AAC Chronicles #6


It’s both exciting and sad to be doing evaluations with older students who have complex communication needs.  To hear them say their first independent words and see them communicating for the first time is incredible!  But with it comes with a huge range of emotions – excitement and awe, hope for their future, and then an overwhelming sadness and urge to cry.  It’s so frustrating to see how much some of my students have to say and know that it took 18+ years for someone to believe in them and give them the tools they need to succeed!  How much farther along could we be if someone had done this years ago??

This week we did an AAC evaluation with a student who is 19.  He is unable to move except for slight head movements.  He often has his eyes closed and I hadn’t been sure what to do with him for some time.  His SLP and teacher showed him the Accent 1400 with NuEye and he was apparently cracking up to see his eyes on the screen.  So I brought it in last week, set him up, got it calibrated, and boy did he have a lot to say!!  He quickly advanced from 28 1-Hit with a field of 4, to everything unmasked, and then 28 Sequenced in a 30 minute period.  He actively explored all of the vocab and attended to the clinician’s modeling.  Soon he said “stop” and then closed his eyes to rest.  When he opened them, he said “go” and then got to talking!

We showed him the games on Look2Learn and then brought him back to the communicator.  He quickly said “play.”  His SLP modeled “want play” and he said “play want!”  His IEP is coming up and we asked him what he wanted to work on in the upcoming year.  I modeled that he could work on math, learning to read, going on the internet, etc.  His reply? “Xbox.”

Can’t wait to hear everything he has to say!

Making A Sandwich // PowerPoint Activity

This week, the students have been reading Pete’s Big Lunch as part of their Speech and OT co-teach lessons. Pete The CatThey have gone to the classroom “grocery store” and made a giant sandwich with this Sandwich Stacking Game.Stacking Sandwich Game

As a wrap-up lesson on Friday, we will be making actual sandwiches. I made a quick PowerPoint activity to accompany the lesson.

Make A Sanwich Activity

Sandwich Activity

Students can choose each ingredient and build a sandwich. The best part comes at the end when they get to watch the sandwich disappear as it gets eaten.

You can down load the PowerPoint activity by clicking here.

Let us know if you use the activity. We would love to hear how you used the PowerPoint to enhance your lesson.

Switch Scanning for Mobile Students

Switch Scanning

Working with students with complex communication needs, it is often difficult to figure out how we are going to provide the student with a robust language system when determining access may be difficult.  PRC’s CoreScanner™ is a robust language system that allows students to gradually increase vocabulary while maintaining consistent motor plans.

I have a student who is unable to make direct selections with her finger, so we started looking at two switches as an access point for her.  This made CoreScanner™ perfect for her, but she’s mobile!  She doesn’t have great body awareness so attaching the switches to her was not a viable option.  After some brainstorming this is what we came up with!

Back of Switch BoardWe cut an acrylic board to the width of her device.  We made sure to add holes that would align with the strap holes on the Accent.  There are small holes for the screws and larger holes so we can turn the switches off and change the batteries.  We attached PRC’s Freedom Switches to the device which work via Bluetooth so there are no extra wires hanging around!  Lastly, we etched the acrylic with the student’s name!

Back of Switch

The nice thing about this system is that it ensures that the switches are always attached and available with the device.  When we went to the Smithsonian a few weeks ago, I wore the device across my body and when the student wanted to talk, she would tap it.  I would move it around to the front of my body and she could talk!  When she sits a table, the board is flexible (on zip-ties) so it sits perfectly on the table in front of her.

She’s been chatting quite a bit and we’re all thrilled that we figured out a way to make this happen!


AAC Chronicles #5


Have you ever worked in one of those awesome classrooms where everyone gets on board with AAC?  A classroom where you can walk into the room at any given time and you know your students are going to have their devices right next to them?  It’s a rare and magical place and I love it!  This week, another SLP and I decided to have a THANK YOU lunch for one of our magical classrooms.  In addition to implementing communication systems, they have spent the last month learning how to use alternative pencils with their students.

We bought pizza and soda and got down to thanking the amazing paraprofessionals (and teacher!) who have gotten on board with communication and literacy.  One of their students was still at school and came to the party.  While everyone was talking about how great things have been going, the student reached for his device and said “fun.”  And he was so right!  It was fun and special!  I can’t wait to see what more this classroom has to offer!

Bilingual Word Clouds

Bilingual Word Cloud

Wanted to share another word cloud!  This is from one of my students using Puente 84.  It’s pretty awesome to see a mixture of English and Spanish words!  I looked at her “Top 10” data from one week and thought it was cool to see that two words made it into the top ten in both languages!

Top Words

It’s exciting to see some of my students independently code-switching!  It’s especially fun to see that she uses both languages in the same activity.  For example I see her talking about the month and days of the week in both languages most likely during morning meeting.  Way to go!

Using Bitstrips to Illustrate Adapted Chapter Books and Social Stories

Bitstrips for Schools

Finding age respectful reading material for students with disabilities can be difficult. As teachers and therapists, we often find ourselves making materials from scratch or adapting already existing materials. Illustrating these adapted books can be tricky. Especially when you are adapting works of fiction with characters that need to stay consistent page to page.

Do you pay to use stock photos?

Do you go with whatever google has to offer?

Do you accept that the main character may look different on every page?

I know that we have been very frustrated trying to adapt chapter books for our older students. Our solution has been using Bitstrips for Schools.


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!