Saturday, 1 October 2011

I can...trick or treat!

 The month of October brings fall leaves, pumpkins and Hallowe'en.  We thought we would share some "tricks" for helping kids who use Augmentative Communication (AC) to learn the words and symbols they need.  The "treat" will be for them to be able to share their stories, thoughts and feelings with the people who are important in their lives.

Today's technology is truly astounding.  The Speech Generating Devices (SGDs) currently available to us have so many capabilities in addition to providing a voice for kids who need AC.  Devices have become more affordable and now many of them have that "cool factor". Software is more readily available and has become more user friendly, making it easier to produce communication displays that anyone would be proud to use.

Getting a new device or communication display is just the beginning of the who use AC still need to learn the words and symbols that are in their communication systems.

  • Many communication displays or devices come with pre-programmed vocabulary that is designed to be personalized for each child.  You need to decide which vocabulary items to teach first.  Often, this is goal driven and agreed upon by the child's team.  You can select vocabulary items based on the current classroom topic.  For example, in October the students may be talking about Hallowe'en or Fall. There are many specific words associated with these events such as "vampire", "pumpkins", and "witch".  While these words may be used for a short time, think about vocabulary that can be used in many different situations such as "scary", "dark", "look", "eat", "go".  These words are used more often in daily activities and may be more functional for the child. Here is some information about teaching children Core Words, the words that are used most frequently in daily language.

  • Top 30 Core Words (Information from work by Gail M. Van Tatenhove)
all done / finished
all gone / gone
not / don’t
I / name
you / your
do / does / did
look / see

  • Once you've decided "witch" words you want to focus on, the trick is to make sure everyone knows! 
    • Post a list on the classroom wall where your child can easily see it.  Paste the corresponding symbol(s) on the list.  Be sure to become familiar with where these words are on your child's communication system.
    • Post a list at home where everyone can see.
    • Think of opportunities for your child to use these words many times throughout the day.
    • Model the words yourself in the classroom and at home to help reinforce the meaning.
  • Kids who are verbal, learn the meaning of a word by repeatedly hearing it used in context and by saying it.  Kids who use AC need the same opportunities to see how symbols can be used to convey meaning. 
    • You can use your child's communication system when you are speaking to show them where a word is located and how to use it functionally.  
    • Point to the symbols representing the key words on your child's display or device.  You do not have to point to every word in your sentence to express your overall message.  A mini light pointer can also be used to "point" to the symbols.
    • Let your child know that you will be using his/her display.

Who Can Help?  If you want some extra support for teaching your child vocabulary, please contact your AC Clinician.

No Tech Solutions:  Try using the child's chosen vocabulary in word BINGO!  To reduce visual demands, try using colours/symbols in some boxes and the chosen vocabulary in other boxes.  See the example on the right.

Light Tech Solutions: Your child can use their simple SGD eg. Step by Step,  to practice using their chosen vocabulary in a variety of activities.  For example, take a walk around the school and let your child guide the way with pre-recorded messages such as "Let's go!" and "Stop!".

High Tech Solutions: Reinforce chosen vocabulary in writing activities either directly on your SGD or at a computer.  Check out this switch accessible book we've created using TarHeel Reader called "I like Fall"  that highlights some core words.  You can choose between 3 different voices for speech feedback options on the left hand side of the screen.   If you'd like to make some books, email them at to get an "invitation code" to create an account.

I a Star!
We'd like to recognize the use of communication displays within our Seating and Mobility Services (SAMS) at TVCC.  (Left to Right: Christie Beldom, Sue Kirkpatrick, Julie Denney).  If you would like more information about the communication displays that were developed for TVCC seating appointments, please contact Lisa Evans at

Feedback from Sue Kirkpatrick, Physiotherapist in SAMS:

"Using the communication boards has impacted my practice with my clients in many ways. I discovered that I was getting into a bit of a routine of saying hi to my ‘non verbal’ clients, acknowledging something about their lives then going into conversation with their parents. I would interact with the client but not delve too deeply into conversation with them. Using the communication boards has brought that to my attention and now I purposely engage with those clients over most of the appointment. The boards have provided a means to do this, as many clients do not bring their personal communication device to the appointment.

What I have discovered is that these kids have lots to say, of course. And they say stuff that I wasn’t expecting at all. For instance, one client let me know that he thought his mom was mad at him because he was falling forward a lot and couldn’t sit up straight anymore. Another client let me know that he was having pain…. And that wasn’t even on our radar.  It has given them a voice and let’s them know that I care about what they are thinking.

I had another absolutely amazing experience with a client has very limited movement and she uses a Kimba stroller for mobility. She uses fibre optic switches in custom hand molds that initially operated a switch toy. After it was known that she could access the switches consistently it was decided to try her on the Magic Carpet (a platform for power wheelchair training).   The Kimba was secured onto the Magic Carpet and the switches were set up for her. She was able to operate the platform and take it in the directions she wanted to go the first day. We knew it was purposeful movement because she drove it directly to a table. We thought she couldn't stop so we stopped her and pulled her back towards the center of the room. The client then promptly drove back to where she was before. On the table in front of her was the Communication Board. She wanted to tell us that she was hungry and wanted something to eat. It was the most amazing experience I have had in a very long time. It brought tears to my eyes."

Feedback from Julie Denney, Occupational Therapist in SAMS:

"Using the communication boards to interact with my seating clients has definitely been a learning curve for me, however, I have had some great experiences so far with a few of my clients to learn more about their seating issues and other things they have wanted to say.  I had a client state that his footrest needed some changes.  Mom did not express this issue as she had forgotten about it.  I also had a client who told me she went to see a movie with her dad.

My experience with the communication boards has motivated me to interact with my non-verbal clients more and improve my use with the communication boards as these clients may have thoughts of their own that they would like to express, but don’t always get the chance to do so."

Don't Miss It!
Can't make it to a conference or educational event?  Look for a webinar online.  Check out some of Bridges Canada's webinars:

Extension activites ideas are often readily available on manufacturer websites
Also check out great extension activities here: