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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Speaking with Their Eyes

Back to school is upon me.  This week starts a brand new school year and, for me, a new year of staff training, consulting, and evaluations.  My week starts right off with two young students who are going to be eye gaze aac system users.  Because they are young and have little or no experience yet with picture-based communication, I have recommended a multi-pronged approach to beginning with AAC.

Eye gaze, sometimes also called eye pointing, is the using of the eyes to direct a communication partner’s attention.  It is a quiet strategy, and sometimes subtle.  Effective use of eye gaze requires the focus of both the user and the communication partner.  The child’s partners need to constantly focus on the child’s gaze, and to respond to the use of gaze.  Partners also need to confirm their interpretation of the user’s responses, especially when the child is focusing on something in the environment, rather than a discrete symbol on a page.
We all use our eyes when we communicate without even thinking about it.  We look pointedly at people, roll our eyes at them, and express a variety of emotions.  Many aac users who are able to use direct selection nevertheless also use eye gaze to identify something they want in the environment.  
First of all, for these two children, I’ve recommended the use of partner assisted scanning (PAS) with a more comprehensive communication book or board than the students can use just now.  This will give them access to more vocabulary than they can currently access using large arm movements or limited eye gaze that has been tried with them so far; which has been just choices of two items.
I’m also providing them with simple eye gaze communication books with 4 symbols per page.  This moves them forward with eye gaze access, and we’ll keep on growing these responses as we can.
Most of all, I’m providing families and school teams with training.  I always begin with talking about Aided Language Stimulation, and the importance of using modeling consistently when communicating with these students, whether using the PAS book systems or the eye gaze boards.
I often only get about 10 hours of training and consultation time per school year, which doesn’t give me very much time to train folks, so I have to make it count.  I give them as much information as I can, including handouts, and try to make sure they have the communication materials they need.

If you’re looking for some eye gaze boards to use with your students, you can find one version of a free eye gaze system available on-line, through Speakbook, here in English, French and Spanish.
       For some good videos of eye gaze in action, take a look at these from the Bridge School. 
       You can also find my beginning pack of eye gaze boards in my TPT store, here.  

Keep on talking - or looking to talk.

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