This is a guest post written a couple of months ago by my friend and classroom speech therapist as part of a program wide in-service she ran for our staff. The inservice was great and focused mostly on AAC and a new device run on eye-gaze called the Eye Tech Speech Generating Device (which blows the Tobii out of the water) that has opened new doors from some of our students.
WHAT IS THE POINT? OR WHAT’S IN IT FOR THEM?
Expression of wants, needs and emotions may get basic needs/desires satisfied.
The ability to declare a dislike may result in a change in the behavior of others.
Being able to provide basic information about their personal care will result in the improvement of that care.
Communication may allow the manipulation of their environment, including commanding animals (directives to pets), playing games, recreational activities.
It is of necessity in a crisis to provide basic biographical information.
Interacting with others brings about social closeness.
Telling jokes makes others laugh and promotes humor between partners.
Writing letters to family and friends helps convey current events in their lives.
Literacy skills allow access to the curriculum.
WITH WHOM DO/SHOULD THEY COMMUNICATE?
In a perfect world, our students would interact with everyone with whom they came in contact. In reality, they tend to choose adult caregivers as partners in communication. With prompting, they will look to peers, but that is with reinforcement from adults who often will repeat what they have already chosen on their devices.
WHERE and WHEN ARE THEY MOST LIKELY TO COMMUNICATE?
In structured situations when being asked direct questions. This may be thought of as contradictory, as we are asking them to think of their devices as their voices, then are giving them limited opportunities in which they can be accessed. This includes the home setting where they may not be used at all.
HOW CAN WE HELP TO INCREASE THE LIKELIHOOD THAT THEIR DEVICES WILL BE USED AND USED EFFECTIVELY?
Provide the device to the student in as many situations as possible.
Reduce the number of direct questions that are asked. Think about the number of times the student has been asked repeatedly for information. If it is necessary for the student to provide that message, try to engage in a conversation which may elicit the same response or use an open-ended format.
If possible, program random messages onto frequently used buttons. For example, “How are you?” could also say, “How’s it going”, “What’s happening?”, “What’s up?”, etc. In doing so, think of each student and his/family and what might be appropriate. If possible, ask for feedback from the student.
Keep messages current. For example, the question page may reflect holidays, weather conditions, and vacations.
Make each device personal with messages relating to home and family. A “news” button is helpful and can be dedicated to home, school or both. This encourages use/communication between school and home.
In trying to reinforce the device as the student’s voice and encouraging its use at home, remember that we cannot push familial boundaries
Try using the device with the student without talking. You will discover what messages are missing as well as its limitations. Ask yourself: Am I bored? What would make it more fun? (think music, jokes, messages to friends). More interesting? (questions, reactions). How difficult is it to navigate?
Then make a list and we go back to the drawing board and with the student, begin to re-program the device to make it more user-friendly.
Judith Heerlein, MS, CCC
March 12, 2008