Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Where Will Your (AAC) Journey Take You This Year?

So, I’ve been writing this blog for almost 6 years, now. And while I’ve got plenty of ideas for continuing on, I’d really like to give my readers what they want.

So……. what do y’all want? I’d love to know what it is you would like me to talk about here. So, leave me a comment below and let me know what you’d like me to cover in the AAC world.

In the meantime, listen in on my interview with Al Cole, on CBS radio.  
embed code for al cole interview
Thanks so much for being loyal readers. It means a lot to me.
More to come soon. In the meantime…. keep on talking!

Looking for some gifts for your Valentine? A copy of my book is a wonderful gift for a parent wanting to hear their child say, "I love you." Try these other fun items from Amazon.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Anatomy of Sequencing Tasks: Steps to Telling Stories

In a couple of previous posts about sequencing, I offered some insights into why we work on sequencing skills, and even included a free activity appropriate for the time of year (here in the U.S. it is a cold, snowy winter).

Sequencing is important for daily living skills, conversational skills, storytelling and retelling skills, and even learning in History or Science classes. This seemingly simple skill is crucial in so many areas of a student’s life; so much so that we spend a lot of time on it. 

Sequencing involves ordering language and information into an accurate or efficient order.  Students with language disorders may have difficulty with not just steps of a task, but also words in a phrase or sentence.  Students might also have difficulty with working memory; causing them to “lose” some of the steps.

 From sequencing the meals in a day or the steps of a simple routine task to telling the steps of an activity or retelling War and Peace, sequencing plays a crucial role in helping students to organize themselves and their world.

Sequencing requires us to break down a task or an event into smaller steps that we then put in order.  We need to understand the sequence in order to perform the task.
Sequencing also requires us to break down an event or story into its component smaller events in order to tell about it or understand someone else’s telling.

In order to understand sequencing, the student needs to understand ordinal order; that there is a first, a next, and a last.  I usually begin with 3-step sequences; such as the order of meals we eat in a day.  Sometimes, you may even need to start with just two steps.  I begin by providing large illustrations of each step or event.  I gradually reduce the size of the visual cue; moving from a single picture per word or phrase to a small visual per sentence and then paragraph. 
Eventually, I want to get rid of the visual cues, if possible.

Expository and narrative tasks are different in how the mind processes them.  Stories about ourselves and events are easier to understand and tell about than how-to tasks, which are a later developmental step.

Important for both types of sequencing tasks is the understanding and use of temporal words; such as ‘first,’ ‘then,’ ‘last,’ ‘and after that,’ etc.  Use these words as often as possible in all appropriate contexts to help students understand them.  And don’t forget numerical order; such as first, second, third.
In my storybook companion resources on TPT I always include sequencing the story as one of the linguistic tasks, including a variety of visual cues for different sequence lengths.
Use the verbal and the visual together to help scaffold comprehension.
Additionally, I have a variety of life-skills sequencing resources; such as this one.

I was recently asked to talk about SPARK Cards, which are designed to “…encourage children to observe picture details and to improve their picture interpretation skills.”  Each picture set contains 6 related pictures, but they can be modified to only use 2-3 or 4.  The colorful cards depict common activities, but you should make sure your particular student has some background knowledge about each specific sequence that you use.
The cards can be used simply to put in order, or to tell a complete story.  Their use can also be extended to answering Wh questions, problem solving, and predicting.  Each topic card contains information about each picture in the sequence and Wh questions that can be asked; ranging from What and Where to Why and How.

The SPARK cards contain 8 sequences of 6 cards each, including:
going to the library
making a lemonade stand
preparing for a hurricane
planting flowers
going to the vet
a trip to the beach
setting the table
playing football

For some of these activities you may need to activate background knowledge or even create it. Using storybooks can help with that, as can role playing games.  You might also need to match more concrete visuals to your speaking.  Addition of color cues is also helpful.

Whether your student is learning to sequence two words (or symbols) together for communicating or sequencing multiple steps and events in a complete, complex story, you don’t want to skip this skill in your intervention.

(affiliate link)
Until next time - keep on talking!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

What Are My 3 Top Tips? Listen In

This past week I had the honor of appearing on Autism Live! They had asked me to come and talk about my book, "Make the Connection!: A Practical Guide to Parents and Practitioners to Teach the Nonverbal Child to Communicate with AAC."

So, I took the drive up to L.A. on Tuesday and showed up to the CARD office on Wednesday morning.
Here is the clip, for your watching pleasure. I talk about the 3 top tips for parents, and why I think some SLPs miss the boat with AAC.

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.

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."

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Talking About Toys

Last year I wrote a couple of blog posts about ways to use various toys to build language - just about this gift-giving time of year.  You can read those posts here and here.

So, this year, I’m going to do a little of the same, but with a slightly different format. (This post contains affiliate links).  This week and next I will be pointing out some cool toys and books and ways to use them to build your child’s language, whether he is an aac user or not.

Melissa and Doug toys came out after my kids were grown, so I'm not as familiar with them.  All of us parents can appreciate the manufacturer trying to instill a love for cleaning in our children. But if you’ve read any of my posts about using routines to build language, you can anticipate how I feel about this toy.  

This Let’s Play House Dust! Sweep! Mop! set gives us an opportunity to use core verbs and adjectives, such as; clean, sweep, mop, push, help, brush, wipe, pick up, put.  The added bonus is, of course, a small area of clean.

This tea party set is perfect to pair with the Toca Boca Tea Party app.  I wrote a blog post about using this app in therapy, which can, of course, also be done at home.  There are many opportunities within the app - or just in playing tea party without the electronic plug-in - to make requests, descriptions, and comments.  From “I want…” and “I like…” to “Oh no!” upon spilling and “Help me” during the washing of dishes.

There is a tendency to shy away from toys like telephones that require the user to talk when a child doesn’t speak.  But given an aac system, there is no reason why your child can’t have a conversation. And this is a great way to pretend and build skills at the same time.
Telephone toys are a staple of SLP toy boxes. I still have some pink plastic phones from a kit that’s decades old!  You can work on greetings, recounts of experiences, answering and asking questions.  Have “conversations” with favorite characters or even community helpers. What would you say if you were calling a doctor? A pizza parlor? A grandparent?

Last of all for this week, is this fun-looking food truck.  I know we spend too much time working on language around eating.  For some of our children, food is the universal motivator.  For others, who are picky eaters, here is your opportunity to expand their horizons without a battle of wills to try some for real.
Practice making requests, and frame them as an “order.” Have the child offer you choices, ring up your purchase, ask questions, and make comments.  The stove lights up and the sink is interactive. Talk about them, and have fun!

Next week  I’ll offer some fun winter book choices. Until then, keep on talking.