Friday, February 28, 2014

A Better Way to Teach AAC to Students

LAMP Words for Life app
How many conferences have you ever gone to and actually come away with a game changing moment of how you teach or do therapy?  It's happened only a few times so far in my ten year career.  The other day I attended one of those sessions that really left a mark in how I should be teaching augmentative and alternative communication:  Language Acquisition through Motor Planning (LAMP).  I'm fairly new to the concept of Minspeak even though Dr. Spiegel tried to explain it to me over ten years ago in graduate school. What it took for me to finally figure it out was when I got a new student with an old Prentke Romich Springboard Lite communication device. There's only one way to learn--get your hands dirty. Actually, that would be the best advice I could give to anyone who has a technology aversion.  And, of course, you should attend an official LAMP training.
Proloquo2Go app "Core Vocabulary"

If you've ever seen AAC devices or software, you'll notice that most of them come with some sort of pre-programmed vocabulary. Some have basic templates where you insert simple wants/needs/feelings. Having this option is very helpful especially for time strapped SLPs.  Maybe you've noticed, but the pre-programmed vocabulary in these devices is actually very purposeful. It is called Core Vocabulary. These are words that are most commonly used in our language. So what's the difference between what I used to do versus what I learned at the LAMP conference? It's all about the Core Vocabulary.

Instead of programming buttons and pages and more buttons and pages, using the Core Vocabulary allows users more opportunities for spontaneous, novel communication. So, by using the LAMP method, users learn how to use AAC through repetitive motor movements. The buttons are in the same location every time.  You teach the sequence. Repeat it. Practice it. Make it automatic.

The reason why LAMP had an impact on me is because it gave me a method to teach AAC. You see, I can make my pages look pretty and logical (to me), but they don't mean squat to the student who needs to be told how to navigate to a specific place every time. With this method, you teach the motor planning to get there. For example, the other day I did an activity with two students. One had to ask, "Do you like (a certain food)?" Then, my AAC user had to respond back with either "I like it." or "I don't like it." We repeated this about 25 times. Now, after one session, my AAC user has learned this motor plan to compose this phrase. And, I might add, she does it really quickly now too. It was a really functional activity. The fun part was that we learned a lot about our AAC user than we had ever before. She told us that she didn't like donuts! Who doesn't like donuts?!
myCore by Saltillo

The beauty of this all is that I am at the learning stage of using this method. By using the guide and watching online tutorials, I now have direction when teaching AAC to my students. If you get a chance to go to a LAMP training, I highly recommend it. You can even take it one step further by becoming a local training resource through a mentorship program.

Have you attended the LAMP training? What did you think?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Great Games to Practice PECS

If you're in Autism-world, then you've probably heard of the Picture Exchange Communication System, otherwise known as PECS.  I work with students with cognitive impairments along with speech and language deficits.  Although PECS is generally geared toward students with autism, it can also be very effective with all different types of students.  In a nutshell, PECS is a system in which the user initiates communication using picture cards.  The overall goal is to have the student independently gain the attention of a communication partner and then initiate an interaction either by making a request or by commenting.  I highly recommend formal training through Pyramid as you will get the full understanding of the program.  You can read a little bit more on my PECS page or you can go on YouTube to get a general understanding.

With PECS, it's important to practice with lots and lots of repetition everyday.  An easy way to start is to pick something that is highly motivating with many opportunities to interact.  That means you need games, activities, or snacks with lots of pieces.  Snack time is an easy way because you can get a bowl full of Goldfish crackers and have 30+ turns.  Remember--one of the most important components of using PECS, though, is making sure the activity is highly motivating to the student.  As time has passed, I've come across some games that are proven winners with my students.

Here a few games that I like to use with PECS:

Buckaroo by Milton Bradley

Buckaroo is a saddle stacking game in which players choose various pieces of equipment to put onto the back of the prospector's mule.  You can begin by keeping all of the pieces and having the student make requests with a single "Buckaroo" card or you can have cards for each piece to make choices.  Kids love this game because of the element of surprise.  If you get too many pieces on him or wiggle just too much, then he'll buck.  If he bucks, you're out of luck!

Pop-Up-Pirate is another game with many opportunities to practice PECS.  This time students can request a sword or a color.  As the student progresses, then you can add the color qualifier to the request.  "I want the yellow sword."  This game also has an element of surprise.  Every time you insert a sword, you never know if the pirate is going to pop out.  I always make this game very suspenseful with a lot of drama and fake outs.  Kids love the over emphasis.  1-2-3 BOOM!

My other favorites include KerplunkJenga, and Tumblin' Monkeys.

Do you have any fun PECS games or activities?  I would love to hear some new ideas!

Friday, February 14, 2014

AAC Bingo Activity and Ideas

Over the past few years, I've gotten quite a few augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) users. While there are many different devices and software out there (my students included), almost all communication devices are set up similarly (there are definitely exceptions). But, for the sake of this blog post, let's say that your users have page sets with various vocabulary, expressions, and personal information (likes/dislikes, wants/needs, vital information).  The nice thing about most communication devices (apps/programs/software) is that they have pre-programmed pages.  So, what's the hard part for teachers?  Getting students to turn on their devices and use them functionally during classroom discussions and activities.  My job is to show, teach, and collaborate with the classroom staff on how to program and actually use the communication devices.  If you've ever programmed even just one, then you know how time consuming this can be.  So, what I thought I'd do is share with you some ideas on how to incorporate AAC into an activity.

Print 'N Play by Mayer Johnson
One of the vocabulary games that I see (and play) often in the classroom is Bingo.  I bought the Mayer Johnson Print 'N Play Games which works along with Boardmaker.  The nice thing is that I don't really have to create any boards and that most communication devices already have these PCS symbols or other similar ones.  Don't forget to check Boardmaker Achieve (formerly Boardmaker Share) or Pinterest.   There's a ton of free stuff like this on there!  What's great about Bingo is that the entire class can play.

So, how do AAC users come into play?  
Let them be the Bingo caller!  
Depending on the level of the student, I do this in one of two ways:
SMART Notebook
  • One-button switch users--For these students, I'd either use a Step-by-Step Switch or a Bluetooth Super Switch. Using a Step-by-Step Switch is fairly simple.  All you do is record every vocabulary word.  Then have the student placed in front of the room and prompt them to "call" the Bingo words.  Now, if you're talented, you can use a one-button Bluetooth Super Switch paired with a computer that is hooked up to the SMART Board.  I do this one often because it's both very visual and there is an auditory component (it sounds like the Price is Right wheel).  To do this, you hover the cursor over the "select" button and make the switch a mouse click.  Obviously, you'd have to have a SMART Board (and a Bluetooth Super Switch) to do this.  If you do have SMART Notebook, then you can search for "random image chooser" in the gallery.  You can drag and drop pictures quickly into it.  (If you don't have SMART Notebook, try the free online version SMART Notebook Express.  Here's the Winter Bingo file to download beforehand.)
  • AAC device users--This provides a lot of repetition for finding the correct page and locating the vocabulary word.  Of course, you'd want to set it up to the user's level--meaning, you might only have one page available (e.g. Bingo page).  For more advanced users, you could have them navigate each time to the word.  I've done this with students using Proloquo2Go app, Prentke Romich software, GoTalk Now app, The Grid 2 software, and Tobii software.  Again, you could either provide them with the prompt (which word to select for the class) or you could let them randomly choose the words.  It really depends on the student.  If you were really savvy, you could even make a scene page using the actual bingo board and make hot spots for each picture.  
Playing Bingo isn't just about saying or locating the words.  Think of all of the social pieces of playing the game.  What else do people say?  How about the Bingo caller?  All right everyone,  does anyone have four in a row? Anybody getting close to a Bingo?  We've got a Bingo!  Get creative and make it fun!  
Do you have any activities or games that you use to get your AAC users involved?