Sunday, September 20, 2009

Relevance and Phrase Based AAC Programming

Many of our users with severe access issues use phrase based or full sentence based programming rather than letter, word or semantic based programming on their communication devices. While a long and lengthy exchange could happen about the benefits and drawbacks of phrase/sentence based programming (and it has in many, many other places) another consideration is how we as communication partners understand these phrases or sentences when out of context.

For example, in my classroom a student loves to say the Pledge of Allegiance and it was always part of his routine with his former teacher. However it has not typically been part of my morning meeting routine (as most high schoolers don't spend time on the Pledge of Allegiance and our morning meeting often tops 60 minutes as is). Yet I have changed my morning meeting agenda to add the Pledge in because it is so motivating to this student. Sometimes I forget and the student with start "saying" the Pledge during a pause in the routine or in the middle of something else. I tend to view this less as the student "saying the Pledge" and more as the student reminding me that I have forgotten to say the Pledge, thus responding with something like, "Thanks for reminding me!" Basically I would say that this is a relevant comment (where as the Pledge during, say, cooking is not relevant, nor would the Pledge be relevant during morning meeting if I had remembered it and we had already done it).

When I think back to the beginning of my career I remember sitting in on a group counseling session with ten teens with developmental disabilities, one of whom used high tech AAC (which at the time was a laptop that weighed about nine pounds mounted to his wheelchair, loaded with Boardmaker Speaking Dynamically - not called Pro yet - and all sorts of cords for switches, interfaces and speakers hanging off of it - he was waiting for a Freestyle AAC device which had just come on the market). The group was about abuse prevention and the AAC user answered a "what would you do if" sort of question with, "My phone number is ________", followed by, "My mother's name is __________". Everyone was very impressed that this student had used the "About Me" page to answer the question and essentially say, "Call my mother", as an answer to the question.

How do we, as communication partners, train ourselves and others to be flexible in our understanding of the phrases and full sentences used by our students when out of context? What sorts of things do you do in your classrooms to aid in AAC use and partner understanding in such situations?

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