What It Means To Be Age Respectful

What’s age appropriate?  This seems to be a huge discussion in our field.  Especially since many of our older students seem to enjoy tv shows and toys that are clearly geared towards younger students.

One phrase that I’ve heard a lot lately is “age respectful.”  This means presenting our students with materials and activities that are appropriate to their age (i.e. an adapted Harry Potter book instead of Brown Bear) while still allowing them to choose items and activities they enjoy.

Yesterday my mom bought SpongeBob stickers for her brother because she thought he would get a kick out of them.  He did!  And he’s in his 50s with no cognitive impairments!  But if I brought in a pack of SpongeBob stickers to school knowing some of my older students might think they were funny, I’d be called out for not being “age appropriate.”

I’m all about presenting our students with items that their typically developing peers have access to.  But shouldn’t we also have materials that we know they love and want to choose?  Shouldn’t we respect their choices?  I could watch Frozen tonight and though you might judge me, you wouldn’t tell me I’m not being age appropriate!

We need to start reminding ourselves that we all enjoy things that are not always age appropriate.  My mom loves Hello Kitty – seriously anytime she passes something with Hello Kitty she is compelled to buy it!  I love Disney/Pixar movies!  My brother still gets a kick out of watching Land Before Time.  My dad watches Saturday morning cartoons.  Nobody tells us we’re too old for these things.  Why do we tell our students they are?

AAChronicles #9


One of my older students has recently been trailing an Accent 1400 with NuEye.  He has never had a communication system beyond a Big Mack before and he has had so much to say!  While we wait to hear back from insurance, he only has limited access to a device.  But, he certainly makes the most out of his time with the device!  His IEP came up recently and for the first time, he was able to provide feedback for his teacher.  We went through a few questions with him and his answers were great!

When asked his favorite subject, he replied “music.”

When asked what he wanted to work on, he said “xbox.”

And then my favorite question, “What about school do you dislike the most?”  His answer: “matching bad.”

Does it get any better than that?!  His teacher and I promised him no more matching!

Shared Reading: What Is It?

seuss read 2

I LOVE books!  I can’t imagine a world without them.  Reading is my go-to hobby and sharing my love of books with my students is one of my favorite activities!  I’ve noticed that everyone at school is at least on the same page that books are important!  BUT not everyone knows how  to read with the students.  Shared and Guided Reading are so important for our students but they are not always being done!  To learn more about the difference between shared reading and guided reading, check out this presentation by Karen Erickson.

Many of my students are emergent readers and not quite ready for guided reading.  Everyone is ready for shared reading!  According to Ezell & Justice (2005), shared reading is “The interaction that occurs when a child and adult look at or read a book together.”  I wanted to share some important information about shared reading.  Following this post, we’ll be posting about specific strategies and tools we’re using and books we’re reading!

Here are some key points:

Shared reading includes reading books, talking about books, and interacting with books!

During shared reading, the child reads with you.  This means that the adult doesn’t just read to the child.  The child helps tell the story and guides the interaction!

Follow your child’s interests.  Keep the reading light and fun!

Shared reading increases expressive and receptive communication skills by building vocabulary and comprehension.  It also helps develop conversation!

Connect content of the book to personal experiences and knowledge.

Respond to any and all communication from your child while reading.

Model on your child’s communication device while you’re reading.

Follow the CAR approach!  Lead with a Comment.  ASK for/ invite participation.  Respond by repeating and adding more.

Literacy for Students with CCN: How We Got Started!

I thought in this post I would outline the first meeting we had!  I asked one teacher and her classroom SLP and OT if they would hear my plan.

First I did a brief overview of the four block model.  Then we had to figure out how we could work the four blocks into the schedule she already had!  We also wanted to make this a co-teach model as much as possible.  And we have found that it has been extremely beneficial to have the whole team working on literacy together! Here’s what worked for us:


Morning Meeting/ Circle Time – WRITING – every student would “sign in” for the day and have the opportunity to write their name using a pencil or alternative pencil.

Shared Writing + Journal Writing – 3x per week for 30-60 minutes.  The teacher, AT Specialist (myself), SLP, and OT are all able to co-teach during this block!  It’s by far our favorite!  And I think its a favorite for staff too!

Working with Words – 2x per week for 30 minutes.  The teacher, AT Specialist (myself) and SLP co-teach this block!  Kelsey, the teacher, has come up with some fantastic lessons!  I’m hoping to have her guest post soon!  So far we have been working mostly on phonemic and phonological awareness.  Some of the students work on sight words individually.  We’re easing our way into this block so we have not started on sight word/ word wall instruction yet.

Self Selected Reading – daily for 10-15 minutes 1-2x per day.  Students are engaged by their staff during this block.

Shared/ Guided Reading – 1-2x per week.  The teacher has been teaching this block and some weeks has OT/SLP co-teach with her.  The SLP also often does shared reading with the students.

**Start at the pace that works best for you!  I’ve heard of classrooms that wanted to start with just one of the blocks and others that want to jump right in.  Ideally, we would do all of the blocks every day.  But we just couldn’t make it work with the current schedule.**

The last thing we did before breaking up the meeting was determine what each student would use as a pencil.  It’s essential to have the “WRITE” tool!  We purchased the Writing with Alternative Pencils CD to help us!  We also ended up making some of our own alternative pencils.  Stay tuned for posts about alternative pencils!


AAChronicles #8


I love to hear from parents about how their children are using AAC at home.  This past weekend I went to see a client at her house and her mom couldn’t wait to share what she said the night before!

