Last week I shared 3 tips on how to AAC Like a Boss. They were:
- You don’t have to know everything
- Be Resourceful
- You don’t have to start high-tech.
Good stuff, right?!
To continue along this line, today I want to talk a little bit about how I used all three of these tips to make a breakthrough for one of my students.
I’ve been doing group therapy with students who are working on functional communication for the past nine years. I don’t know about you, but I get really discouraged when my students don’t make progress. However, I think I was setting the bar too high too soon. Of course I want them to be able to communicate their wants and needs. There are just so many little steps to getting there; it can take a really long time!
This year I started using The Dynamic Learning Map Core Vocabulary; a list of 40 words that have been proven to be most effective socially and academically for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Developed at the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, these 40 words are based on AAC research.
My Core Vocabulary Board
This is both low tech and resourceful. Plus I really didn’t know everything about it, but I did do my research and know that it’s backed by evidence. I made a core vocabulary board for my room and decided to see what happened.
Let me tell you a little story to illustrate my point. I’ve been working with a little guy, let’s say his name is Benjamin (it’s not) for the last four years. Benjamin came to our school as a kindergartener with a diagnosis of Autism. He was nonverbal. His IEP from preschool had a following one step directions goal and an expressive language goal to “communicate his wants and needs using total communication”.
For the first two years, Benjamin had to learn to follow classroom routines and follow directions. His sensory integration needs were high and we were trying to figure out how to meet them. I felt like a total failure as an SLP. He didn’t say words, he didn’t use signs, and he didn’t have joint attention. He stayed in his own little world. But, he did learn to follow simple directions with visual and verbal prompts.
We have a little farm at our school and Benjamin was really interested in the animals. It was motivating and calming to him to be able to watch them. Soon he started labeling them. His parents bought him little plastic animals and taught him the names of over 100 animals. Progress, sort of. He still didn’t greet, comment, request or command. There was no joint engagement or joint attention. No pointing. He was just naming the animals for his own benefit. Not looking to see if we were listening, not wanting to share his discovery. If he couldn’t physically go get what he wanted, he would guide an adult’s hand to the item. Benjamin demonstrated echolalia and a lot of screaming.
Then we he was in second grade we taught him to request by labeling. We used beads, which he loves to roll and toy animals, which he loved to line up. I was able to get some eye contact by holding the item he wanted by my eyes. He had to look at me and say what he wanted. After a while, we (me, the paraprofessionals, the teacher and his parents) got him to add “I want” but he needed a verbal prompt each time.
Benjamin got an iPad with TouchChat that he was able to use but he hasn’t been too interested in it.
This past school year, he changed classrooms and it took a good four months for him to settle into the new routine. His communication progress was at a standstill. Actually, he even regressed.
I was so sad. I had just told his mom that I wasn’t making any progress with him in group therapy sessions. He was falling asleep, or hanging off of his chair or screaming; sometimes all three in one session. The other kids were so distracted. I made arrangements to see him for individual therapy for a while.
The next day, Benjamin’s teacher forget to tell the aides about the new schedule and they brought him to my room with the group. I said, okay let’s just try one more time.
I was introducing the new core vocabulary board I made and planned to teach the command “go’ through the use of the picture symbol. I set up a little miniature bowling game on the table. I noticed I had Benjamin’s attention, so I let him go first. Big Therapy Win! He participated with minimal prompts for the first time ever. He loved the Core Vocabulary Board with the bowling. In this picture, he’s waiting, holding the ball until we (his classmates and I) say “go”. We had joint attention, joint engagement with PEERS, and smiling. I wish I would’ve filmed it.
That was in January. Ever since then, he’s been participating. I keep the sessions really active with pop-up toys, wind-up toys and balls. So far he’s learned “go”, “stop”, “want”, “more”, and “I”. In April, he was able to put together this sentence “I want more go” using the picture cards and verbalizing. So exciting!
What is it that worked? I believe it was a combination of timing, high interest activity and the Core Vocabulary visuals.
I am really looking forward to seeing what is the next step for my friend Benjamin.
So my point is…Patience Grasshopper.
We have to keep trying new approaches. I knew Benjamin was really visual and had tried some pictures before with little success. The Core Vocabulary words are immediately applicable and they can be used for fun, functional communication.
