Monday, 15 October 2012

Jumpstarting AAC

Light tech to high tech.  The evolution of technology is so rapid, that even expert presenters in the field of AAC are having a hard time keeping up.
Today I spent 8 hours in a session which reviewed the establishment of an effective alternative augmentative communication (AAC) program for students with severe and profound disabilities.  It was an education in conductive education, something I had never heard of prior to this workshop, and the history of the development of AAC. Pati King-DeBraun, M.S., CCC-SLP, a Speech and Language Pathologist hailing from Utah, and Rachael Skinner, special educator and director of Standing Tall, presented a portrait of a pilot program, now the Standing Tall private conductive ed program in New York City. Collaboratively, they provided the most important factors to consider when implementing an effective AAC program.
Here are some of the highlights:
1- The access point is the most important.  Switches might not always be accessed using the hand by individuals with severe physical disabilities. Consider alternative switch access points- ie: other parts of the body, such as the head, cheek, etc.
2- Don't expect the student to be able to respond with a "yes" or a "no". A student should be able to indicate their preferences or choices in the AAC system with their "best yes", a verbal noise, or physical gesture that indicates affirmation.
3- Use video modeling to demonstrate appropriate social skills.  Ms. King De-Braun offered some great tips for using video to demonstrate appropriate conversation skills for students with severe and multiple disabilities.  She recommends infusing conversation opportunities into the school day so that the student has repetition and variety in practicing newly obtained skills.
4- Most interestingly, she strongly suggests abstaining from programming subject area vocabulary into the communication device/tool.  She is of the opinion that these terms rarely come into conversation in a regular basis and the student very often demonstrates their understanding of or references concepts by either describing the concept with alternative attributes or other descriptive language that hones in on the concept being discussed. 
5- Students using AAC use parts of their brain similarly to writing.  Speaking is natural and relatively spontaneous.  The speed in which oral language flows from our mouths is much faster than the skills and brain power necessary for communicating using an AAC tool or device.  She referenced the dissertation of another researcher in the field of AAC and shared this very important piece of knowledge to consider when working with or conversing with students using AAC to communicate. 

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