This little AAC user has had a 60 cell communication board containing 50 core words and 10 fringe words for almost a year now.  Up until this point, she has mostly communicated with prompting or maybe one word spontaneously if highly motivated.  Her parents have been concerned because all she wants to do is ask for “Barney!”

But over the weekend, her mother was using the iPad to listen to music.  Upset because she wanted to play on the iPad, she grabbed her communication board, brought it over to mom, and said “mom stop music.” Up until this point we had seen occasional two word phrases but usually after sessions with a lot of aided language stimulation.  This completely spontaneous three word phrase really got us all excited!

We’re starting to talk about moving to something high tech and I couldn’t be more excited!

The Four Block Model for Students with Disabilities

reading buddiesLiteracy instruction for AAC users seems to be popping up frequently in Facebook groups, ATChats, and other blogs!  Unfortunately, it hadn’t been a focus of mine until this past year.  But now that it is, I’m excited to share what we’re doing!

I was very focused on making sure everyone had an AAC system to communicate.  And that IS an important step.  But I wasn’t focusing on WHAT comes NEXT?!  Last year, I listened to the presentation Carole Zangari did at the Minspeak PALSS webinar last year.   She discussed the importance of making sure our students become literate and shared the curriculum she is working on for preschool classrooms.  A couple of coworkers and I were psyched to try to implement something similar at school.  That presentation is not available but it’s similar to this one.  I highly recommend reading through it!

This school year I had the opportunity to go to presentations by Caroline Musselwhite, Gretchen Hanser, Karen Erickson, and Susan Norwell. They inspired me to just GET STARTED!  It took some time, planning, and convincing others to get on board, but we’re doing it!  The first step was describing the four block model to my coworkers and coming up with a plan to get them going!I strongly suggest reading the Four Block Model book for children with disabilities!  Here is a brief overview!

four blocks


Guided Reading – This block teaches students how to comprehend text.  The goal of this block is to increase background knowledge, vocabulary meanings, comprehension strategies, and reading fluency through repeated readings.  A crucial component to this block is to Anchor Read and Apply.

To be honest, some of our students still early emergent readers and not quite ready for this block!  But that’s why we work on shared reading with them instead.  Check out this presentation to learn more about the difference.

Self Selected Reading – This block is important as it allows student interests to drive an interest in reading!  This block helps develop expressive language, reading comprehension, and students’ ability to select interesting reading materials.  Teachers may help guide this block by providing students with books similar to the one they are looking at in Guided Reading or by encouraging students to pursue reading materials of personal interest!

Writing – This block helps students learn to independently write for real purposes.  This block utilizes shared writing, writing mini-lessons with revisions an editing, and writing on self selected topics.

Working with Words – This block is one of my favorites!  It’s purpose is to help students learn to recognize high frequency words faster and to decode and spell phonetically regular words.

Literacy Instruction for Students with Complex Communication Needs


I don’t know about you, but where I work, it’s often hard to convince people that our students have SO much MORE potential.  The first step is presuming competence but the second step is providing our students with the opportunity to learn.  So many students have been passed over and deemed unable to learn to read or write.

Often the students with more complex needs are passed over for actual literacy instruction.   I’ve actually heard the phrase “maybe they can learn read objects.”  I don’t even know what this means!  Good literacy instruction involves words and print!  Do I provide students with multi-sensory stories and use objects with some of my kiddos with vision problems, absolutely.  But it’s NOT the only instruction they should receive!

I’ve had the pleasure of going to many trainings and presentations this year about literacy and how the students I work with can benefit from literacy instruction.  To clarify – I work with students with complex bodies and complex communication needs.  Many are nonverbal, many are in wheelchairs with limited fine and gross motor skills, many have complex medical conditions, and many face low expectations set by those supposed to teach them.  After listening to Caroline Musselwhite, Gretchen Hanser, Karen Erickson, and Susan Norwell I couldn’t wait to get back to school and start putting real literacy instruction in place!

The first step was reading up about the Four Block model for students with disabilities.  The second step was ordering information about alternative pencils.  The third step was to convince a classroom to adopt this model and give it a try! With the help of a fantastic teacher, an incredible SLP, and an amazing OT; we’ve been able to get actual reading and writing instruction off the ground!  We’re 12 weeks in and I’m going to be sharing a series of posts about:

  1. How we got started!
  2. Getting staff on board 🙂
  3. Kinks we had to iron out!
  4. Lesson ideas
  5. Progress
  6. Getting other classrooms on board!

high expectations phrase


We need to raise our expectations and take the plunge!  Literacy is a basic human right and ALL students are entitled to literacy instruction.  Let’s make this happen!

high expectations fish

Adapting Candy Land!

Amanda received a grant earlier this year for adapting toys and games. We made a giant list of games and all of the materials we thought we might need to adapt them. Candy Land was at the top of the list. I had seen an idea for adapting the game with textures on Pinterest a few years ago (you can click here to see the original post) and wanted to add something similar to our game collection. Continue reading to find out how we adapted Candy Land for our school.


AAC Chronicles #7


It’s so frustrating to do an AAC evaluation, finish the trials, and submit the report to insurance and then have to WAIT for months until the student gets his device.  I have a student who is practicing on the school Accent 1400 with NuEye until his device gets approved.  He has the best sense of humor and has been rocking the device!

This week when I was working with him during a literacy “Working with Words” group, he used the device to say “look look” when the teacher forgot to show him the materials!  The next day his teacher asked if he needed to be changed and he quickly said “do want need!”  He’s been chatting up a storm and making sure everyone knows he is there and ready to communicate!

Such a nice change from a few months ago when he had no communication system!