Before you read this go down two posts and watch the My Voice is My Power video from the 1 Voice Website.
In my career the most expert AAC user I have ever taught was a young man who is now a student at a residential school. This past school vacation week I had the privilege of providing a day of respite care for him while his parents worked. As I told his parents I was excited to do this because I miss him very much.
Unfortunately the school did not send his communication device home for the school vacation. That made a what I was expecting to be a fun day for the two of us very challenging. I spoke with my friend who was this student's speech therapist much of his life before he moved on to his new school and she said what I had been thinking, "When he has his device you don't even think of him as non-verbal."
His voice is his AAC device and his AAC device is his power. With his device he can express pretty much any thought or idea. He can navigate his world. Over and over again during the day we spent together I realized how much independence was taken from him and replaced by dependence by not having that box of talking pictures hanging from a strap around his neck.
For example we went to Wendy's for lunch. I have been out to eat with this young man too many times to count and I have never had to order for him. He is perfectly capable of using his device to order for himself. This time we were reduced to partner assisted auditory scanning. I had to name the menu items:
"Burger. Chicken Sandwich. Chicken nuggets. Fish Sandwich..."
He got distracted and started banging the railing dividing the lines waiting to order.
I pulled his attention back and recited again, "Burger. Chicken Sandwich."
He interrupted with a "yes" response.
I say, "O.K. Chicken Sandwich..."
He interrupts with a definite "no" response.
I reassure him and start over, "Burger. Chicken sandwich. Chicken nuggets. Fish sandwich."
He responds "yes" to the fish sandwich and I tell him that is what I am having too. We move on to side choices. I recite, "Fries. Yogurt. Chili. Baked Potato."
He walks away distracted by a huge poster of the fish sandwich. He excitedly points to it and I affirm that we are having the fish sandwich. It will look like that. I redirect back to side choices (inwardly groaning because we are next in line and we still need to decide on a drink choice and thanking God we do not need to choose a dipping sauce for chicken nuggets). I start over, "You need to choose a side. I am having a baked potato. The choices are fries. Yogurt. Chili. Baked potato."
I repeat so he can choose, "Fries. Yogurt."
He responses "yes."
"Ok, yogurt it is." Then I abandon best practice. It is our turn, "You want Diet Coke, right?" He indicates "yes". I silently thank God.
I order two Fish sandwich combos with Diet Coke, medium, one with yogurt, one with baked potato. Then he grabs my arm and starts rather frantically pointing at the sign displaying the kids meal. I shake my head no. He grabs my arm again and points more discreetly to the milk in the display.
"Oh, you want milk? Not Diet Coke?"
Yes, yes, yes, he responds. I change the order. The red headed Wendy's worker, who had to have been hired for the red hair, starts to get annoyed.
We finally get our meal and sit down and I do my best to keep up an entertaining conversation while my former student, now friend, comments with noises, adapted sign language and the occasional word or phrase.
As we are about to clean up I tell him that when he comes home in April (the next school vacation, when we are hanging out again) he better bring his ChatPC (AAC device) with him because it took us almost ten minutes to figure out his order when he could have placed it all by himself in under two minutes. He nods empathetically, agreeing to bring it home with him.
His voice is his power, if only he had had it with him.