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!

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

http://praacticalaac.org/

https://aaclanguagelab.com/

https://aacinstitute.org/

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

Lauren 

How to Make a Switch Adapted Toy

Lauren and I work with some pretty amazing students.  And our students love to play!  Unfortunately, some of them are unable to play with toys in a conventional way due to their physical disabilities.  We’ve ordered switch adapted toys online to incorporate into our play based activities, however, they are EXPENSIVE!!  If you search for switch adapted toys online you will see that they range in price from around $40- $200+ even though the non-adapted toy costs significantly less!  The stereo cable that makes the toy switch accessible usually only costs about one dollar.  That doesn’t seem right…

We’ve discovered that the best way to get our students MORE toys is to switch adapt them ourselves.  This weekend we recruited an SLP, OT, and tech-savvy friend to help us adapt some toys!  After a couple of botched attempts, we got the hang of it and were able to adapt 5 toys!  We’ll be posting soon about how we are going to use these toys in therapy, giving them a purpose!  You can check out our final products here.

We filmed the last toy we switch adapted so you can see how we did it!  You can watch the video on our YouTube Channel.

Read on for step by step instructions on switch adapting a toy!

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Adapting Don’t Wake Daddy

Adapting a Board Game

Board games can provide opportunities for literacy, numeracy, communication, and social skills instruction. In order for students with special needs to access these games, we have to adapt the materials.

When Amanda told me that she bought 2 Don’t Wake Daddy game boards, I was excited to see how they could be adapted for our students. Unfortunately, the theme song from the 90’s TV commercial was stuck in my head the entire time.

Continue reading to see how we adapted Don’t Wake Daddy. This posts contains a free PowerPoint download and ideas for communication opportunities while playing the game.

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Converting YouTube Videos for Classroom Activities

Converting YouTube Videos

A YouTube video can be an excellent addition to a lesson. When used at the beginning of a lesson, videos can grab student interest and provide context for what the students will be learning about. Videos can also be used to enhance the meaning of text, maintain lesson momentum, and provide additional opportunities for communication.

Many schools prevent users from accessing video websites. In order to circumvent this problem, you can convert the video to a file format that can be saved and embedded in programs such as PowerPoint, Boardmaker, and Classroom Suite. There are hundreds of websites that have this capability but my personal preference is Online Video Converter.

Continue reading to learn how to convert YouTube videos for classroom activities.

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The Magic of Battery Interrupters

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I don’t know how I went for so long without knowing about these little beauties. Any toy with a single function operated by AA or AAA batteries (you can get these for other batteries as well) can be adapted by sliding the disk in between where the battery meets the metal on the side of the compartment or in between 2 batteries. Voila! You have a switch adapted toy. 

When possible, I suggest permanently switch adapting the toy using stereo plugs (this with definitely be in a future post), but a battery interrupter gets the job done quickly. 

Purchase on Amazon.com 

I used one with this traffic light when teaching about transportation. Students created maps of their community and added street signs and traffic lights to direct a remote controlled car through the streets.


*Remember, the switch is not the activity. Make sure that swith adapted toy serves a purpose in the larger activity.

Story Bots!

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Have you tried Story Bots yet?  You MUST!  This website has a collection of storybooks and videos that you can personalize with pictures of your child!  There is a great collection of “learning videos” featuring the ABCs, numbers, colors, animals, professions, body parts, etc.  But, the best part of this website is having your child’s photo and name in the stories.  Though it lacks audio text (parents, educators, or students must read the story aloud), the children I have used it with have loved it!  They get so excited to see their face in the story.  It’s a great way to engage your child’s interest in reading.  The clever animations and text in the stories lend themselves to making predictions about what will happen next and other higher order questions.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 8.23.24 PMYou can sign up for free; however, you will have limited access to the stories and videos. In order to have access to the full library (over 200 books!) and videos, you can sign up for a membership.  The membership cost per year is $36 ($3/month) or you can sign up for a monthly membership for $5/ month.  Once you have a membership, you can add characters by uploading a picture and name.

Free Membership – What’s Included?   vs. Paid Membership

Story Bots also has 10 apps that can be downloaded on your iPad for free. You can also use a limited number of features on the app and upload pictures of your child.  If you have a paid membership with the website, that transfers to the apps and allows you to access the unlimited features of the app (i.e. more books, more videos, more characters).

iPad Apps

I purchased the membership myself last month and have used it countless times already!  I love it, the children I work with love it, and I think you will too!

 

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