I really encourage you to try using DLM Core Vocabulary Words. As I learn more about this, I will definitely share the information with you all. I made a little cheat sheet and resource guide for you to help you get started. I know it can be a little overwhelming when you start out, so I streamlined it for you.
Until next time…SLP Like a Boss,
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Last day of school…ah! Such a great feeling.
That was a week and a half ago. I was end-of-the-year-marathon tired. But now I’m feeling refreshed and re-energized. I want to look back on the school year while it’s still fresh in my mind.
Year End Review Calendar Page
One thing that was really new for me was being the lead for the newly formed Assistive Technology Team for our district. I learned a lot from that and had to push myself to try some things I really wasn’t sure about. Today, I’m sharing three tips for how to AAC Like a Boss, even when you’re a beginner
TIP #1 You don’t need to know EVERYTHING at first
I learned very quickly just because I’m the lead, it doesn’t mean I have to know everything. I think I had “Imposter Syndrome” for a little while. Have you heard of that? It’s when you think you’ll be exposed as a fraud because you’re just not good enough. Harsh right? Sometimes I’m my own worst critic.
What I figured out is that I don’t have to know everything there is to know about AAC and assistive technology. I don’t have to have all the answers right away, I just need to be willing to find them. Within the online SLP community there are some amazing resources. Dr. Carole Zangari’s award winning blog Praactical AAC is a gold mine of information. Susan Berkowitz at Kidz Learn Language is really helpful with her blog as well. Both of these SLPs truly AAC-like-a-boss and are so forthcoming in helping their fellow SLPs. Another great resource where you can ask specific questions is the Facebook group AAC for the SLP
TIP #2 Be Resourceful
Working at a Title I district with very limited materials, I have to be extremely resourceful. This year I learned how to adapt toys to be switch activated. These are toys that move and/or sing when you squeeze their paw or hand. Some of our students don’t have the fine motor skills to be able to do this. It was really empowering to make such a fun item accessible for them. I even got to solder. The workshop was put on by our wonderful Arizona Technology Access Program. (You can google to see what programs your state might have.)
I was so happy with the dancing monkey I adapted. Until I got to school the next day and realized we didn’t have any switches that fit him. I figured I’d just buy one. But then I saw the price; $50 for one little switch! Back to the drawing board.
Adapted Switch Toy
Sooooo I signed up for a Make Your Own Switch Workshop. There I was able to make two switches for just $10. We adapted answer buzzers ( 4 for $16.00 at Walmart). The time I spent to adapt two switches was about 90 minutes, the first one took the longest.
Adapt a Switch
The bonus was sitting next to two parents of children with autism. They were making the switches for their kids. How cool is that? Talking to them in a casual setting about their experiences and expectations was so enlightening. I really got some insight into what they struggle with.
TIP #3 You Don’t Have to Start High Tech
The other thing I learned, in a really fundamental way, is that assistive technology does not need to be high tech at first. It seems that many parents, teachers and staff immediately think “voice activated device” or “get them an iPad”. AND that this technology will magically and immediately give the student language skills the second they receive it. If only! Students need to learn to label, request, comment, command and greet. A machine can’t teach them these skills, but we can. A voice generating device may be exactly what they need eventually. But sometimes we can’t get one right away. We can still teach them that using symbols(voice activated or pictures) gives them the power to express what they want, when they want.
With many of our students, we started with low tech Core Vocabulary Boards and Go Talk Pages. We could get started right away with these because they’re inexpensive to create and so accessible. It was easier to get “buy-in” from support staff because they saw it working.
We used The Dynamic Learning Map Core Vocabulary; a list of 40 words that have been proven to be most effective socially and academically for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Developed at the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, these 40 words are based on AAC research. I’ll provide a link to more information below. Next week, I’ll talk more about core vocabulary boards and how I used them in group therapy with great success!
In summary, you CAN AAC-Like-a-Boss. Just remember these three tips:
1. You don’t need to know everything.
2. You can be resourceful.
3. It doesn’t have to start out high tech.
I know it can seem scary but we SLPs know language. Remember AAC is just another way to facilitate language.
Whether you are reviewing your year or you’ll be working this summer, I hope you found something helpful here. If you would like a FREE Summer SLP Like a Boss planner to help you with your reflection and planning, click here.
If you are interested in a FREE video tutorial on how to make a switch, let me know in the comments below.
Links: Praactical AAC
Dynamic Learning Map Core Vocabulary
How Facebook Can Make You a Better SLP