdi's feelings and his plan to keep from growing old and green provide the perfect opportunity for sequencing, and for discussing story grammar.

The book is full of vocabulary that can be tough for my kids.  I try to look for good visual cues and for synonyms that are more accessible.

I've had a lot of fun with this book.  It's a great book for introducing vocabulary, story grammar, and other linguistic skills.  It also offers the opportunity to weave informational text into literature.  The books has some great facts about snakes at the back, and for my resource I created an informational text about snakes to introduce students to them.

If your school uses this book with students, enjoy it.  You can have lots of great language fun with it.
If you want to take a look at my resource, it will be in my store this week!





What books are you having language fun with this year?

Keep on talking!