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:
- 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.
- 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!
- OT and PT can provide valuable insight when choosing a communication system and determining access. Ask questions and learn from them.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Read and re-read ASHA’s Communication Bill of Rights.
- 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.
- Tell everyone what you have learned. Most new teachers have very little AAC knowledge. Share the wealth!
- 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
Now go forth and provide students with the tools to communicate!