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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Moving AAC Users Beyond Single Words

Last week I shared with you some free resources to help keep students communicating over the summer, to prevent that “Summer slide,” when students are out of school and not engaged in intervention activities.

beyond single words

This week, I thought I’d share with you some of my ideas for building phrases and sentences with core words (and necessary fringe). Just to review, core vocabulary are those high frequency words that we use over and over again to generate the messages we make. And fringe words are those less frequent words that are important and specific to each user.

We know that we need to provided models of use of the AAC system so that our AAC users can learn where to find and how to use words, and how to use the AAC system. We know that this modeling of the AAC system takes the place of - or supplements our use of - speech models for picture based communicators. That immersion in this ‘different language’ is needed for students to know how to use it competently.

more than single words
We also know that we need to provide our models at and 1 step above the child’s current language use. So, if the child is using single word responses, we model 2-word phrases. If he is using 2-3 word phrases, we model 3-4 word phrases. Etc. Unfortunately, what happens is that somewhere between the single word stage and the 3-4 word stage, something breaks down. Communication partners stop providing consistent aided input. Or they think that this is such an accomplishment - finally to have the child communicating - that they’ve accomplished what they set out to do. Or having the child be able to tell what he wants or needs is sufficient.

For whatever reason, relatively few of our AAC users develop morphosyntactic competence.

Janice Light pointed out a number of years ago that a part of the problem was the lack of grammatical availability in AAC systems. While there are still too many AAC systems - on paper, on devices and apps - that continue to restrict language development, there are also many available now that do have a mechanism for morphological markers and syntactic forms. All require additional steps to add the markers(-s, -es, -ed,- ing, etc.) to the word. And all too often I see that these buttons - where there are specific buttons for these - have been removed, in order to make room for more words. More words may be nice, of course, but when that is at the expense of language building students lose too much.

If you’d like to learn more about expanding utterances of AAC users, join me at the AAC in the Cloud conference, sponsored by Cough Drop AAC, on June 26. There are many great speakers lined up. Hope to see you there. In the meantime, keep on talking!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Keep Them Communicating Through the Summer Slide

For most students Summer is a time for freedom from studies and studying.  We do have numerous programs for keeping students reading over the summer and avoiding the dreaded Summer slide.

avoid the summer slide

For students with special needs, including language disorders, the Summer slide is more of a certainty.  Students with language disorders need to keep working on those target skills year-round.  
Those who need to use AAC - Augmentative and Alternative Communication - need all of their communication partners working with them throughout the Summer - and even other, shorter breaks, from school.

Parents don’t need specific materials to help them work on communication skills over the Summer. They just need some ideas.  Communicating is a social endeavor and AAC use should be taught in the course of normal, genuine communication occurrences.
Providing parents with ideas for how to use daily routines and fun activities to help develop their child’s communication is often sufficient.  If, however, you need to, make sure that there is time to train parents in the basics before the school year ends.

I have several Summer Communicating handouts in my TPT store for free, to provide just such guidance for things to talk about with their child.
Here are just a few samples to take a look at:

You can find my Summer handouts through these links:

You don’t need special materials
Communication happens everywhere
You just need to provide ideas to keep moving with vocabulary and language - not just for the Summer, but all year round.

Have a great Summer and, remember, Keep on Talking.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

He Can’t? I Bet He Can!

Not too long ago I did an AAC assessment for a young teen who is severely - profoundly motorically disabled.  He cannot move any but his facial muscles, so it was an evaluation of different eye gaze systems, both no tech and high tech. No low-tech options available for potential eye gaze users.

simon says AAC

His mother was a bit unsure about the assessment; telling me he really didn’t have much to motivate him.  He didn’t really like “things” or technology, she said; he’s more of a people watcher.  He likes being social.

AAC game of Simon Says

I could understand not being motivated by things.  Given his inability to interact with “stuff,” I wasn’t surprised he really wasn’t interested in much.  I also understood being socially motivated.  He was, after all, a teenager; albeit one with none of the usual experiences his typical peers have had.

What was needed was a way to motivate him to communicate, even though he had little prior experience with communicating. The manufacturer’s rep who had brought this eye gaze system and I decided to try a game of Simon Says.  This is a great way to introduce cause and effect and it worked like a charm.

For the next 20-30 minutes, he was able to direct us to turn around, sit down, stand up, dance, and more.  The smile on his face was amazing! He was so happy that he could tell us what to do; that he had the power to do that.  Most of his face was taken up by this smile.  Writing the report was a no-brainer (after we tried the required 2 more systems needed for both good decision making and a funding report, of course).

So, don’t write off your student as being “unmotivated” by anything.  Brainstorm with fellow team members, family, and friends to think outside the box about what might work for him.  And remember - it’s all about the power!

I was so happy that “Simon Says” worked for him, that I made a resource all about learning core verbs, adjectives, and prepositions through directing actions.  You can check it out here.

Have fun, and….. keep on talking!