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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Let’s Talk Vocabulary. How Much do You Really Need?

In the AAC world these days there is a lot of talk about core words.  Practice has been catching up with research, and teaching AAC users high frequency core words with which to build their own unique phrases and sentences has become more common.

Last year, Carole Zangari wrote a post on the PrAACtical AAC blog about not throwing out the baby with the bath water.  In our rush to teach core words, we have created situations for many of our AAC users where they don’t have the fringe vocabulary that is important to them on their AAC systems. And while many of our students are working with the Universal Core 36 or 40 words, that is not nearly sufficient vocabulary to meet communication needs long-term.

Many of us have interests that are unique to us or favorite topics we like to talk about, or hobbies or other experiences.  And we have the words with which to discuss or explain or narrate them.  Many of our students similarly have specific items or topics that are important to them. And of course within the classroom and home environments we are - or should be - reading books to them on a variety of interesting fiction and nonfiction topics.  So where do those words come in? How do we get them in the AAC system, and provide sufficient repeated practice with them so that the students understand and can use them?

In Special Education and Speech-Language intervention we have long understood that by keeping various curricular content in thematic units so that English and Math and Science and Social Studies are all addressing related content with similar vocabulary we provide students with a much better foundation for vocabulary building. 
General Education classes also work with thematic units; particularly in the lower grades, for the very same reasons.

Unfortunately, those same Special Education classes have ventured away from themed vocabulary instruction as they stick to the “Centers” approach to working on IEP goals.  I have seen many of these classrooms moving students from Center to Center every 20-30 minutes with no connection between the cutting task at the fine motor center and the story sequencing task at the ELA center or the handwashing task at the ADL center.

If you read this blog regularly you’ll know that I am a huge believer of using trade books (story books) to teach language skills, as well as literacy.  By using both fiction and nonfiction texts on a theme, we can provide a more cohesive plan for providing our AAC users with vocabulary around experiences that they may be missing, or just not getting enough of.

What are some favorite themes and books to go with them?
In the Fall, we often talk about pumpkins around Halloween time.  But pumpkins can provide a myriad of language experiences beyond carving faces.  Pumpkin life cycles, pumpkin shapes, pumpkin pie making.  Try these books: It’s Pumpkin Time, From Seed to Pumpkin, The Very Best Pumpkin, P is For Pumpkin, and Oh, My, Pumpkin Pie.

Planning a food themed unit? Try these books about vegetables: the little pea, Rah, Rah, Radishes, The Giant Carrot, and Sylvia’s Spinach.

There has been an explosion of children’s literature in the past couple of decades, and books abound on every topic possible.  Create fun thematic units around topics that are important not just for all students, but for each of your students individually.

To get you started, you might want to try this resource for the end of the school year or during extended school year (aka summer school); “Summer Beach Fun with Core.”  The materials in this resource focus on core words appropriate for Summer activities, with some fun fringe words on top.

Have fun with it, and.... keep on talking!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

What's the Purpose of THAT?!

My apologies for my absence last week.  Like many of us this Winter, I finally succumbed to this miserable crud that is infecting so many.  And I can't even blame it on having to shovel snow or scrape ice.  I no longer do such frigid tasks, here in Southern California.  
But I'm back on track - mostly. Although my poor cat, who likes to sit on my lap, has become extremely distrustful.  He's easily disturbed by loud noises, and my coughing and honking evidently count as such.  But, he'll get over it, in exchange for some treats.

So, on to this week's post.

We tend to talk a lot about use of core vocabulary and expanding functions beyond requesting, but we don’t talk quite so much about social skills and pragmatics with AAC users.  
The Pragmatics Profile for People who use AAC was developed based upon the Pragmatics Profile of Everyday Communication Skills in Children (Dewart & Summers,1988), which the authors assert is useable by many populations, as it is descriptive rather than a measure of skills.  
The Profile allows clinicians to collect information to describe an individual’s communication skills functionally and usefully.

While the original Profile was written for the preschool population, it soon extended to Elementary aged students, and then adults.  The original authors suggested that the Profile could be used with a wide variety of students; including those with physical and other disabilities.  This version for students who use AAC was adapted so that it is simple to administer to describe the pragmatic communication skills of students using, or who have used, AAC.

The Profile provides a 5 point scale that includes “Does this,” “May do this,” “Does not do this,” “Not applicable,” and “Potential target.”

Communication functions questions range from gaining attention to the full array of communication functions/intents and participation in various communication interaction types.  There are example provided and space for narrative remarks.  At the end is a summary chart, that can be used by teams to establish objectives and measure progress.

Until next week .........Keep on Talking!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Can Nonspeaking Students Learn to Read? Why Not?!

