Category: AAC

Getting On Board With CORE for Learners with CCN

“Core vocabulary is not going to work for this student” is something I hear all the time.  At this point, I’ve mostly learned to tune it out and continue pushing for my students to have an AAC system with a robust vocabulary which includes CORE language.  But every now and then, my anger over this statement reaches a certain point and I just have to let loose! So here it goes to all the behavior specialists, teachers, administrators, and therapists out there who continue to use this statement.  I’ll let one of my students prove you wrong!

What is CORE vocabulary?

50 core

Core vocabulary is a small set of high frequency words that are used across settings and age groups and are applicable to all topics.  It includes about 350-400 words that make up approximately 80% of what we say.  Core words include a variety of parts of speech including verbs, pronouns, adjectives, prepositions, etc.  In a 2003 study, Banajee, DiCarlo, and Stricklin, found that 26 core words comprised of 96.3% of the total words used by toddlers in the study!  You can check out the list here!  Please share this with all the people who say this (or some variation): “well developmentally, he’s only about two and not ready for a system with those words.”

My other favorite variation is: “Core words just don’t apply to learners with complex communication needs.”  Say this to my students.  I dare you.

This morning a teacher and SLP shared that one of their students has been “hilarious” and “really showing what a personality he has” since getting his Accent 1000 with Unity 84 Sequenced.  Apparently he’s been telling teachers that he doesn’t like: “you bad” or “you awful.”  When denied juice on two separate occasions, he told his teacher “abuse” and “fight.”  He has complex communication needs.  He is using CORE words!  Curious to find out what else he’s saying, I asked his SLP to pull his language data.  Here’s what we saw:

Parts of Speech

Guess what?  Noun vocabulary accounted for only 13.17% of his speech. The nouns + other, which included names of his family, teachers, and friends, accounted for a total of 31.85% of his speech. Pre-stored phrases accounted for 1.15% of his speech.  That means 67% of his speech was comprised of CORE words!

He’s had his device for less than a year.  His language may not exactly follow the 80:20 / core:fringe rule, but he’s pretty darn close!  And without CORE he could never tell his teachers and therapists how “bad” and “awful” their activities are! 🙂

So the next time someone tells you a student can’t use core language because of their complex communication needs, think of my student, and continue advocating for yours!

The Communication Matrix

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At my first IEP meeting as an AT Specialist, a colleague asked me if I was going to be monitoring the student’s progress with her new Tobii Eye Gaze device with the Communication Matrix.  I had never heard of it, but she insisted, so I agreed and quickly looked it up after the meeting!  It has since become one of my favorite assessment tools for students with complex communication needs.

The Communication Matrix looks at communication from pre-intentional behaviors (i.e. crying because you are in pain) to language (i.e. phrases to sentences). For my students with limited or no verbal speech, it can sometimes be challenging to determine what and how they are communicating.  This tool is fantastic because it helps our team pinpoint exactly which behaviors a child uses to communicate for different communicative functions.  Let’s look at this sample student.

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The graph shows us how the student consistently communicates (blue for “mastered”) and how the student is beginning to communicate (yellow for “emerging”).  In addition, we can look at specific skills list to more clearly see how the student communicates for different language functions.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 3.33.30 PMTo protest, the student uses unconventional communication such as body movements, facial expressions, early sounds, and simple gestures and is emerging in his ability to use more conventional communication such as giving items back to you or shaking his head “no.”

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 3.37.27 PM   To request attention, the student uses unconventional communication such as early sounds, facial expressions, visual cues, and simple gestures; however, he’s not yet using more conventional means to communicate for this language function.

How do I use the data from the assessment?

It’s a great tool for monitoring student progress when implementing a new AAC system.  We update the matrix yearly and can see gains in communication that the student has made.  Bonus – parents really enjoy seeing a colorful graph that clearly demonstrates the progress their child has made in communication.  It’s also nice for determining areas to work on.  It often helps us realize that our students need to work on MORE than requesting!

You can get started using the Communication Matrix as an assessment tool by following this link and signing up for a FREE account.  http://www.communicationmatrix.org

Rowland, C. (2009). Communication Matrix. Retrieved [Oct 11, 2015] from www.communicationmatrix.org

Choosing an AAC Device – Mind Map

AAC device

“How do you know that’s the device we should try?”

There are so many things to consider when conducting an AAC evaluation. And I don’t have a set protocol that I follow when evaluating a student for an AAC device. Sometimes I walk into a classroom, observe a student during a lesson, and go back to their SLP and say, “what do you think about trying xyz?” Other times, a team member identifies that a student needs an AAC system, I observe the student, and we meet to discuss different options. In other instances I may try a variety of devices with the student to get a feel for how they communicate on different systems. There are so many other scenarios, but I think you get the point! But, no matter the scenario, when I make a recommendation, I am often asked, “How do you know that’s the device we should try?”

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