Monday, 5 October 2015

I can...listen to what you say!

October is International AAC Awareness Month. One thing that we can all do for people who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication, is to give a little more time and attention, and to really listen to what they have to say.Are we listening?
Sometimes (or maybe often?) we think we know what our students who use AAC are going to say. We base our assumptions on the activity they are participating in and our familiarity with the student's preferences and communication style. It can also be less messy to keep a conversation "on track" rather than to try and work out what someone is actually trying to say. When a student responds with something other than what we were expecting, what do we do? 

Do we hurriedly redirect them back to what we were talking about? "Uh oh, you went to the animals page, let's get you back to the days of the week!" 

Do we let them know that they got it wrong: "No, the answer's not guinea pig. It's Tuesday!"

Or do we truly listen to what is said and respond to it accordingly: 
"Guinea pig? Did you want to say guinea pig? I wonder if maybe you have a guinea pig at home?" before redirecting back to the activity at hand. 

Our students need opportunities to initiate a conversation or to set a topic rather than just responding when someone asks a question.  Our goal for our students is that they be able to say what they want, when they want, to who they want, so we need to honor their attempts to do this, even when it doesn't quite fit with our own plan of what we are talking about. 

Saying exactly what you want to say requires something that is referred to as SNUG or
spontaneous novel utterance generation. Individuals who create utterances by choosing individual words (core and fringe) from their communication system are more likely to achieve SNUG than those with only pre-programmed phrases and sentences. 

Please wait!

Our students often rely on us to give them the time to say what they actually intend to say. We may need to wait for a message to be retrieved. Remember that it takes longer for somebody to construct a message on an AAC system, particularly if they are building their utterances word by word. It can take even longer, depending on the access method used.  A student may have to search for a message or spell it letter by letter. 

We also need to teach our kids strategies to slow their communication partners down and/or help to clarify their messages.  For example, it may be appropriate to provide them with ways to indicate:
·       “I have something important to say.  Can you wait while I get my message ready?”
·       “That’s not what I meant.  Let’s try again.”
·       “I have something to say but it’s not on my board. Can you please ask me yes/no questions?”
But remember…..having access to these messages is only the first step.  Kids need to be taught when it’s appropriate to use them and also have the chance to practice them lots of times before they may be able to use them in real life situations!

OWL – Observe, Wait and Listen 
Children who use AAC may also have some delays in developing language.  Hanen is a program that teaches practical strategies to help children learn language naturally throughout the day. One of their strategies is to follow the child’s lead. This can be accomplished by “OWLing”.

Observe - Taking the time to observe body language (actions, gestures and facial expressions) helps to figure out what your child is interested in. Through observation, you can learn a lot about what the child is interested in and what he/she may want to tell you. Notice what your child is looking at and share the moment.

Wait - Waiting gives your child time to start an interaction or to respond to what you’ve said or done. In this approach, wait means stop talking, lean forward and look at your child expectantly. Waiting in this way will send the message that you’re ready for him/her to respond to you or, better still, to take the lead herself. Once your child does one of these things, it’s important for you to respond to her immediately.

Listen - Pay close attention to all of your child’s words and sounds. Take care not to interrupt, even if you’ve already figured out the message. This lets him/her know that what is said is important to you and this can help build confidence and self-esteem.  Even when you OWL, there will be times when you cannot understand the child’s message and this can be frustrating for both of you. At times like these, look at the situation for clues and guess what he/she’s trying to tell you. If you can’t even begin to guess the child’s message, imitate the sounds or actions and then wait to see if he/she does anything to make the message clearer. You may still not understand, but it’s important to make the effort. When you do, you let her know that you’re trying your best to understand.

Listen to (and watch) yourself:

While working on a project recently, we had the opportunity to video ourselves interacting with a number of our students who use speech generating devices. Although it can take a great deal of time to review the videos, we can always learn a lot about how we think we talk and listen, and what the reality is. Something we noticed when watching our videos is that sometimes we do not take the time to truly listen to what our students are saying. It can be easy to miss some subtle communication that happens. We may make assumptions about what we think our students are going to say and find ourselves directing them back to a different vocabulary page on the device. Sometimes we need to wait and to listen to what our students are really telling us, even if it turns out to be not what we were expecting to hear.

Try videotaping yourself interacting with your child and see what your interactions really look like - are you jumping ahead? are you waiting long enough? are you missing subtle communication? are you making assumptions? do you talk too much? It can be an eye-opening exercise.

Listen to those who use AAC:

People who use AAC have put together some tips on the Communication Matters website regarding having a conversation with somebody who uses AAC.

Spread the word:
The more people who know about how to effectively support communication with those who use AAC, the more opportunities we will provide our students for successful interactions. There are many AAC awareness activities that can be used in classrooms or other small groups. Check out last October's I Can...Share my love of AAC for some suggestions. Or consider asking your AAC therapist to provide some AAC awareness training for a class, school or community group. 

Listen and learn:
Now for someone who we always like to listen to… Dana Nieder, writing on the Uncommon Sense blog. This past August, Dana decided to take on her own 21 day challenge: to model language by using her daughter Maya’s AAC system to communicate. On the blog, Dana provides an overview of what modeling is all about, why it’s important and her own experiences of trying to model “with renewed vigor and enthusiasm” over 21 days. Not only does she share what’s great about modeling, she also talks about the challenges. The idea of modeling sounds pretty simple, so why don’t we always put it into practice? Take a moment to share in the Nieder family experience. Maybe it will inspire you to try this yourself!

