Friday, December 18, 2015

Using Core Vocabulary to Express Feelings with Inside Out

I'm most definitely on the core vocabulary bandwagon.  Anytime I see an opportunity to engage students in using their augmentative and alternative devices, I jump at the chance.  While perusing Facebook, I came across a post featuring the Inside Out characters written by Rachael M. Langley.  She has been using the hashtag #ICanDoMoreThanRequest to emphasize that communication is much more than requesting/asking for things.  (FYI, the hashtag is on Twitter too.)  

To do this activity, I used SMART Notebook (you can use PowerPoint or Google Slides) and copied pictures from Google Images.  I did this push-in activity with two groups (12-20 kids).  First, we brainstormed and listed Things that Make Us Feel ____ (anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and joy).  Then we listed Things that We Say When We Feel _____.  I provided a sheet with talking bubbles for each feeling.  The kids had to write in at least four per feeling.

The kids were really engaged and provided a lot of comments for my AAC users to use.  The comments were age-appropriate and used much of the core vocabulary.  The AAC users were able to provide some novel, spontaneous responses to the questions (e.g. "What are some things that make you feel fear?").  I did this activity for three weeks (45 minute sessions).  We finished off the lesson with a video modeling project by demonstrating what we say when we experience these emotions.  I'd love to show you the finished product, but I don't have permission from all of my families.  Just picture it as something awesome.  The kids love seeing themselves up on the SMARTBoard and it reinforced the skill that was taught.  After I showed them their video, I showed them a JibJab video with the song "Happy" by Pharrell Williams starring the students.  If you haven't done JibJab with your students, it's a must do.

Overall, I'd say our favorite emotion to talk about was disgust.  We were certainly able to list many disgusting things.  After talking about disgust, I came up with even more ideas.  I'll share those in a future blog post.  How about you?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Professional Development through Prentke Romich Company

As speech language pathologists, we must continue our education and keep on top of current trends and evidence-based treatments.  Over the past few years, I've attended several professional development conferences and some have stood out over others.  I previously spoke of my my experience attending the Language Acquisition through Motor Planning (LAMP) conference, which was one of my career awakening moments.  So it came to no surprise that attending the Prentke Romich Company's "Reality AAC" conference by Jane Odom that it would continue to peak my interest in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).

Speech therapists are always asking for interesting, pertinent, and must-attend professional development opportunities.  Prentke Romich Company's live, in-person conferences are both trailblazing and ahead of their competitors.  If you visit their website, you'll see that they offer both product training (learn about the technology) and implementation classes (how to teach individuals to use communication devices).  I haven't had a chance to explore their online courses, but I can say that I've thoroughly enjoyed the in-person training.  With that said, here were some of the highlights from the Reality AAC conference I attended recently. 

To begin with, all of the teachings at the Prentke Romich conferences are universal to all AAC devices.  Their focus isn't so much on purchasing and using their devices, but rather on how to get individuals communicating using their AAC devices.  What I liked best about the "Reality AAC" conference was that it was for parents, paraprofessionals, and teachers too.  Being an SLP and seeing the audience primarily made up of these people made me excited.

For the sake of making it short and sweet, here are brief take-aways about using Core Vocabulary in a variety of settings that I learned from the conference

Activity Ideas:

Active Listening.  Teach and use words that we use in our everyday language to show that we are participating in the conversation.  Teach words like cool and yuck and really.  Sometimes we get so focused on requesting that we forget that there are other reasons to communicate.  One of them is being social and we need to remember that.  This kind of reminds me of the phrases of Fat Cat Snappy Chat, which I wrote about previously.

Dueling Devices.  This one can be fun.  I've tried this with a couple of students and they love racing me to see who can create a sentence first.  We took a list of sentences from a classroom lesson and we practiced once.  Did a trial race second.  And then we did the final race to see who was the winner.  We kept a tally and the student loves to see victories (me too).  Get creative.  It doesn't have to be classroom work.  Try funny poems from Shel Silverstein.  Or try jokes.

Film "News" for morning meeting. Have the person introduce segments or provide the weather.  Today will be sunny.  There is no chance of rain.  Wear your sunglasses.  Think about it.  You can kill it with core vocabulary in activities like this.  It's also great video modeling.  Have peers do the same.  Have the teacher and staff do it.  It's great practice.  Plus, everyone likes to see a finished project.  Show it on the SMART Board.

Play Describe It.  Show pictures of animals and other interesting things and have students describe it using core vocabulary words.  It is big and gray.  It has large feet.  It eats peanuts.  It has two black eyes.  It is loud.  Maybe you could have the student give the clue and then the teacher can do a "reveal" on the SMARTBoard.   It's a pretty easy activity to figure out how to do on a SMARTBoard.  You can set a picture as the background and then place solid color squares over the top.  After each clue, take away one of the squares.

