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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Can You Make 200 of Them?

Research indicates that we need to provide at least 200 opportunities each day for aac users to become effective communication system users. 
This seems like a lot to many people, but looking at all of the possibilities that exist in the average classroom for requesting, answering, asking, greeting, commenting, giving opinions, and more communication functions makes it more believable.

Many students are easily observed making requests and either rejecting or accepting. But other functions are less easily observed. Many students miss multiple opportunities every day.

This variety of communication functions was taken from another author (Carrillo, 2009):

Initiate or Call Attention           Comment on action/object
Greet/Close                               Express feelings
Accept                                       Assert independence
Reject                                        Ask questions
Protest                                       Share information
Request Objects                        Relate events
Share/show Objects                  Talk about past/future
Request Information                 Negotiate/bargain
Name                                        Tease
Acknowledge                           Threaten
Answer                                     Make up stories
Express manners                      Identify same/difference

There are many opportunities within the school day to engage kids in the practice of using their AAC systems.  While some of these may be more “academic test” type interactions, rather than genuine communication interactions, they do provide some practice time.  As much as possible, keep the interactions ‘real.” Give kids the opportunities to say what they want to say (not just respond to what you ask them).  Make communication fun and interesting.

Looking for some examples? Try these:

Cooking and Snack Activities:
Make Choices,  Ask How Much,  Ask for More, Give Opinion (tastes good/bad, too salty - all comments), Give Directions
Game and Leisure Time:
Whose Turn, Count Spaces, Comment on the activity,  Ask for More,  Ask to Stop, Request Items and Actions,  Ask for Help, Tell to Hurry Up or Wait, Give Directions or Ask For Them
Story Time or Shared/Guided Reading:
By using a Before-During-After format to book reading, Teachers create multiple opportunities for students to use AAC to respond to questions, identify story elements (character, setting, action), predict what’s next, give an opinion, ask teacher to turn the page or read it again.  Within each of those activities (B-D-A), multiple chances for using the AAC system to respond, comment, request, and ask are created.

For a copy of this information, and more, in a handy handout, go here.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Don't Miss Talking About These!

The weather is getting warm again everywhere.  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 picnics and beach trips, kite flying and playground fun, walks in 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.

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.

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.

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?

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

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.  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 e 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.
You can find some more Summer-themed activity-based communication boards in my store here.  All of my topic boards include core words.

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

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Do You Celebrate the Earth?

Believe it or not, I can still remember the very first Earth Day celebration in 1970.  It was a beautiful day (even in the Northeast) and people were mellow (well, it was the 70’s) all throughout the city’s huge park system.  
There were speakers and there was music, and lots of people focused on saving the environment.  In fact, right there in Philadelphia, it was decided to dedicate not a single day, but an entire week, to the environment.  We were the only city to do so, but everyone celebrated Earth Day.
(Trivia time: While I don’t remember this, the entire cast of the musical Hair did an impromptu performance at the Independence Mall.)

Earth Day was designed as a national teach-in dedicated to saving the environment.  According to historical sites more than 20 million Americans took part in massive events from coast to coast. 
It was a rare day when political party lines blurred and everyone had the same objective.  
20 years later the event became global, with more than 200 million people participating.

Now, we all focus on recycling every day.  In fact, at one of the high schools I consult to, the Special Day Class students run a recycling program at the school.  All throughout campus are specially painted trash cans for recyclables.  The students in this class collect and sort them, then take a trip out into the community to the recycling center.  The money they make helps to pay for field trips for the students, who are learning community life skills.

You don’t need to collect your school's cans and bottles to teach kids what and how to recycle.  You can simulate the experience with only a few of each type of recyclable, remind students to put papers, cans, and bottles in separate bins.  Or, you can use my Earth Day Recycle Life Skills resource, which provides you with specially marked boxes you can quickly put together and pictures of items to sort. (It also includes a game to play.)
Here is one of the boxes for free, to get you started.
Keep the Earth clean and healthy, and Keep on Talking!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Top 2 Things Many Kids with Disabilities Love: Want Some Warm, Fuzzy Technology?

The concept of a soft, fuzzy stuffed animal ‘friend’ to read to you, teach you, and talk to or for you is a great one. When my son was very little (about 30 years ago) he had a Teddy Ruxpin who read books to him, and he loved it!  Well, Teddy Ruxpin is a thing of the past and a concept that ran out of steam.  But now, with the expansion of technology, so much more is possible.

When I first took my Bluebee Pal bear out of the box the first thing that struck me was how soft and cuddly he was.  That was a big plus for me, as well as how relatively hidden the mechanism is.

I plugged him into my computer to charge, and turned him on.  It took only a few seconds to connect him to the Bluetooth on my iPad and, like that, we were connected.

I tried a couple of different apps with him, including a storybook app, an alphabet/word learning app, and an augmentative-alternative communication (AAC) app.

Right away my bear could talk to me, read a story to me, and name letters and words to me.  What a great concept.  What small child wouldn’t want to curl up with a favorite stuffed animal who reads them stories or plays app games?

I picked a storybook app that still required the child to turn pages as the bear read to him.  
This maintains the emergent reading skill, and gives the child some control over the pace. 
The Pal’s mouth didn’t move as much as I've seen on their website, which I thought was a bit of a drawback.  But it does move.  
I listened as ‘he’ read the story to me and imagined all of the storybook apps I have being read to some of the students I’ve worked with. Magical!  Technology and stuffed animals are probably the top 2 favorite things on many kids’ lists.

The app I chose for letter/word matching allowed the Pal to say the letters and then the word as I dragged and dropped.  
I listened to the giggly letters of Endless Alphabet coming from the Pal as I dragged them around and I had to giggle, too.  
There are so many apps for educational skills where the Pal could give the prompts, ask the questions, say the cue for the child to repeat.

Then I opened an AAC app and had the Pal say some phrases.  This would be great fun for a nonverbal child who craved some power over his environment.  I could envision asking the student questions through the Pal using an AAC app - less threatening than my asking, and much more engaging. 

Bluebee is subject to some of the same vagaries that plague all bluetooth technology.  Sometimes the connection gets dropped.  If either the Pal or the iPad go to sleep, you need to reconnect them.  
Sometimes I needed to turn off the Pal and turn it back on to restore the connection.  
Unfortunately, the child would have to know how to do this, or would need an adult handy to help.  On the other hand, so many young kids now are handier with the technology than we are, so that may not be a problem.

Other than that, I thought my Bluebee Pal was great. I can see lots of opportunities for using him in therapy and evaluations with kids who might interact better with a stuffed animal than with me, and those who would love to make him talk. 

     Bluebee Pals sent me the Pal to review, but I have not been paid for this review.

Keep on talking!