Augmentative and Alternative Communication - Abby Turner

What do we do when students cannot speak?

This year I had had three secondary students move into the district with limited verbal abilities. I had to build my knowledge base about AAC options, and had the responsibility of determining an appropriate mode of communication for two of these students. In the process I have spent hours learning about how to support students who need AAC to make their needs and desires known.

Myths about AAC

Most of what I learned in graduate school in 2000 about AAC has changed!

Here are some Myths about AAC that still persist today but need to be challenged.

Myth #1 - Kids must have certain prerequisite skills in order to use AAC

Myth #2 - Some students are too cognitively impaired to use AAC

Myth #3 - Some kids are too young for AAC

Myth #4 - AAC will impede natural speech

Myth #5 - Having some speech means AAC is not needed

- "It's fine to party like it's 1999, but let's not practice Speech-Language Pathology that way" (Dr. Carole Zagari - www.practicalaac.org)

After closely examining and evaluating the communication skills and needs of my two new secondary students, I chose the Tobii Dynavox Compass App for both students. My request was approved and I was given two iPads to use as communication devices for these students. I am currently in the process of customizing each device to meet each student's needs.

Training and Supporting Teachers and Staff

I am now beginning the process of teaching teachers how to use these devices with their students. My role is to select and set up the devices, customize them for each student, begin helping the students learn to use their new talkers, and also to provide ongoing Assisstive Technology support and training to teachers so they know how to make day-to-day changes and updates.

Professional Development

In order to educate myself and become an expert in this area, I completed some pre-recorded webinars on the Dynavox website. I needed to know how to set up each app for my students, and needed to learn how to introduce to devices to students as well as their teachers!

Worth the Struggle

The time and effort I have had to invest into this topic has been significant. It is always a struggle having to put aside long-held beliefs and teachings and take on an entirely new content area. But it is nothing compared to the struggle that these students face each day in trying to communicate their wants and needs without the full use of verbal expression. I will share my experience today introducing a high school student to her 'talker' for the second time....

She found the button that says "What's your name?" and jumped out of her seat with the iPad in hand. Her teacher and I looked at each other, slightly alarmed. But she then proceeded to go around the room, and using the talker, asked each person their name. When she sat down she found the button that said "Who is in your family?" and asked me about my family. After I listed off the members of my family she patted my arm and gave me a thumbs up. It was a powerful moment for me. These are not questions she had the ability to ask before, even though she can use some signs, gestures, and words. Putting this talker in her hands just opened up a world of connections for her. And also for me.