Category: Uncategorized

Don’t Be a Language Stealer!

We Have Rights

Wanted to share a favorite video of mine!  I’m sure many of you have already seen it!

“Don’t leave anybody asleep in their wheelchair!”  – This line really resonates with me.  I find that often I see students in wheelchairs not participating as much as they should be!

Language Is

Don’t forget that language is so much more than requesting!  And so much more than a book of nouns!

“We want to READ.

We want to WRITE.

We want to SPEAK.


Presuming Competence – Resources

presume competence 2

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about presuming competence.  I wish I could reach every special educator, therapist, and teacher I work with (and beyond!) and get them to see the value and importance of presuming competence.  It’s an uphill battle, but one that I won’t give up without a fight!

I thought I’d post some resources I’ve found helpful, insightful, or interesting!

Check out the Uncommon Sense blog.  It has some great posts including two of my favorites about perception driving expectations and giving AAC users a large vocabulary so they can show their competence!

This resource by Dr. John Hussman is a must read.

And of course, Kate Ahern’s “I Believe” statement, which everyone working with our specials students should read!

Presuming Competence – What is it?!

What is presuming competence?  Essentially, it means that if you’re not sure about a particular kid, for whatever reason, assume that the student can do more!

I'm in here 2

Douglas Biklen explained:  “Assume that a child has intellectual ability, provide opportunities to be exposed to learning, assume the child wants to learn and assert him or herself in the world.”  Check out his article on the subject here.

If you haven’t watched this video of Dr. Cheryl Jorgensen talking about presuming competence you should!  It was well worth the 30 minutes!  These are my favorite lines:

“Presuming competence of every student is the least dangerous assumption that I can make.”

“I don’t think it is just a matter of having the right supports, I think that the core belief of presuming competence is the foundation.  It’s the foundation on which other things are certainly built.”

This is the statement that resonated most with me.  At school and at conferences, I often hear about providing the right supports to students.  As an AT Specialist, I’m often lobbying to get students the correct supports including AAC devices.  But, if educators, administrators, therapists, classroom aides, parents, etc. don’t presume competence these supports are likely not going to be used to their fullest capacity.  We must have a foundation of presuming competence in order utilize those supports in the best way!



Presuming Competence – Who’s Doing It?

I love the phrase “presume competence!”  I hear it all the time.  I use it all the time.  What’s interesting is that I just don’t see it very much!

If you’ve been to any conferences or trainings lately, I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase too.  It’s all over special education blogs, AAC facebook groups, etc.  But what strikes me as interesting is that even with so many people yelling “PRESUME COMPETENCE!!” there are still so many more who aren’t.  And that makes me sad! And mad!

Presume Competence

I know it’s not always easy when you’re not getting the response you hoped for or you don’t get a response at all.  But please don’t give up on these kids!  It just means you haven’t found the right way to teach them yet or unlock their potential.  As an AT Specialist, I often read previous reports when I have a student to screen.  I often read recommendations for a student to use a Big Mack until he learns cause and effect or an 8 cell so as not to overwhelm her.  Then when the student is not using those devices, they are abandoned and I hear “well nothing works.” Give your students a chance!  If you give them access to more language, model it, and have high expectations… I bet you are going to be surprised!

Getting the Process Started – AT Screenings

This year I was lucky enough to share some of my experiences at Closing the Gap.  My partner, Nicole VanderZouwen, and I spoke about getting started with the AAC evaluation process.  We spoke at length about what types of systems we consider and our experience with adapting systems based on access.  Check out our presentation here!

One of the follow up questions we received was “do you have a specific form or process you use to get started?”  We do!  And we’ve been refining our process for the past year, though I still think we’re not all the way there yet!  You can download our form here.  We also created a document to the AT Referral Process for team members to reference.

AT Referral Process


AAChronicles #3


When Lauren first suggested this series, I was a little hesitant.  What if we didn’t have a story to post every week?  But we work with some pretty amazing kids and it looks like this series is going to be a piece of cake to keep up!

When I first started working at my school, a lot of the students did not have individual AAC systems.  And those who did often had a “PECS book.”  I use this term loosely because it was in no way used as a picture exchange system.  After I did my first teacher training on using core words to communicate, one of the teachers immediately went back to her classroom and printed a 50 cell core board to try with her students.  She was a little skeptical but had a student with some behaviors that she was desperate to figure out a system for.

Well that first day, he saw the board and started using it to say simple one word utterances with little training and modeling.  His speech therapist jumped in and pretty soon he was using some two and three word phrases too!  He has a high tech device now and is really interested in learning to spell and read!

This week, while working with him and his aide I noticed that he was being given a picture of a CVC word and letter tiles of the exact 3 letters needed to spell a word.  I asked his aide if we could challenge him a bit by giving him all of the letter tiles.  He immediately spelt the first word “CAN” when given a picture of a can.  Then he was given a picture of a bed.  He picked up the letter tiles “SLE” and then began to yell.  I quickly realized he was trying to spell “sleep” but only had one “E” tile!  So I pulled up the keyboard on his Accent device.

