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Sunday, December 23, 2018

What Are Your Faves? Top 3 Posts of 2018

To round off the year, I thought I’d do a quick round-up post of the top 3 posts of 2018.  In case you want to re-read them in their entirety, here are the links to each:

In the 30 Million Word Gap, I talked about some chilling statistics. 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.
I’ve done a number of posts about Aided Language Stimulation and Aided Input. Reminders about just how invaluable this is cannot come along too often, I think.

Being a Good Partner to a child who uses AAC is also important for all communication partners to read or hear about.  We need to create a positive communication environment, remember to respond to all communication attempts, and use the AAC system to communicate TO them.  
So, yes, just another variation on the theme.

And finally, I talked about presuming competence, with a quote from Buckminster Fuller, ““There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.” 
Invariably, at some point in every one of my students’ academic careers has been the question, “Are we expecting too much? Or too little?”  With higher expectations we’ve seen these students succeed at tasks “we” thought they could not. We’ve discovered literacy skills in students who have, historically, not even been taught to read.  We’ve discovered communication skills in students we thought would never learn beyond, perhaps, some basic requesting.
The bottom line: 

“All individuals, regardless of the severity of their disability, have the basic right to ongoing instruction that will help them develop versatile communication skills.”  (Geist, Erickson, et al, 2016)

I’ll see you all in the New Year. In the meantime, keep on talking.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Like to Forget the Holidays? You’re Not Alone.

Holidays can be times of joy and peaceful celebration.  But they can just as easily be times of stress and anxiety. For our students who lack communication skills, they can be doubly stressful.  Not knowing what is happening, what is coming, and how to get their communication needs met in an out-of-usual environment can make our nonspeaking students more than usually anxious. And how does that anxiety appear to us?  Often as behavior we describe as “angry,” “aggressive,” or “wild.”

None of these is really what the child means to communicate, most of the time. We all too frequently see the manifestation of emotions as other than what the child is actually feeling.  This can be seen in neurotypical children, as well, particularly when they are too young to have the words they need.

Likely even your typical children hate being dragged to and fro and told to be on their best behavior.  You can usually explain to them why this needs to be, in language they understand, and many of us have even resorted to “bribery” - oops, I meant to say reinforcement.

To help your language disordered child, however, I have some tips that might help.

  1. Communicate expectations visually.  Make a simple visual display that shows the child where they are going, when, and with whom, as well as what they can expect while they are at the destination.
  2. You might want to make a contingency map; showing the child a desired outcome (that bribe I mentioned above) and what they need to do to receive it, vs what behavior will result in its removal.
  3. If you insist upon a certain mode of dress that is out of the norm for them, try these clothes on beforehand and eliminate any areas of discomfort.  An uncomfortable child will not be a compliant child.
  4. Make sure you have a way for them to communicate to you. This is where your AAC system comes in, of course. But if your child doesn’t yet have a robust system, at least have a simple core word-based board that offers choices of symbols for ‘What is wrong’ and ‘How I’m feeling.”  If possible, also have a choice of comments they can make during the event or get-together; “I like this,” and “I don’t like,” at a minimum.
  5. If there will be unusual activities, try to plan ahead by doing some simple simulations to practice what they will need to do.  Again, keep communication going in both directions.

There are, of course, lots of other suggestions I could make, but I don’t want to overwhelm you any more than you want to overwhelm the child.  My key point is - of course - communicate to the child and make sure he can communicate to you.
You can right click to download this very simple board, or drag and drop.

Looking for more communication tips and strategies for using AAC with a child? Check out my book, “Make the Connection!: A Practical Guide to Parents and Practitioners for Teaching the Nonverbal Child to Communicate with AAC.” Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

(This is an associate link.)

Happy holidays! And, keep on talking!!  I'll talk to you next year.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Talking About Stories

Last week I spoke about giving gifts of interactive toys that can build language. This week, I’m going to talk about some books for the season and how to read to build language. (This post contains affiliate links)

First up, a couple of classics; including The Mitten and Hibernation Station. The former is read by parents and teachers everywhere. The Mitten is a story about a boy who loses a mitten in the snow and all of the animals who crawl inside to keep warm. It’s a terrific book for practicing sequencing and talking about animals. You can describe, compare, and contrast the various woodland animals.

Hibernation Station is another book that focuses on winter for the animals in a wood. There’s so much fun descriptive language in this book to build children’s vocabularies. The animals are big and small, shy and loud, sleepy and playful. And, an added benefit - the story rhymes. So practice those phonological awareness skills.

For fans of Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter, try reading “Just a Snowman.”  There is so much going on in this book that children who live in snowy areas can relate to. There are lots of activities about which we can ask Wh-questions and help kids learn verbs.

Last, but not least, is the old classic “The Snowy Day.”  In this story Peter goes on a winter’s day adventure, having fun alone the way.  There are a couple of sequences within the story, and you can break down re-telling into segments of inside and outside activities. Ask Wh-questions.  Talk about the descriptive words in the story. Use core words, like walk, drag, hit, throw, build and cold.

If you're looking for some language activities to extend the story, try these resources.
Hibernation Station
Snowy Day 

Next week, I'll talk about some more toys that foster language. Until then, keep on talking.

p.s. Looking for a book to give a parent? Look no further. Give the gift of communicating! Give "Make the Connection!: A Practical Guide to Parents and Practitioners to Teach the Nonverbal Child to Communicate with AAC."