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Sunday, May 28, 2017

School's Out For the Summer! What Does This Mean for Your AAC User?

Often times, AAC users get to practice using their language systems only while in school.  Sometimes, the AAC system is owned by the school and students aren't allowed to take them home - either for long Summer breaks or even for over the weekend!
So how are they supposed to continue to learn to communicate without the means?  Good question.  And one I often fight with districts about.

AAC over the summer

What can parents do?  The simplest answer is: keep on talking to your child, all the time.  Use whatever pictures you have on hand to create some communication pages.  Unfortunately, this isn't the best answer.  What are some alternatives?

1. Ask the school to take screen shots of the AAC system if it is an iPad app, and send you the pictures or - even better - a print out of the pages.  If you can only get the images, then print them out and take them to your local office supply store to be laminated.  Punch holes, add rings, and - Voila!  A communication book that looks like the  high tech device he usually uses.

2. Some device manufacturers offer pages of their systems to print out.  These are limited, and may not have all the pages you want, and won't be customized, but it can be better than nothing.  To customize, print out pictures of whatever people, places, or things you need and adhere with clear packing tape to the pages.

This core word communication board is from Assistiveware's website.  They are the makers of Proloquo2Go.

3. Many states have technology loan centers, where you can borrow devices to use.  There is often a limit on the length of time you can keep a device, but you might get lucky and have it for more than 30 days.  I know that here, in California, we have a number of programs; including the California A.T. Exchange program (CATE) with 13 centers across the state.  Check your state's possibilities.

4. Check out the internet.  There are some free image sites available where you can create communication pages for little or no money.  These sites come and go, so I am not going to list links here that might be obsolete by the time you read this.  

5. Before school ends and you have to let go of the device, take pictures of each screen with your phone/ camera.  Check that you don't have a glare from lights or flash to interfere with the picture.  Again, print out and make into a communication book.

In a pinch, I also have a free Core Word Communication Board available here.

I'd love to hear about any other options you've found!  In the meantime, have a great summer, and keep on talking!

Thanks to Assistiveware and Smarty Symbols; all rights reserved.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

What's That in My Bag? My 5 Top Toys for Assessments

Because I travel from school to school, home to district to office and back, I have the mother-lode of wheeled bags.  Included are several bags of toys and activities roughly divided by age and/or interest.

When I do AAC evaluations I worry less about the technology and more about communication. That is, after all, the point.  And gone are the days when I would ask the student to "Point to the dog," in a field of 2.  "Now point to the dog," in a field of 6, etc.  

We did a lot of testing, but not nearly enough talking and listening.

Now, when SLPs, teachers, and parents watch me do an AAC evaluation they are sometimes confounded.  "You're just going to play?  That's it?"
Yes.... and No.

Yes, I am playing with your student.  I play with bubbles, with Lego blocks, with play houses, with fun apps, with my portable DVD player that I would not be without.  I also have nail polish and eye shadow.  I have DVDs from Sesame Street to High School Musical to the Super Bowl.

Because what happens during play and fun interactions is "real" communication.  I have written in past posts about how often I can go from "Barney" to "want Barney" and "more Barney" and "watch Barney," and eventually to "want watch more."
Play in AAC Assessments

So, today I thought I'd take you through some of the other toys in my bag and how I model core word use with them.

1. I can't get away from bubbles.  I love bubbles, as do most of the kids I work with.  My bubbles pages are full of core words; such as blow, pop, catch, more, big, little, high, low, like, sticky.

2. Lego blocks can be difficult for some small and motorically challenged hands.  But, if I can get a student to give me directions to build with the legos we have a fun activity.  Put it on.  Put it next to.  Put red.  More blue.  Yellow on. Make high.

lego blocks in assessments for AAC

3. Cars and trucks are great fun for kids.  I have big. chunky plastic cards for smaller kids and smaller Matchbox type cards for bigger hands.  We can Go fast, Go slow, Crash, Beep, Move, Stop, Turn.

4. Puzzles are fun and come in a vast array of degrees of complexity.  From chunky wooden puzzle pieces with handles to 50 piece jigsaws I can engage kids with puzzle pictures of their favorite things.  We can Put it down, Turn it around, Need more, Not that, Get different one, It fits, Not fit, Pick it up, Give it to me, All done!

5. Play sets are great.  I've finally stopped carrying my Fisher-Price Sesame Street House around, but I do keep some pay furniture and home accessories in my bag.  As an alternative, I also keep several apps on a separate iPad; such as Toca Tea Party, Play Home, and similar apps where students can direct me to move things around and can interact with them.
With play sets - real or digital - students can experience and try out a wealth of language. More than I can even list here.

I also keep some games on my"fun" iPad for kids who are into gaming, as well as storybook apps that are interactive for some spontaneous shared reading interactions, and some apps that actually tell me something about a student's language skills (i.e. categorizing, matching, labeling, and more).

So, sit down and have a good time with your students when you're evaluating their communication skills and needs.  It is possible - and preferable - to determine the array size, vocabulary organization, symbol preferences, and all the other features we look for in an assessment session in a meaningful interaction rather than a "show me what you know" session.