Bringing Us Together is the theme for this year's International AAC Awareness month and for the 2016 ISAAC conference in Toronto. October 12th is Canadian Thanksgiving, a great time for "bringing us together" and a time to think about all that we have to be thankful for. On Thanksgiving many of us have the gift of an extra day in the week to be with our families. During those gatherings, maybe we can take a little time to talk about the things that we love and how to say thank you to others. We can model how to do this on a communication board or device. Maybe everyone can take a turn – a great way for family members and friends to experience what it is like to use an AAC board or device. And we can all take the time to listen and learn about what others have to share.
Wishing you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Upcoming Events in and around London, Ontario:

We are up for the Challenge!
Check out the following television commercial for the London Middlesex in motion Community Challenge!  This is a 31 day physical activity challenge held every October! Participants in sign up and track physical activity minutes for one month. It's an easy fun and social way to get active with your friends, family and community.  At the end of the Challenge, the total number of physical activity minutes accumulated in London and Middlesex County will be added up and announced!

Fall workshops at TVCC

Powerful Words
Date: Wednesday October 7, 2015
Time: 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Location: TVCC, 779 Base Line Road E, London
Cost: Free
Register: Register Online
This program is for parents/caregivers of children and youth who use low tech Augmentative Communication Systems. 
With the space limitations of most low tech augmentative communication systems, we want to ensure that our communicators have access to the words that will have the most impact and usage throughout the day. This workshop will demonstrate how to use Core Vocabulary, the 200 words that account for 80% of our communication, to enhance a client’s communication potential.
Partner Strategies in Communication
Date/Time: Tuesday October 20, 27, November 10 and 17 (6:00 - 8:00 p.m.) Individual coaching sessions on November 6th (PD Day) with time to be determined at first day of workshop series.
Location: TVCC, 779 Base Line Road, London, ON N5C 5Y6
Cost: Free
Register: Online here 
This workshop is intended for parents / caregivers, and anyone who supports individuals who use a communication device. The child must have received their augmentative communication device in the last 6-12 months.

This 5-week program focuses on providing caregivers (parents, grandparents, teachers, support workers) the strategies to help their child learn to interact and communicate using their communication device throughout the day in naturally-occurring activities. This includes 4 group sessions (adults only) and 1 individual coaching session, with you and your child.

How to Use Symbols
Date: Thursday November 05, 2015
Time: 6:00 p.m - 8:00 p.m
Location: Thames Valley Children's Centre, 779 Base Line Road, London, ON N5C 5Y6
Cost: Free
Register: Register online
This workshop is intended for parents / caregivers, and anyone who supports individuals with special needs.  

Children learn how to talk by listening to and copying others. Learn how to facilitate communication by using symbols/strategies for children that are non-verbal or difficult to understand. During every-day fun activities, you will learn some key strategies and techniques. Materials will be provided for you to take home so that you can start immediately.

Adapted Books - Wednesday December 2nd, 9:00 - 12:00 p.m.
Is your child learning to use symbols for communication?  Does your child have a difficult time holding a book or turning the pages? Come join us for this session and learn how to adapt a book for your child. Participants will need to bring a book that they would like to adapt and later read with their child. Attendees will be asked to provide information about their book ahead of time (e.g. title and author) so that materials for adapting the book can be prepared for the workshop.  Picture books with limited text are most easily adapted but please choose a book that you think will be engaging for your child. 

ISAAC International 30th Anniversary Free Access Event
It has been 30 years since the founding of the Augmentative and Alternative Communication journal in 1985. To celebrate this milestone, the AAC journal editors and publisher Taylor & Francis are providing key articles free for a period of 30 days. One article will be featured each week during the month of October 2015. Two additional articles will be available in December 2015.
The first article, Early Intervention and AAC: What a Difference 30 Years Makes is now available. This article provides an overview of early intervention and AAC over the past 30 years and discusses the global context for early intervention and addresses issues pertaining to young children from birth to 6 years of age. It provides a narrative review and synthesis of the evidence base in AAC and early intervention and provides implications for practice and future research directions.

The second article, AAC Interventions for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: State of the Science and Future Research Directions, is also now available. 
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) provides a means of effective communication to individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), many of whom are unable to use conventional speech effectively. The purposes of this article are (a) to summarize and synthesize the last few decades of research on the use of AAC with people with ASD; (b) to indicate implications of this research for stakeholders such as people with ASD, their family members, and educators with whom they work; and (c) to outline priorities for future research to improve communication and other outcomes for individuals with ASD and their loved ones. People with ASD stand to greatly benefit from AAC, particularly with current AAC technologies, as described in this article.

Also From ISAAC International website:
From RERC on AAC (a collaborative centre in the U.S. committed to advancing knowledge and producing innovative engineering solutions in AAC): International AAC Awareness Month is celebrated around the world each October. The following article has been made available for free: Light, J., & McNaughton, D. (2012). The changing face of augmentative and alternative communication: Past, present, and future challenges. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 

Start your planning for Toronto 2016!

ISAAC 2016 Toronto - Bringing Us Together

August 6 - 13 2016 

ISAAC is excited to announce that the 17th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication, ISAAC 2016, will be held at The Westin Harbour Castle hotel in Toronto, Canada on August 6-13, 2016.  Join us for keynotes, exhibits, workshops, social events, seminars, and the Research Symposium.