Monday, 1 June 2015

I Can... say thank you!

Margaret Meade's quote relates nicely to how the support and efforts of teams surrounding people who use AAC can lead to exciting growth and development of communication.  It is the dedication and commitment of families, educators, and community members that lays the foundation for successful AAC use. 

This month, we'd like to recognize some of the dedicated people who try things out when there isn't certainty, who share their creative ideas, and who look for opportunities for their students to improve their active participation by using augmentative communication. 

There are so many people who we could feature in this month's blog!  If you want to share your success stories, please contact us. We are so grateful to all those who support people who use AC. Have a great summer and we'll be back in September! 

Team Kate
Michelle and Kate have been working together for 2 years at Westmount Public School.  Up until about 8 months ago, Kate was using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) to communicate but her team decided that she had the potential to move to a higher tech device so she began using an iPad with a communication app called “Touch Chat”.  She has progressed at a rapid pace to the extent that she sometimes has to show Michelle where to find certain words on her device!

Kate responds well to increased expectations when it involves her iPad and asking for specific choices. There are certain activities or requests that she is able to show through sign language, but over time and with training, she now uses “her words” and her device. Her peers in the class have also encouraged her to use the iPad when she has something to say, such as asking for a hug.  They will ask Kate to “use her words” and request a command.

Kate’s iPad allows her to have a voice now and she is able to converse with friends, family and her teachers.  Her verbal communication has also improved; she really strives to make specific sounds and manipulates her mouth to do so.  From the time she was using the low tech book to her iPad she has 5-10 new sounds.

Kate’s family is incredibly grateful to Michelle and “Team Kate” for their patience, dedication and commitment  - her progress has been truly amazing and exciting to watch. We all have confidence in her ability to continue to succeed.

The Intensive Behaviour Intervention (IBI) Autism Team at the St. Thomas Classroom are shining stars in supporting kids in using symbols or text to help develop their language and speech skills.  Working alongside the Augmentative Communication Service (ACS), they have been open to learning new ideas, and sharing their own strategies and expertise to work together to meet clients' needs.  Initially, this team used a Core Vocabulary board to support one student in learning how to clearly let others know what he thought, expand his language to bigger sentences, joke, and engage with others. Now the team uses those strategies seamlessly, incorporating Core Vocabulary throughout the day with many kids in the class - both those who have advanced to a more high-tech voice output system and students who are just getting started with a few symbols.  Not only is this team hard-working as they integrate augmentative communication strategies with the IBI program, but they do it in a fun and creative way as they make a difference in the lives of the children and families they support.  Way to go! 

Nancy, Gabriella & Ethan
Mrs. Nancy Tilk & Ms. Gabriella Duricova are Educational Assistants at St. Paul’s Catholic Elementary School in London, ON.  They have done a wonderful job helping Ethan to learn how use his communication device at school.  They have set-up many opportunities during the school day for Ethan to communicate with staff and peers. They have learned how to add words, symbols and pictures to meet Ethan’s needs, and encourage him every day to expand his communication and language skills. 
Ethan is using his communication device all around the school to communicate with staff and peers.  He is using great sentences and is even remembering to use his manners!  Ethan has made wonderful progress this year because of his amazing team! 
Thank You!

Travis is the proud Valedictorian of his class!! Here are the wonderful things he had to say to his teachers and fellow students who will stay at the school after he moves onto high school.
"Although most of you already know me my name is Travis and I have been chosen to be the valedictorian of the graduation assembly this year.I have been attending Ashley Oaks since 2008. One of my favourite jobs is to take the attendance to the office. I am usually very responsible however I like to get the scoop on what is happening so I often stop to chat, which can get me in trouble.
Over the years  I have used a variety of communication devices however this vantage lite is relatively new to me. I have learned so much this year using it both in the classroom and on my own.

Hey do you want to hear a joke?
What does a skunk do when it's angry?  It raises a stink!!

Anyhow I better get on with my speech. I am excited to head off to high school although the early mornings will be rough. I also hear there are lots of girls in high school -- that's why I worked so hard -- ladies love a smooth talker :)

I would want everyone who is staying at Ashley Oaks to know these 3 things.
1) be welcoming and accepting to everyone.
2) never sneak off to Snoezelen when you're not supposed to --  they will find you!!
3) never give up on yourself because everyone is rooting for you.

