Sunday, November 20, 2011

Augmentative Communication

I have worked in a self-contained classroom as a paraprofessional before and one of the students in that class used a dynavox. Another student used minimal sign language, and we were in the process of trying to use PECS with 3 other students. The one thing I can most certainly agree with is that communication is a process! We were constantly working with parents, OTs, SLPs and PTs and other teachers to try to make communication available for the student across all environments. It is so challenging. I, along with other teachers, would constantly find ourselves only allowing the student to communicate only when we thought it was necessary. Obviously, we did not mean to do this in any malicious way, but it is so easily to forget that someone who can't speak doesn't always have the opportunity to communicate unless you, as a teacher, help make it accessible. It was, however, interesting to every now and then see the student become so frustrated in one of those situations where you wonder, "why are they so frustrated???" and then you realize, they can't communicate! The situation could quickly de-escalate when the student was provided an opportunity to communicate. It truly takes a lot of effort and consideration to make communication available across all environments, but so crucial.

We also had a student with sever autism who used the big mac. They way we used this device was to communicate with home as to what was happening and what the student ate at school. For example, at the end of the day I would record on the big mac, with the student present, "Today I ate hash browns for breakfast and I ate hot dogs for lunch. Today I worked on my colors and numbers. I earned puzzle time and car time by writing today's date." The student, listening to me record this, was very excited! He would go home and play it for his mother. So then the mother could engage him by saying how proud she was that he earned puzzle time. Then the mother would record back, "I had a really hard time sleeping last night. I am not feeling well. I am excited to go to school, but may not be myself today." Again, when the student came to class he would play it for me. He clearly seemed to love the way this worked, and I thought it was great. I was, however, a bit concerned: what if I was saying things that weren't really true for the student? I am assuming I know how he feels. I could easily be wrong. I had a sneaking suspicion that he felt the same way too because sometimes he would come to school and there would be nothing on the big mac: he figured out how to delete it. The mother would say she recorded something. Personally, I thought this was ok. It was his voice, and if he didn't agree with what was said he didn't have to play it. Besides that, I am not so sure how effective a big mac can be. The ability to only have one recording on there, seems limiting.

We also used the boardmaker schedules and choices. The choice board was great in our room. Students were always "working for something" and they could run to the choice board, which was filled with a bunch of different boardmaker pictures, and choose what they were working for. This is a low tech device that is wonderful. I loved that the students were able to choose. I feel like that gave them some independence.

In terms of moving forward with augmentative communication devices I think it is crucial to move towards user-friendly devices that can be carried across all environments. The solution: I believe, iTouch. I have encountered so many apps that aim to allow students with communication disabilities to increase their ability to communicate. I have read about how quickly these kids pick up on how to use these apps. There is just something so user friendly about the iTouch. Also, they are much more affordable than dynavox. I have even seen some classrooms in NYC with students with severe disabilities use iPads or touches as communication devices. I think this is a step in the right direction. Particularly iTouches because they can be carried everywhere, just like how everyone carries their phone. I know Joe has a cool iTouch watch....imagine a nonverbal student being able to wear an iTouch watch that allowed him to communicate wherever he or she went?
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