If you follow my blog you’ve probably read before about developing literacy skills in children with limited language and/or complex communication needs (CCN).  We just do not spend sufficient time teaching literacy skills to these children; not anywhere near the amount of time devoted to teaching reading in general education classes and even less than students in general education classes who are struggling readers and who receive additional support in the resource room.

reading instruction for nonverbal students

A recently published article by Barton-Hulsey, Sevcik, and Romski (2018) examined the relationship between receptive and expressive language skills and phonological awareness skills in children with development disabilities.  They attempted to help us understand how children with developmental disabilities and minimal speech develop reading skills; specifically phonological awareness skills.

reading instruction for nonverbal students

The National Reading Panel has reported that instruction in phonics and phonological awareness is very effective.  In fact research has shown that, while taking significantly more time than neurotypical peers to acquire literacy skills, the relationship between phonological awareness and reading skills is the same in both groups. (The Institute for Educational Sciences - IES, 2014).
Children’s understanding about the sound structure of language plays a significant role in their understanding of how speech and reading support each other (Frost et al, 2009).  

Contrary to widespread belief, letters do not actually represent the sounds in a word; rather they represent the underlying phonology (Liberman, Shankweiler, & Liberman, 1989).
While there have been a number of studies exploring the relationship between speech sound disorders and development of phonological awareness skills, little has been done to explore this relationship in students with minimal speech with filtered variables.  

There have been some studies exploring reading development in individuals with motor speech impairments but no significant impairment in cognitive skills.  However, there are very limited studies that have looked at the development of reading skills in children with intellectual impairment.
In one study (Card & Dodd, 2006) it was found that children who could speak performed better on some tasks of PA (phoneme manipulation & visual rhyme), but not in other tasks (segmenting syllables, spoken rhyming words, and reading nonwords).  If development of PA skills is not dependent upon the ability to speak, then we should be able to develop these skills in AAC users.

reading instruction

This newest study looked at the relationships between receptive language, speech ability, early literacy skills and phonological awareness in children with developmental disabilities.  The results suggest that “…speech ability does not play a significant role in PA for those children.”

“Speech ability and letter-sound knowledge we found to have a small, nonsignificant correlation.”  Similar to the 2006 study by Card & Dodd, the findings suggest that limited speech does not result necessarily in limitations on tasks of PA.

The study concludes that the “ability to speak may not be an important component in the linguistic knowledge necessary for PA…”  While significant modification may be necessary for reading tasks for students who use AAC, there is nothing to suggest that we cannot teach them to read.

As David Yoder said (ISAAC, 2002): No child is too anything to learn to read!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The 30 Million Word Gap

That's an amazingly big number, isn't it?  30 Million.  It's even more amazing - and frightening - that this is the number of words that children from low SES (socio-economic status) are missing from their environments, when compared to children from professional families - those from higher SES.

lack of vocabulary

If you can stand reading about statistics, here are a few from different studies:
Von Tetzchner (1997) and Porter (2009) both refer to the differences in language environments between typically developing children and AAC users.  
Children are typically surrounded by examples of others using the communication systems they are learning. Hart and Risely (1995) found that typical children in working class families hear approximately 1,250 words per hour and accumulate a listening vocabulary of 6 million words by the time they are 3 years old. 
They also reported (1995) that 4-year-olds from working-class families and families on welfare had considerably smaller vocabularies than their age-mates from professional families. 
This difference has been called the “30-Million-Word Gap” and “The Great Catastrophe.”

30 million word gap

The average 3 year old in a middle class household hears about 6 million words per year.  The average deaf child the same age and background (and in a signing home) sees approximately the same number of signs.  
But the average nonverbal 3 year old sees 0 instances of someone using pictures to communicate.

According to Von Tetzcher (1997) “the difference between their own expressive (and for some also receptive) language and the language used by significant people in their immediate surroundings” is a critical factor in the acquisition of language for AAC users.  
There is an assumption in all major theories of language learning that the individual is surrounded by others in the environment using the same language system.    
Even in second language learning the importance of immersion has been noted. Learners of second languages need to participate in an environment that exposes them - immerses them - in experiences with that language in order to become competent communicators. 

Parents and others engage often in routines with children that demonstrate how the world is organized, what words people use in those organized routines, what people’s roles are in routines (who says what when) and how to interact with others in these routines; even before they can participate in the conversation.

“The average 18 month old child has been exposed to 4,380 hours of oral language at the rate of 8 hours/day from birth.  
A child who has a communication system and receives speech/language therapy two times per week for 20-30 minute sessions will reach this same amount of language exposure in 84 years.” (Jane Korsten).  

Because this type of immersion environment is rarely provided (although beginning to find foothold) to learners of AAC, there is a great discrepancy for them between the language environment to which they are exposed, which uses verbal language, and the language system they are being asked to use, which is a picture-based language. 

That's all for the numbers this week.  The take-away? Talk to your children/students. Read to your children/students. Expose them to vocabulary.  And for your AAC users - use their system when talking or reading to them.
More next week.
In the meantime, keep on talking!