I am so thankful for all the love and support I have and am looking forward to high school but I promise to visit!!!"

Mrs. Ruicci’s FDK Classroom
Classroom teacher Mrs. Elizabeth Ruicci, EA's Christina Janicas & Kristen Murphy, ECE Irena Brzozowska-Busmanis, and LDCSB SLP Stacey Rickman have all helped Jackson learn his new communication device. Jackson has been lucky enough to have his team together for two years, and this amazing team work very well together to ensure Jackson has every opportunity to participate in the classroom and school routine.  They encourage Jackson to use his ‘talker’ and are open to new opportunities for Jackson to communicate.  They regularly evaluate Jackson’s progress and encourage new communication goals.  Jackson is lucky to have you all as part of his communication team!  Thank You.  

Leah, Tineke and mom Sarah
This is just part of the wonderful team that surrounds Leah and is helping her to learn how to use her device to communicate with everyone around her!  They make sure that Leah's device is available to her wherever she needs it and they help her to find new words and phrases that she hasn't used before. Leah is doing an amazing job of exploring her new vocabulary and uses her device to tell her family and school friends things that they would have never guessed!!!!

Leah isn't just 'talking' with her device.....her school team has created some creative ways to give Leah access to communication pages that help her learn about reading and working with numbers. Way to go Team Leah!!!

A Family’s Journey - a excerpt from a mother's presentation about her daughter who uses AAC
"Our daughter was born on a sunny summer morning and to our surprise she came to us with a little bit extra…in the form of Down syndrome. She was beautiful…she still is. She is also determined, brave, smart, funny and a whole lot of stubborn.
Our daughter has had to work so hard for everything she has accomplished in her first 6 years and she continues to amaze us and those around her with her drive and determination to succeed and show the world what she can do. No matter what life has thrown at her she continues to smile.

Now, our communication journey "technically" began when our daughter was a year old. Children with Down syndrome often have difficulty with speech so we began signing with her on her 1st birthday. Within the first week she already knew and was using 10 signs. We were so excited so naturally we ran with it. We still sign with her and today she proudly knows over 500 signs. It really is wonderful. I honestly cannot imagine what life would have been like without them in those first few years.
It was our OT that sent in our application for AAC services and we were to wait…but those who know me will tell you that I don't do so well with we researched on our own and purchased an Ipad with Proloquo2go. We realized quickly that our daughter wasn't quite ready for something that advanced and we were not 100% confident on how to teach her properly at such a young age…but we felt we had to try something.

In 2014, we received a phone call from our SLP in the ACS program at TVCC. She happily told us we were on the active list. Now you would think I would have been ecstatic, all that time waiting, but all of a sudden I was nervous. I know that sounds crazy, but I realized that this was go time and change was on the way and I was worried I would somehow mess it up…what if we choose the wrong device? What if the school won't co-operate? What if I can't teach her how to use it effectively? All these questions came crashing in.
The journey has been long, and I would be lying if I didn't tell you there have been some struggles along the way, but I am now excited to say that our daughter is the proud user of LAMP Words for Life on her Ipad…known to our family as her "TalkBox" in its hot pink case that she picked out herself. She is using the full version with 84 locations and doing very well. She obviously is still learning her device as she has only had it for about 6 months, but she is already stringing 3-4 words together. They are not always grammatically correct, but she gets her point across.

 She uses her new found voice just as any other kid would use theirs. She asks for her favourite snacks, to go for a swing or watch TV. She answers our questions…and even tries to blame daddy to get out of trouble when she has done something wrong. She argues. I think ‘No’ was the first symbol she mastered. She even cracks jokes. Actually that was one of the very first things she did. This story always embarrasses my husband but we both agree it is too cute not to share. We had her "Talkbox" for about a week and my daughter and her dad were rough housing on the floor. Dad accidentally passed some gas and they both started laughing. Dad grabbed her Talkbox and said "Stinky" which sent her into hysterics. Later that night at bedtime, she said "Night Mommy" and then started "Night night…" and paused looking at her device. We assumed she was looking for Daddy but ended up saying "Night night Stinky" and fell down on her bed laughing so hard she could barely breathe. It was priceless. Her TalkBox has helped her in so many ways. Not just to communicate her needs, but to let her personality shine. We were giving our daughter her voice. Her voice that was going to help her make friends, tell us her likes, let us know how she is feeling, and tell us about all her adventures.
As a parent I know first hand how challenging and emotional having your child using a communication device can be.  I am certainly not an expert on the topic, but for us it was always nice to hear what other families experienced, so I would like to offer some advice to the parents that are just beginning to explore the world of AAC with their child. Please feel free to pass this on.

