Sunday, 1 September 2013

I a teenager!

We hope you had a great summer and are looking forward to the school year that lies ahead.  Many of our students will be entering High School for the first time, making the transition from the comfort of the familiar, to the new and exciting (although sometimes scary) experiences of a brand new setting. Finding resources that are a good match for the interests and abilities of teenagers who use AC isn't always easy.  In this issue, we will explore ways to support reading, writing and use of a speech generating device for older students.

With a Little Help from my Friends...

Although we may not wish to admit it, some of us are a long ways past our teenage years! Times have changed and it can be challenging to try and think like a teen, in the process of helping out our students who have reached that milestone. So, how about reaching out to siblings and friends to ask for some help when it comes to programming devices, developing resources and creating items such as Remnant books or communication passports. Students in high school may have buddies who spend time with them throughout the week. There are often opportunities for the students to work together, for example to share a novel or to browse through You Tube videos. Here are some other ideas for activities that peers could really help out with:

Updating vocabulary on speech generating devices: Vocabulary needs change over time. With the student's permission, ask a peer to try using a speech generating device or communication display in a specific situation. Pick a situation that is meaningful for the person who uses the device, e.g., ordering food

in the cafeteria, talking with friends, checking out books in the library. Have the peer make a list of any words and phrases that they would want to use in these situations, that are not currently available on the device or display. 

Creating personalized books with Tarheel Reader: We love this one! If you only try one thing this month, try this!! Tarheel Reader ( is an easy to use (honestly!), free online resource that can be used for students to read or to write switch accessible books. Once books are written, they can be submitted for inclusion in the online collection. The real beauty of this resource is that you can create books

that are simple to read, but have content that is interesting for teens. Brainstorm some topics that your students would enjoy reading about, take some photos or browse the collection at Flikr and create a masterpiece! Instead of having book buddies reading a book this week, have them create one together. Challenge the other classes to get creative. See how many books you can write this school year!

Creating a Communication Passport or Remnant Book: Older students often have lots more experience using a variety of multi-media software and, with a little help to consider what content to include in a passport or remnant book,  might be a great resource in terms of putting together a document or media presentation that will stand out.

Personalizing a Communication Book or Display: Get some help with adding a personal touch to a display or communication book. Friends could help you shop for the perfect binder, or might volunteer to share their scrapbooking skills.

Teens giving back: In turn our students can help others in a variety of ways. Perhaps there are opportunities for a teen who use an SGD to help out by reading to younger kids. Or the class could work together to write a children's story (great practice for those core words). For more information about narrative development through story re-telling, check out these presentation notes from Tracy Kovach and Gail M. Van Tatenhove,

He said what?!?

As kids who use AC get older, their vocabulary needs also change. While they will always need and use core vocabulary words no matter what age they are, they may want to review and update fringe vocabulary to reflect the different style of communication.  Involve your student in this process. As we mentioned above, get some help with picking new words from other teens. Check out any different versions of vocabulary that might be available on your student's SGD. Here are some thoughts to consider when tackling vocabulary changes:
  • Ask your student for their input when considering making changes to the vocabulary.
  • Listen to what other kids are saying - teens often use a different words or phrases, and these come in and out of everyday use. Make a note of the words that you hear and check to see if your student knows where to find them or add them if they are not available.
  • Think about including and teaching slang words, swear words or vocabulary that might be needed to
    allow a teen to talk appropriately about their feelings, sexuality etc. Sometimes it's hard enough just trying to get through those teenage years, let alone not having the words to be able to communicate about it.
  • Consider adding texting lingo to a communication display or device. You can find lists of the most popular text and chat acronyms online, but it might be easier to have peers come up with a list of what they use most often.
Books for teens 
Easy reading books are mostly geared to young children.  Finding books that appeal to older students can be challenging. Take a moment and watch this video where Dr. Carolyn Musselwhite talks about the importance of finding "age respectful" material for older students:
Here are some resources that we've come across that may appeal to older students:

Start to Finish books: High interest narrative books for older students reading at grade 2-3 and 4-5 reading levels-3 formats include paperback, audio and computer book. To purchase these books:

Tarheel Reader: Free online stories with digital pictures and simplified text in a variety of topics.

Bookshare: Accessible books for people with print disabilities.  There is a fee for subscription in Canada however it is free in the US.

Symbol World: Free online news and stories with simplified text and symbols.

Poetry Power! Ideas for AC users to explore poetry, performance, and poetry production.  $6 + 2 p & h. Click on "books":

R.A.P.S. (Reading Activities Project For Older Students): 10 "whole language style" stories for older students with rhythm, rhyme (raps-style!), & repetition. Each story includes: story retelling overlay, role play overlay, and extension activities for: art, computer, reading, cooking, gross motor, etc. $25 + 2 p&h. Click on "books":

Literacy resources for teens

Route 66 is an online instructional literacy program for adolescent and adult beginning readers, those who are not yet able to read and write above the beginning conventional level (first grade). Route 66 pairs beginning readers side-by-side with teacher-tutors who guide the reading and writing activities on the computer. Many of the books featured in this program are taken directly from Tarheel Reader.

If you are interested in this resource, but are not sure whether it’s a good fit for your student, check the website and complete the quick screening tool. You can also register free of charge for a 45 day trial – a great chance to try it out!
ALL Curriculum: Accessible Literacy Learning Reading Program
This literacy curriculum is intended for learners with special needs, including children and adults. It is specifically designed for learners who have difficulty using speech to communicate. A facilitator uses the resources provided in the binders to teach students knowledge and skills in a variety of domains, including language skills, phonological awareness, letter sound correspondences, decoding skills, etc.

Check out the Literacy Instruction website for more information on the program and to view some videos of the process in action. Currently featured at a sale price of $449 CAN on the Mayer Johnson website.

Literacy Lab: is a software program to help develop literacy skills for early readers of all ages.  It's provides symbol support and is switch accessible and has scanning capability.  To learn more about this software program and the research behind it:  In Canada, you can purchase it from Bridges Canada:

Cause and effect software for teens

Thankfully there are more cause and effect resources being developed with older students in mind.  Consider looking at some of these options:
I Can be a Star!
Meet Vikram. Vikram has been using a head pointer to access communication displays and other materials since he was young. Now entering High School, Vikram is an extremely competent communicator, who has a bright future ahead. Here Vikram shows us how adept he is at using his head pointer to ask and answer some questions.

Local Resources for Teens in London, ON

  • Youth En Route: is a joint partnership between Thames Valley Children's Centre and Hutton House which offers support to people who are between the age of 15 and 30 who are no longer attending high school but would like to explore continuing their education or becoming employed.
  • Youth for Youth is a group at Thames Valley Children's Centre that helps connect youth with disabilities.  You can find out more by joining their facebook page or sending questions to
  • Self Discovery is a program of vocational exploration that helps support youth in planning their future after high school. They will explore employment, volunteer, free time, educational interests and independent living. They will decide what they need to plan your future, with your parents, teachers and therapists.

Upcoming Events:

TVCC ACS Education Events 2013

If you are a TVCC client, please take a moment to check out our upcoming education sessions:
  • How to choose powerful words
    • September 25, 9:30 – 11:30 am
    •  November 13, 9:30 – 11:30 am 
  • How to use symbols so your child will too! 
    • October 9th, 2013 9:30-11:30
  • Adapted books
    • December 4th, 2013 6-8 pm
For more information and registration: 

Closing the Gap Webinars:

ATIA: Assistive Technology Industry Association

Ablenet University: