Thank You New Voices Foundation!!!!

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!


Rolling Out the PODD: STEP 1

Oh PODD… how I love you. You are a wonderful language based, low tech system that grows with students (check out my Pillars of PODD post to get the scoop). My dream is to have a lending library of PODD books in my district to use for assessment purposes – just another tool in the toolbox.

Yet, PODD is providing to be a good bit of work. Anyone who has spent hours trimming those tabs knows what I’m talking about… But there’s more to it than just getting the books made and distributing them throughout the district to all of the little boys and girls. In order to ensure that devices are used in the classroom, it is important to make sure that the classroom staff understand and feel comfortable with devices. Here’s where we are so far in the PODD roll out in my school district:


Student identified as possible candidate for PODD system – After a brief training for our district SLPs and EC teachers, many approached me asking if they could try PODD with a specific student.

Introduction of PODD to Classroom – Once a student was identified as a possible candidate, I brought the appropriate level of PODD over to the classroom. I did a quick “Pillars of PODD” training. DON’T FORGET TEACHING ASSISTANTS IN THIS TRAINING!

Full disclosure: Initially, I sat down with teachers and therapists in initial training thinking they would relay the information to the TAs. While intentions are good, in the hustle and bustle of the day, the information wasn’t always transmitted. TAs have asked to be included right from the get go. LESSON LEARNED!

Identifying Targets – I asked staff to think about the curriculum and the student’s communication needs to determine our first vocabulary targets. In order to keep it doable, I’ve asked staff to pick 3-5 to start with. This vocabulary can be from the core word vocabulary and/or “fringe” vocabulary deeper in the book. I always make sure that I am not dictating to the team what vocabulary to use. I am not an expert in the curriculum and the team knows the child much better than I.

Now what?

Next Steps:

Once the team has identified the first targets, I will come back for an additional training. This training will focus more specifically on teaching the targets the team has identified and integrating the PODD across the day – not just within specific activities. Data collection will be another story….


Is anyone else out there rolling out the PODD? How’s it going?




Pillars of PODD

I want to share another tool I have added to my district’s AAC tool kit. It’s called the Pragmatically Organized Dynamic Display (PODD) – created by Gayle Porter. Disclaimer: I have not been formally trained in the PODD system. This is information I have learned through attending various conferences and reading through the PODD Manual.

I’m not going into too much detail about the PODD, but I will say it’s a light tech, multi-leveled, systematically organized communication tool. Check it out here:

Here are some of (what I like to call) the Pillars of PODD:

* Vocabulary is systematically organized. It is key for individuals using AAC to have access to vocabulary that is always in the same place. This promotes motor memory and saves cognitive resources so individuals can focus on generating their message. This goes back to increasing Operational Competence for users (refer back to my post on AAC Assessment and Janice Light’s Theory of Communicative Competence).

* This is the student’s voice. I first learned about the PODD system when Linda Burkhart spoke at the 2013 NCACA conference in Durham, NC. During a question and answer session, someone said something like, “You can print off one book for home, and one book for school.” Linda Burkhart responded with a resounding, “No.” We have to value this as the child’s one, true voice. It goes EVERYWHERE with the student. Check out the PODD manual for more information on methods of access.

* Aided Language Stimulation is KEY. We cannot expect a person to just pick up an AAC device and start generating messages. We need to input the system for that person (think about how we narrate the life of a baby). We have to ensure that each person develops Linguistic Competence for his/her device. If you screw up – that’s ok!!! You should model what to do when you mess up (oops!). You are building that skill of Strategic Competence!

* Implement the PODD within a natural communicative context. Linda Burkhart said, “What fires together, wires together.” So, make sure that individuals using AAC have opportunities to practice in real world environments. Interactions must be genuine and provide natural consequences. You’ve got to make sure communication is functional!

There are many, many more and this post is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all of the key points of PODD.

We started implementing the PODD with several students in my school district. I am excited to see how this rolls out and I’ll keep you posted.

Is anyone else out there using this system? How’s it going?