Here is a handout from a presentation I've done on AAC assessments.

Have fun, and..... Keep on Talking!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Do You Have a Purpose?

Communication needs a purpose - an intent.  The individual must have something that he wishes to communicate - impart - to someone else.  It is important to make situations motivating and meaningful in order to create an environment in which an individual who is just learning to communicate has something he wants to say and the means to say it.

Use genuine communication purposes

A case in point: I was called in to consult a district regarding a boy of 10 with autism several years ago.  

He had been using a PECS board with symbols for favorite foods and activities.  

Pictures were also used during specific activities in the class.  These velcro’d pictures were only available during the specific activity, and were limited to symbols required for that activity.  They were also limited to nouns, with a few activity-associated verbs.  

They told me he had been successful for a while with pictures, and was great at using them to request food (he was always hungry), but wasn’t using them for other activities and so they did not think he was “ready” for a more complex system.

Communication needs a purpose
When I observed in his classroom, I saw him first during an art activity where he was required to cut and paste, then color.  This was a boy who had poor fine motor skills and did not like or ever want to do cutting and coloring.  
But the symbols for the activity required to him say that he wanted scissors, he wanted glue, he wanted the red crayon, etc.  He most clearly did Not Want any of these things – and “Not” was not available among the symbols.
Given an activity he enjoyed and appropriate symbols to use, he was clearly able to use them.  His vocabulary was limited, as he had always been restricted to a noun-based vocabulary, but he clearly knew what the pictures were for and how to use them.
Lessons learned: 

1. Verbal communicators are able to tell you when they don’t want something or don’t want to say what you want them to.  Nonverbal communicators have the same right to say “I don’t want to” as everyone else. 

2. Only giving the individual the words to say specific, limited messages does not give them the ability to communicate.  

3. As Gayle Porter says, “…a child who uses speech will independently select the words she wishes from the vast array she hears/uses every day.  A child who uses AAC will independently select the words she wishes to use from the vocabulary other people have chosen to model and, for aided symbols, made available for her to use.” (Porter & Kirkland)   

And a child who uses a limited AAC system will sometimes NOT choose to select words that do not say what he wants them to.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Two Best Reasons to Shop Tomorrow

Teachers Pay Teachers is holding their annual "Teacher Appreciation" sale tomorrow and Wednesday; May 9 & 10, 2017.  Everything in my store is 20% off, and TPT gives you another 10% with the code: THANKYOU17.

So, if you're looking for speech-language therapy materials; especially resources for working with AAC users, please stop by my store and save a bundle.
But what makes it even better?  TPT has given away gift cards, and LooksLikeLanguage and I are giving away 2 to some lucky winners!

So, go to my store, check out the resources, and leave a comment below to tell me what you'd love to buy from my store with a $10 gift card to TPT.
Then, hop over to LooksLikeLanguage's post here and leave a comment for her resources, too.

We'll announce 2 lucky winners on Tuesday night, so you can catch the sale on Wednesday and use your certificate while saving big on resources for your caseload or classroom.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Can You Find the Core in Stories?

If you read this blog consistently - or even occasionally - you will know that I write a lot about using core words with AAC users, and that I also write a lot about literacy instruction and story-based language intervention. 

Core words in stories

AAC core words in stories

When I worked in a school system with students with severe language disorders, I used storybooks almost exclusively in my interventions.  I developed an entire “curriculum” of language skills around books and short stories; developing story grammar, syntax, and other “form” skills, but also teaching about point of view, characterization, and other broader skills.

With AAC users, however, I most often use stories to develop their language skills while still instructing in how to access their AAC systems to find the words they need.

I know St. Patrick’s day is long behind us, but I want to use a storybook I’ve worked with for using core words.  The book is, “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Clover,” by Lucille Colandro.

This book is not good for teaching story grammar, in so far as it does not actually contain an episode, or a critical thinking triangle, as Moreau terms the relationship between the event, the character’s feelings about the event, and his developing a plan.  

Rather, this type of story provides a series of actions and, usually, an ending that has a consequence or ending action.  A repetitive line in these stories can be used for an AAC user to participate in the reading, even if his participation is limited to doing so with a pre-recorded message.

However, as we focus on using core words in every day activities, reading is a great place to talk about key words.  In this story, we can focus on “not” in multiple opportunities (“She did not roll over,” etc.).  AAC users need to find both the “not” symbol and the action symbol in their systems in order to respond to the story.

comprehension questions

And these stories are wonderful for teaching sequencing.  They are, basically, a series of related events by a single character, done in order.  Looked at another way, the stories are a series of First - Then statements, which many students can grasp.  
And, in talking about the events, AAC users must be able to find the action words in their systems.  In this case, words like; roll, swallow, sigh, glide, carry, and dance.  Also,  describing words need to be found; such as absurd (or a synonym),  lazy, bright, shiny, and cold.

Choose your books for interest, for reading level, and - for your AAC users - for their ability to highlight core words.

Have fun, and…..keep on talking!