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! 🙂

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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!

GoNoodle.com // Movement Fun in the Classroom

GoNoodle.comA teacher recently shared the website GoNoodle.com with me, and I love it! The website is a collection of “brain break” videos to use in the classroom. Most of the videos are no more than 5 minutes long and lead students in dancing or stretching routines.

Schools also have the option of signing up for GoNoodle Plus which includes movement activities focused on teaching academic content. GoNoodle Plus costs $10 a month or $99 a year for a school.

The free version still gives you access to hundreds of movement videos.


Communication Bill of Rights

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Last year Lauren and I came back from Closing the Gap pretty fired up and ready to make some big changes at our school!  When I first started there in April 2014, I immediately gave some trainings about core language and its important role in AAC. Our biggest challenge was trying to get people to stop re-recording BIGmacks and 8 Cell devices!  But… it’s hard to make changes!  And getting people on board with core (and AAC in general) was happening at a pretty slow rate!  Shortly after we came back, Lauren found Kate Ahern’s picture version of the Communication Bill of Rights.  We immediately posted it and started referring to it in trainings!  We’re still making changes, slowly, but they’re happening!  You can check out the original document from ASHA here!

It’s hard to pick a favorite since they are all important!  But here are the few that I love to remind people about!


AAChronicles #1

Here is the first post in our new series AAChronicles! We will be sharing a story about an AAC user we know every Friday.
We know a fantastic 21 year old who started a trial with Core Scanner a few weeks ago. When her mom came in to school for a Thanksgiving event, her daughter said “hello” to her!

For years she was limited to a single switch with re-recorded messages.
I am upset that it took this long to get her an appropriate communication system, but excited to see her finally share her voice.

Click here for More information about Core Scanner!

Create Switch Accessible “Mixtapes” in Classroom Suite

Music can be a great motivator, especially for students with visual impairments. Amanda and I have been creating simple music activities in Classroom Suite that provide students with the ability to choose what music they want to listen to while working on switch scanning. For some of these students, this is also an opportunity to find out what their musical preferences are. I have made a few “mixtapes” that include R&B, classical, pop, country, and rock. We quickly discovered each student’s preferences (Pharrell’s “Happy” wins hands down for almost everybody).

After showing one of these “mixtapes” to a parent, she was excited to attach switches to her daughter’s headboard for her to choose the classical music she wanted to listen to before bed.

Here is an example of a Taylor Swift “mixtape” made for one of our older students.

Recently, I made a template for teachers and therapists to make their own “mixtapes”. i thought I would share the template and directions on the blog as well.

Continue reading for the downloadable template and directions.


Five AT Products We Are Thankful For

In the spirt of Thanksgiving, here are the top five AT products we are thankful for!

  1. Language Based AAC Systems – Of course those made it to the top of the list!  We are so grateful to see our students using devices like the Accent 1000 with Unity 84 Sequenced, Spanish Unity, or CoreScanner; the iPad with the LAMP WFL app; and the Tobii I Series.  Accent1000-20-red
  2. TAP-it – We first saw the TAP-it at Closing the Gap in 2014 and have been thankful ever since!  It’s an adjustable touch accessible learning platform that differentiates between unintentional and intentional touch!  Because it is adjustable (height and angle), has a military grade screen, and is on wheels; it has been an amazing asset at our school.  It allows students with severe physical disabilities to access a touchscreen they would otherwise be unable to reach!


3. Classroom Suite – A great way to make switch accessible activities for your students.  We have had a great time making and using switch accessible books!  We’re also thankful for this alternative pencil for our students with severe motor issues.

classroom suite

4. Loc-Line – We love this budget-friendly way to mount our AAC systems and switches!


5. Boardmaker with Speaking Dynamically Pro – What SLP isn’t thankful for Boardmaker?!  It’s the go-to for making print based materials with picture supports and with Speaking Dynamically Pro you can make awesome interactive materials!boardmaker

What AT products are you thankful for?

Whimsy Workshop Teaching*Thanks to Whimsy Workshop Teaching for their Thanksgiving ClipArt!*

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.


Five Things to Consider When: The AAC Team Wants a New AAC System

Someone on the team identifies that the student needs an AAC system.  The team meets and decides on a system.  The SLP trains the classroom on how to use the device.  A couple months goes by, maybe a little longer, and someone sends out that dreaded email.

“This device is not the right fit for student X.  He’s had it for three months now and doesn’t even look at it.  Can we meet and pick a new one?”


Getting an AAC system for a student is just the first step!  Once we’ve identified a language based AAC system with a robust vocabulary, we need to start teaching the student how to use it!

Here are my top five points I ask teams to consider when they raise this question.

  1. Has the team (teachers, SLP, classroom staff) been provided with sufficient training on how to use the system?
  2. Have you set realistic expectations for how the student should be progressing with his new AAC system?  **This does not mean set the bar low! It simply means be realistic!**
  3. Have you modeled enough?!  It’s essential to remember that input comes before output.  If you haven’t sufficiently modeled on the device, you can’t expect the student to have magically learned how to use it!
  4. Do you provide the student with many opportunities throughout the day to communicate?  Communication should occur naturally throughout the day.  Stop and take advantage of these opportunities or create them!
  5. Do you honor the student’s communication attempts?  For example, if the student asked for “drink” did you take him to get a drink?  It’s our job to make communication with AAC powerful.  Honor those requests whenever possible and if it’s not possible, acknowledge the student and let them know when that request will be available!

Literacy for All // A Great Resource for Enhancing Literacy Instruction

While researching information about literacy instruction for students with CCN, I discovered a set of video and learning guides on http://www.engagingalllearners.ca/.

The videos feature Dr. Caroline Musselwhite and include brief discussions about various ways teachers can further develop their literacy instruction. I have already shared the video on Symbols and Learning to Read with several teachers at our school.

Please share this resource with anyone providing literacy instruction to a child with complex communication needs.