AAChronicles #11


When working with a teacher in a classroom with AAC users, I often direct them to Gail Van Tatenhove’s resources on descriptive teaching (you can also find some great youtube videos modeling it). One of the classrooms I have been supporting in has 5, 5 year olds using high-tech. We have been doing shared reading every day after nap-time, and their teacher has been working on commenting on the text and describing what is happening on each page using their devices (with these supports). He is doing a great job using the supports and is beginning to model for the students without using them. The other day, he was having some difficulty coming up with things to model and one of his students said “DESCRIBE” on her Accent. He immediately began describing what was happening on the page. The timing was excellent and we all had a laugh.

Don’t you love it when the students remind you of what you are supposed to be doing!

Problem Solving For Teacher Barriers To Shared Reading Lessons With AAC Users

We have been really enjoying our journey implementing the Four-Block Model in several classrooms. As with anything new, we have discovered a few things we had to problem solve our way through. Our school has gone through a huge AAC overhaul over the last 2 years with a large number of students receiving high-tech devices in a very short amount of time.  Teachers and paraprofessionals continue to adjust to the change and some are finding it difficult to model on devices.

At the same time we are overhauling AAC we are also working on how we teach literacy. After a wonderful presentation at ATIA, we began doing shared reading lessons in several classrooms where we have early emergent readers. We are following a modified CAR strategy during these lessons. The teacher reads a page and models commenting about what is happening on the page. Next, they ask for or invite participation from students (this could be just pausing or asking “what do you think?”). Once a student participates, they respond by repeating what the student said and adding information. Often this requires some creativity to relate what the student has said back to the text (try working the word “bathroom” in the book “Brown Bear”).  You can download the CAR visual we use here. CAR


Switch Adapted Book Template

Switch adapted book template to save you time!

Have you felt like Jessie Spano lately? As educational professionals we never have enough time. Here in DC, we are right in the middle of testing season and it is STRESSFUL. As an instructional coach, I try to provide the teachers at my school time saving templates for activities whenever I can. I recently made a template for creating switch accessible books in Boardmaker and thought I would share it with all of you!

Switch Adapted Book TemplateSwitch Adapted Book Template

Each of the text boxes is set up to speak, so just change the text rather than deleting the box. The pages are set-up for step scanning (you can scan through the text, turn the page, and go back). The pictures are set-up do that they can’t be selected when scanning. If you wish to keep this feature, just replace the image in the button.

Click here to download the book template.

Click here to read about switch scanning in Boardmaker.

AAChronicles #10


One of our fantastic girls who is waiting for her own eye gaze device to be approved by insurance was recently working with her SLP.  We’re crunched for time as she is already 19 and we’re trying to make sure she can use as many features of the device as possible before she graduates.  She’s been working on reading, writing with Unity and the keyboard, and navigating out of the communication software to launch other applications and then back into her communication software.

This week she had asked to play a game so her SLP helped her navigate to the LooktoLearn software.  She chose “Paper, Scissors, Stone” and appeared to be having fun.  After a couple of minutes, her SLP navigated back to the NuVoice software in case the student had something to say.  And she did!  She said “play fun, stop talk!”  It was fantastic!  She’s only been using the device for a month during trial sessions and to hear her say this sentence was amazing!  She obviously got to go back to her game!

**Side Note – With our eye gaze users, we never leave the students alone with games.  A communication partner is always next to the student and frequently opens the communication software to talk about the game or ask the student what they want to do next.  We try very hard to make sure our students have dedicated communication devices, but some of our students who use eye gaze rarely get to control things by themselves.  It makes it hard to say “no” when they ask to play. **

Age Respectful Fun for Older Students!

I wanted to share some fun items I’ve purchased to use with some of my older students with complex communication needs.  It’s sometimes challenging to come up with activity ideas for my older students using AAC but I recently decided to of the “joke” route and it’s been a blast.  Some of my younger students, especially the boys, have also been getting a kick out of these items!  Here are some of my favorites.  If you click the pictures, they link to where you can purchase them on Amazon.com.

Snakes in a Can!  These are a favorite because you can use them to surprise students and then students can use them to surprise others!  My students love “tricking” other staff and students into opening the cans.  They seem to be very motivating to communicate!  Also, for many of my students with complex bodies (physical impairments) they can participate in funny activities by giving the directions and watching the results!  A couple of words can lead to a huge payoff in laughs!

Snakes in a Can Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 1.30.42 AM






no buttonThe NO button!  The button has ten different phrases/ voices to say “no.”  I’ve paired it with “No David” for younger students or taken turns with students asking questions and then saying “no.”  For example, you can ask a student a question such as “do you like boogers?” and they hit the “no” button.  Then the student can ask you a question so you can hit the “no” button!

whoopee cushionWhoopee Cushions!  Enough said?  Fun to have students tell you what to do to set it up.  “Put on chair, get it, move it, different chair.”

sound machine

fart machineSound Machines.  I love these because there are so many varieties!  Here are two of my favorites.  It’s a fun opportunity for students to practice asking for one that is “different” and commenting on the different
sounds.  Some comments/ adjectives we’ve practiced include “too loud, annoying, bad, like that, funny, silly, disgusting, weird, etc.”  Some directions I’ve heard students give or that I’ve modeled include: “do it again, pick a different one, you try, I pick.

magic 8 ball The Magic 8 Ball is a good one to use when working on asking questions.  Who knows what answer you’ll get! It might be helpful to have question starter visuals.  Great to use with a group; let one student ask, another shake, and a third person read the answer!

Some other fun ideas:  The rubber chicken, gum/ pens that shock the person who touches them, voice changing machines, and prank kits.

rubber chicken           voice changer            pranks            pens        gum

Share your ideas!

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!