Whew…it’s been awhile since my last post. Since I’ve last written, another school year has wrapped up and I kicked off the summer with an amazing professional development opportunity. Thanks to the genorosity of the folks at the New Voices Foundation, I was able to attend a PODD 2 day workshop led by Gayle Porter. To be in the same room with one of my idols was awesome in itself, but I learned so much. Seriously – Gayle Porter has this wealth of knowledge about people with complex communication needs and has dedicated her career (and what seems like her life) to enhancing communication for those who require augmentative and alternative forms of communication.
For the first day and a half of the training, I had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind. The one I get at all conferences, “How am I going to find time to get this started in the real wold?” But as the afternoon of the final conference day wrapped up, Gayle talked about the importance of creating an environment to support aided language development. This was my AHA! moment. This is where I need to start. I can’t throw tools at teachers and expect them to just implement them in the classroom with no background knowledge. We need to first focus on building foundations that support the aided language. Here are some key points:
* We need to model, model, model (in NATURAL, everyday contexts) the language we want the child to produce (including augmentative and alternative communication). Aided language input (ALI) is an evidence based practice!
* NO PRESSURE!!!! One of my favorite Gayle Porter quotes was, “Nobody has ever died from using pictographs to communicate. So go ahead and do it.” Basically, there is nothing that an individual has to do to show that he/she is “ready” to communicate.
* Likewise, don’t put demands on individuals to use the communication system. You don’t want to the person to see the communication system as work. Unfortunately, this is not what has happened to many of our older students. You need to overcome the idea that the communication system means they have to do something (and they may be unsure of what to do). This can be a slow process, but DON’T GIVE UP!!!!
* Which leads to the next point. What if the behaviors we sometimes see in individuals who are nonverbal are NOT because they can’t adequately express themselves? What if those behaviors are the result of individuals NOT understanding what is being asked of them? Food for thought….
* EVERYONE has the right to communicate. We know that. But I’m going to take it one step further. Everyone has the right to be an environment that supports their language development – no matter what the system may be.
So…. I am excited to get started in the fall. I hope to be able to educate other professionals in my district on these key principals and give them a strong foundation to implement augmentative and alternative forms of communication.
Again, I cannot thank the New Voices Foundation enough for providing me with this wonderful opportunity. I look forward to future collaborations and growing our AAC program in the public schools of NC!