Unity Keyboard

He quickly typed in “SLEEP” then looked at me and his aide and smiled.  He closed out the keyboard, opened the Icon Tutor, and typed “SLEEP” again.  He memorized the icon sequence and then said “sleep” using a two-hit sequence (bed + action man).  He smiled and laughed and then waited for the next picture card!  Is that boy smart or what?!  I think it’s safe to say that his aide won’t be underestimating him again! 🙂

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 9.51.15 PM

IconTutorKey   Click here to find out more about the Icon Tutor on the Accent devices by PRC.

AAChronicles #2


Merry Christmas!  Last week while we were still in school, a parent asked her daughter’s SLP to unmask “Santa” and “presents” on her daughter’s Accent 1000.  The SLP did and pulled her for a session so she could show her the new words.  They read a quick story about Santa and the SLP asked the student if she would be leaving cookies and milk for Santa this year.  The student then replied “pop” and laughed!

Her therapist was so excited to share the story because even though “pop” (soda) is in the drink section, they had previously only really used it to talk about popping bubbles.  The student was cracking up over the idea of leaving “pop” for Santa instead of milk!

Later in the session, she also used “”pop” to ask to pop some bubbles!  We’re really proud of this smart girl for understanding that some words have multiple meanings and using them appropriately!

MP3 & Video Cutters

Song Choice Tool Bar Song Choice Tool Bar Song Choice Tool BarI have been making simple song choice activities in Classroom Suite this week. We have several students with vision impairments who are learning to switch scan and really enjoy these music activities. Today, a student played the Kidz Bop video of the song “Chicken Noodle Soup” on repeat after Amanda told him she really did not like the song.

Each activity only contains a 20 second clip of the songs (typically the chorus). My best friends when cutting music and video to make these have been Online MP3Cutter and Online Video Cutter.

Continue reading to find out more about each website.


If I Knew Then, What I Know Now // A Special Education Teacher’s Perspective on AAC

BIGmack "Communication" Meme

Equipped with a M.A.T in Special Education is for k-12 students who access the general education curriculum, I began my teaching career in a classroom of 11 students with autism, multiple disabilities, and intellectual disabilities in a special education school (not exactly what my 5 years of higher education focused on).  Unfortunately, the extent of my exposure to AAC in college was limited and I went into the field without the knowledge I needed to teach my students. My first few years teaching were full of reprogrammable BIGmacks, 2 cells, and 8 cells. Hours were spent making “communication” books full of picture symbols that were not organized and went missing constantly. At one point, I was given an iPad with TouchChat for a student and spent hours programming the pages in a way that made sense to me. There were so many amazing students with complex communication needs that I failed to provide with appropriate language instruction and communication systems. 

2 years ago, I went to a mandatory after-school training run by our new AT Specialist (Amanda- the other half of AACreATively) and heard the words CORE LANGUAGE for the first time (afterwards I felt a lot like the ashamed bunny in the meme above). Since that training, I have learned so much about AAC that I wish I had known as a first year teacher.

Here is a list of 10 things I wish I had known my first year of teaching:

  1. Communicate regularly with your classroom SLP (I promise they don’t bite)! Become knowledgable about communication and language development. Ask questions,co-plan/teach activities, request trainings on individual student systems, go to trainings/conferences or watch webinars together, and share your knowledge and experience. 
  2. Finding an appropriate communication system is the most important thing you can do for your students. You can’t teach effectively if your students can’t communicate. Make this a priority! 
  3. OT and PT can provide valuable insight when choosing a communication system and determining access. Ask questions and learn from them.
  4. Speak up if you disagree with a choice the rest of the team is making (before the IEP meeting). Not every therapy provider is up-to-date on what is best practice. It is up to you to question something you are unsure about and ask for further explanation.
  5. Presume Competence! You have a classroom of students who will blow you away with what they can do if you provide them with the opportunity. 
  6. Find your AAC heros on the internet! Presuming competence and advocating for your students can feel lonely and isolating at times. There are some amazing professionals, parents, and AAC users out there that can make you feel like part of a communication revolution. 
  7. Read and re-read ASHA’s Communication Bill of Rights.
  8. Search for professional development opportunities outside of school inservice days. Going to the AAC Language Seminar Series provided me with the tools I needed to speak knowledgeably about Core Words and AAC. 
  9. Tell everyone what you have learned. Most new teachers have very little AAC knowledge. Share the wealth!
  10. Believe in yourself! Believe in your students! Don’t let the high-tech haters get you down. 

Here are a few websites/handouts that helped me figure this whole AAC thing out:

Key Concepts for Using Augmentative Communication with Children Who Have Complex Communication Needs- Linda Burkhart

Do’s and Don’ts of AAC- Jane Farrall

Now go forth and provide students with the tools to communicate!