1) Do what you feel is right for your child
When we first started signing with our daughter we were constantly defending our decision to family and even complete strangers when out in the community. We always got asked "Aren't you afraid she won't try to talk if she can sign?" We started out being polite giving the generic answer about how studies have proven that not to be true…but it got to be so often and so annoying that we basically started saying "Well she's not talking now, so if you have a better way for us to communicate with her by all means tell us"…it made for some interesting encounters. But we received that same skepticism when we talked to others about AAC as well. There were comments like "She'll sound like a robot" or "How long will she have to use this device" or my personal favourite "If you don't give her another way then she will be forced to talk"…cause you know it is that easy. So one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give parents just beginning to explore AAC with their child is to do what you feel is right for your child and family and be confident in your decision. Everyone deserves a voice, no matter what form it comes in. We all have something to say. You know your child best and it is okay to hear what others have to say, but in the end you have to make the decision that is right for your child. With that being said…

2) Do your research
In the last 6 years I have experienced enough in a variety of areas to have learned that you sometimes need to take things into your own hands and not rely on others to give you all the information. Take the information given to you and then research it for yourself. Don't be afraid to ask questions and challenge ideas. You may be surprised what you find. By researching on your own you will hear both sides of a story.

3) Keep an open mind
Explore all avenues before shutting any doors. We almost did, and it would have cost us all the wonderful experiences we are having with our daughter. Everyone we knew was using Proloquo 2 Go. All the schools in our board run Proloquo 2 Go on the Ipads they provide so starting out we thought "Well that must be the one to use". So as I mentioned before, that is where we started. When our SLP first presented the idea of LAMP to us we brushed it off and thought "Wow, if we are confused by how this device works how are we ever going to be able to teach it to our daughter?!"…but we thankfully had an ACS team who cared enough to keep nudging us to explore and try, and after doing some more research on our own we made our decision.

4) It is going to take time
Dig down deep and pull out all of the patience you have…because you are going to need it. I do not think I realized how complicated communication was until I tried to teach it to someone else. I will never again take for granted my ability to speak. Watching my daughter struggle to communicate the simplest of thoughts and seeing her determination inspires me every day. I am not going to lie, it is going to be frustrating at times, simple tasks will take that much longer, and it certainly does not happen overnight. But I can tell you from personal experience that it is worth it. No matter what the ability level of your child, the first time they communicate with you using AAC will be amazing and worth the wait.  My niece can vouch for that. On her 12th birthday she got a phone call from my daughter that brought her to tears. For the first time, our daughter said "Happy Birthday" into the phone. Again, priceless.
This is just a quick snapshot of our families journey, and I hope that what we have shared will help someone else exploring this road less traveled.  Let me leave you with this...To everyone involved in the process of finding an ACS device for a child... Be sincere. Be yourself. Be honest. Be patient…and most of all see the potential in the person you are working with. They are going to have to work very hard and they deserve a fabulous cheering squad!"

Upcoming Events:

Don't forget to book for summer camp!!!
Looking for a summer camp that will be unique, maybe a little challenging, but most of all fun?  If your child is a TVCC client who uses a speech generating device, you will want to check out: "Setting the Stage" and "On With the Show"!  If you are not sure whether these camps are right for your child, check with your ACS clinician. This year the camps run the week of August 24th - 28th.  Register on line now at  to secure a spot! Click on "Calendar" at the top of the page, then "Opportunities to Participate" then scroll down until you see the descriptions for Setting the Stage and On With the Show.

SAVE the DATE for Breaking the ICE 2015 Conference!  "Melting the Barriers: Our Stories"
October 3, 2015, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, M4G 1R8
The Breaking the ICE Canada conference is an event created by and for individuals who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and their families.
This conference is the only event of its kind in Canada and was designed to bring the community of people who use AAC together to share ideas, learn from each other, and create new friendships.