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Monday, March 27, 2017

Core Words Are Everywhere

It is fantastic that use of core words in teaching and using AAC has gotten to be more commonplace and programming of predetermined phrases and sentences is taking a backseat.
That's not to say they don't have their place; they absolutely do.  In contexts where the message needs to be quick, or it's a message that is repeated/used often, it makes sense to program those buttons.

teaching core words

But, when we're talking about emergent communicators who are just beginning to learn language, 1-2 words is where we start, and in context use is crucial.  We learn new words by being taught the new word, hearing it in context, and trying it out - sometimes everywhere.
You know how little kids will repeat a new word even when it's not appropriate because they've just learned it and want to feel it out everywhere?
Well, that's what our AAC users need to do, too.  I cringe when I hear someone say a student is "just playing" with a device.  Yes, he or she is playing with their vocabulary set, trying out words, looking around for what words and where.

AAC users need many many many opportunities to use new words in order to "have" them and be comfortable with them.  I spend a lot of time helping teachers and parents to think about what words are important in any given activity or situation, and how to use and model key words, which are usually a set of core words - usually verbs, adjectives, pronouns - along with whatever fringe words are appropriate for the activity.
core words interactive books

Me, I use 'bubbles' a LOT!  But recently I saw a girl in a high school and, if I had not been able to work with her in the context of the classroom lesson, I'd have painted her nails or done her hair.

But for as much as we try to infuse those core words into our practice with AAC users, they often need additional practice.
I use a combination of interactive books that illustrate a variety of contexts in which target words can be used, and real-life simulations with props and games.

If you are interested in seeing how I've constructed these, head on over to my TpT store and check out the AAC resources there.  I've recently updated my Core Words Books sets, and I've created a variety of materials for teaching core words in context and role-playing.
My Activities and Games to Learn Core Words has 2 sets; I used the words from's word lists in 6 month portions.
My 10 Weeks to 40 Core Words is loosely based on the DLM list from Karen Erickson; although I have changed 1 or 2 words based on my experiences with the AAC users I've supported.
Pick up some of my free informational handouts while you're there.

I hope my blog continues to provide you with ideas, tips, and information for working with your AAC users.

Until next time; keep on talking!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

AAC 101: So How Do I Do This?

Over the past 2 months I’ve been talking a lot about beginning with augmentative communication; including what it is and who needs it.  The next question I most often get from parents, teachers and SLPs is about what kinds of materials are needed for intervention (and “where the heck do I find them”)?

AAC getting  started

We all know that genuine communication interactions in context are the best for teaching any communication skill.  Too often in AAC implementation we “test” more than teach.  We ask students to identify symbols at random, or find target words outside of any social engagement or genuine interaction.

Teaching AAC Core Words Activities

Since many of our students require additional specific, structured practice beyond the opportunities throughout their school day, I encourage role playing and simulations.  There are a lot of ways to do this; such as including using props, dress-up, role playing, and using books and apps.

We also know that our students need to have a robust communication system; either no/light tech or high tech systems.  Again, there are dedicated devices that use core words as well as categories of fringe words, AAC apps that are similarly robust with sufficient vocabulary to meet all of their communication needs, and dynamic communication books that have robust vocabulary to meet a variety of communication functions.

Systems that are either totally core word based (with available fringe words) or are function/pragmatically based but include the same high frequency words, are robust enough to meet many needs.

Much research has been done on language development in general, and on the acquisition and use of early words; especially those words we know of as “core words.” But, somehow, we often seem to get stuck with those first 15, 25, or 32 core words.  Sometimes even SLPs forget about 2-word combinations when teaching AAC users.  But isn’t that the natural next place to go?
I love it when I hear SLPs or teachers exclaim, “Look! He’s putting two words together.”

Two word combinations are necessary to convey meaning when one of those words is a noun.  “Apple.”  Well, what about an apple?  Do you want an apple?  Did your apple fall on the floor?  Did someone take your apple?  Are you tired of apples?

But think of the magic of communication when combining two core words.  All of the  multiple meanings of both words create powerful combinations.  “Want apple.”  “Not apple.”  “Give apple.”  “Bad apple.”  Good apple.”  “More apple.”   I’ve made meaning intelligible, and I’ve covered - how many functions?

I have made a great many resources available in my TPT store for AAC implementation.  

When the book is assembled, it shows the easy to access to core words, as well as the variety of fringe words available.

10 weeks to 40 core words activities to teach 40 core words

The kit also includes my 10 Weeks to 40 Core Words.  The activities for teaching use of core words in this resource are similar to my other Activities and Games for a Year of Core and Teach Me Core Words resources.  

I have attempted to provide both suggestions for using core words in every day routines and activities, as well as activities to simulate other real-life activities that you may not have access to within your intervention setting or classroom.

There are 4 target core words per week, planned out over 10 weeks.  You may need a different pace for your students, and that is certainly fine.  Move at a pace that works for the students you are working with; making sure to always presume competence, provide maximum opportunities for genuine communicating, and use the least intrusive cues and prompts possible. Consistent partner use of Aided Language Stimulation is crucial.

For each of those 4 word groups, there is a different lesson plan/activity suggestion/contextual idea(s) for each day of the week.  The words are provided on large cards (approximately 4.5 X 3) for use in the classroom, as well as on a complete 40-location communication board.  Each week you will get a small book to read with the student(s) on Day 2 that uses those words.  When possible, act out the statements in the book in real time, giving a context with real objects and people.

The books can be interactive;  having students place the appropriate symbol on each page of each book.
Simulation activities for each week include activities such as an Animal Escape game, making a volcano, blowing bubbles, playing a familiar game, building a pizza, doing a group puzzle, and more.  3X5 sized cards for use on a classroom board come in white background as well as red & yellow for students with cortical vision issues.

Also in the starter kit is my Teach Me 6 Core Words resource and Teach Me More Core Words resource; each of which has a variety of simulation activities.  Order a pizza, order animals back to the barn, get dressed for the weather, go to the store are some of the activities.

And my 3 Games for AAC practice are also in this set.  The first game involves students picking a card from a pile and finding the words in their AAC system.  The second game uses dice to provide a single core word and asks students to create a phrase using that word.  The third game is a bit like Scrabble, but uses core words tiles rather than single letter tiles, and has students build phrases and sentences using the words they’ve picked.

There are more than 500 pages in this resource, with enough activities to keep your AAC users learning to use language throughout the year - and beyond!

However you choose to do it, keep your AAC users “talking!”

Sunday, March 12, 2017

For Your Viewing Pleasure: AAC Resource Montage

Ok, I admit it. I didn't get my blog post written for today. I thought I had. But, nope, I was wrong. Imagine my surprise when I opened the blog this morning only to find last week's post still there.

So, given that I've been sick, I was just going to dazzle you today with a video I made last year that is a slide deck of various resources I have for implementing AAC practice.

But, technology gods just weren't on my side today. I promise more "meat" next week.
In the mean time, keep on talking!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

What Did We Do Before Technology?

Before all children begin speaking they learn to use communicative gestures.  Some of these gestures continue to be extensions or variations on other actions; for example pointing is a more refined version or reaching.  Some gestures are more formal and some, like signs, only become communicative when a group of people assign a consistent meaning to them.

AAC Before Technology

In addition to gestures, a variety of body movements can be communicative.  Facial expressions are very communicative, as are shaking and nodding our heads, shrugging our shoulders and turning away.  We learn to hold up objects for others to see, wave hello and good-bye, hold out two items to make a choice.

No Technology AAC

Sometimes in AAC intervention we forget that we all use gestures to communicate, and the gestures and communicative body actions of the nonverbal individual continue to be valuable communication tools.  Too often those gestures are extinguished or ignored in favor of “more appropriate” communication.  While actions that are disruptive or destructive certainly want to be eliminated, many gestures continue to be appropriate for communication, and should not necessarily be replaced by more formal symbolic communication.

The truly no tech AAC system is sign language.  
Sign language was used with populations other than the deaf in the 1960s through the 1980s as research found that many persons with developmental disabilities and autism were able to learn to use signs more easily than speech.   

It must be noted, however, that what was being taught to these individuals were individual signs; not sign language per se.  There are many more subtle hand positions and other cues that go into sign language that are not present in the teaching of signs to other populations.  
Additionally, most of the individuals with developmental disabilities and autism using signs use poorly articulated signs as well as idiosyncratic signs.  
Lack of comprehension by others in the community is a problem for communication via sign; often even members of the signing community do not understand the poorly articulated signs these individuals use.

©smarty symbols; all rights reserved

Stephen Calculator devised a system of Enhanced Natural Gestures (ENGs).  These are natural intentional gestures that may already be in the individual’s repertoire, or can be easily taught, and that represent what they mean so are easily understood by others.  
Unlike contact gestures, such as taking objects from partners or pulling partners toward preferred activities, ENGs do not require physical contact with items or persons and are readily understood by others in context.  
They have been found to be easily taught to and effectively used by individuals with Angelman’s Syndrome. ENGs are motor behaviors that are already used by the individual or can be easily taught, and are understood by an observer.  For example, an individual might be taught to hold a cup to his mouth to indicate a desire for a drink.

No tech is also considered to include object-based systems, as well as paper based systems that may or may not be created with a computer, using letters, words, and/or picture symbols.  Examples can include:
1. Object boards (with or without symbols or text).  Object boards are sometimes used for individuals who relate better to concrete objects, or those who have severe vision impairments, or who are deaf-blind, and who have difficulty understanding the symbolic nature of pictures.  This often limits those students’ available vocabulary and restricts their access to a variety of communicative intents.
2. Single pictures (or photographs) that are good for labeling items in the environment or for making simple requests. Even without technological solutions and equipment there is a lot that can be done in classrooms for students who need AAC (but might not yet have it) using pictures taken from software, websites, magazines, or other educational sources.  
Pictures/symbols can be used to teach categorization and to define and describe.  They can be used to learn and sort words/symbols by parts of speech.  They can be used to teach phonological awareness skills for literacy learners; such as initial and final sounds, word families and rhyming words.  They can be used to create word webs to teach vocabulary skills and help to strengthen the connections needed for finding vocabulary within some AAC systems.  You can also teach prepositional concepts and the concept of same and different. 

Pictures or symbols can be used for playing a variety of thematic “Guess Who” games similar to the popular Milton-Bradley game (to build describing skills and questioning skills), and to create language-based cards for a variety of card games.  

Use single pictures to teach a single core vocabulary word.  Use 2 pictures to teach a yes/no response or to teach choice-making.

Next week, we'll talk more about communication books and boards.
Until then.... Keep on Talking!