Dictate using AAC to make holiday cards.  This is a great activity to do at home with the family.  Sit down with your student and write out cards.  Give them two or three phrases to say in the cards.  Have them tell you which one they would like to say.

I Spy.  Need to kill some time?  Kids love playing I Spy.  I see something yellow.  You eat it.  It is on the counter.  You peel it.  You eat it with ice cream.  You can make bread with it.  Give some options.  Give them a picture card with prompts already on it.

kaminsky_toy_close by Jenna Flickr CC
Mad Libs.  This is a fun activity to do at home too.  Go through and pick the words that fill in the blanks.  You'll be able to explore the AAC device to find the words, which is great practice for motor planning (for the student and YOU).  Then, have the student read the story.

Scavenger Hunt.  This is fun for kids and their families.  Have someone hide things throughout the house.  Have the AAC user give clues (which can be created ahead of time). You are looking for a monkey. It is in the kitchen.  Look under the sink.  You are getting hotter.  It is by the soap.  You get the idea.

The Reality AAC conference was chock-full of functional activity ideas.  As I as I sat there, I thought of all of the things that we could be doing at home.  Parents are always asking how they can use the AAC devices at home.      Because I can only see kids about 30-60 minutes a week, that is barely touching the tip of the AAC iceberg.  We need to keep providing opportunities that are fun and engaging to get these AAC device out and being used.  It's an important part of the job as a speech language pathologist to keep sharing these ideas and trainings so that we can get everyone involved.  With that said, I encourage you to check out PRC's trainings to give you practical ways to get AAC up and running.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Watching Sports Using AAC Switches

Cracking up watching tv by Wonderline Flickr (CC)
With football season among us, I thought it would be a good time to share an idea for using one-button switches during sporting events.  Recently, I had an opportunity to rekindle my skill of teaching students how to use one-button switches to communicate messages while participating in everyday activities.  Obviously,  one-button switches with single messages limits users to single messages.  So you have to think about what you'd like to communicate, and what the communicative purpose will be.  Think about the reasons why people communicate:  to obtain things that we want, to refuse things that we don't want, to engage in social interactions, and to provide or seek information (see Communication Matrix).

I'd say that one of the biggest challenges of using single message switches is finding  messages that are purposeful and that can be repeated expectantly during communication opportunities.  Being the sports fan that I am, this is a great example of how to use a single message repeatedly in the right context.  For example, communicators could have a variety of catch phrases during games (both live and on tv).  Think of  all of the comments that people say during games--both good and bad.  You could be a supporter or a heckler. Boo, Buckeyes! You could tell the team what to do next.  Run!  Pass it.  He's open!  Or, you could lead a cheer.  Lets.....Go.....Irish!  Think of the sports colloquialisms that people use during games.  He's on fire!  From downtown!  You get the idea.

Before the event, have everyone brainstorm all of the phrases that might be said during the game.  Write them down and use them throughout the game.  If you have a one-button switch, like the Little Step-by-Step Communicator or the Randomizer, you could record many, if not all of the phrases.  Find some one-button switches at EnableMart.

It's a fun way to get people to communicate within an everyday, ordinary activities.

C'mon Irish!  Let's get this! Not again! Amazing!  No way!  Touchdown! Gooooooooooal!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Complimenting Others with One-Button Switches

Little Step-by-Step Communicator
by Able Net, Inc.
I've been working on using one-button switches with a young lady over the past four months to increase opportunities for communication in her home environment.  Sometimes it is challenging to create opportunities to communicate for individuals with severe needs.  I've been reading up a lot lately on ways to incorporate one-button switches into everyday activities.  I came across 101+ Ideas for Using a BigMack or Other Single Message Communication Devices and then decided to try some out.  I've actually been using a Little Step by Step Communicator and a Sequencer.  Both let you record multiple messages.  You can also try the Big Step by Step GamePlay, which randomizes the messages.
Sequencer by Enable Mart

Let me tell you that I had quite a few comments from teachers when I used the same method with a young man who I work with at school.  He actually only has a Clip Talk, so his messages are limited to two.  But don't let that sway you because 1-2 messages can go a far way.  This week I recorded, "You look great!  You must be working out!"  The people were enjoying his charm to say the least.  I found many websites with lists of compliments.  I used People Are Nice's Compliment List, which had over 200 to choose from.

Keep the button out.  Be creative.  Create opportunities to communicate.  Provide lots of repetition.  Have fun!

Remember these 3 things when using a one-button switch:

Clip Talk
by Enabling Devices
  • Record the voice in the gender of the person communicating when possible.
  • When prompting, prompt the communicative act rather than saying, "Push the button."  Tell me more.  Say "go" when you're ready.  Ask me another question.  What else would you like to say?
  • Use a picture with the button.  Pairing a picture gives symbolic meaning to the message.
Do you have any other ideas for using a one-button switch that you've found effective?  Please share your ideas!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A School Year in Review: Core Vocabulary, Social Stories, and AAC

As the end of the school year approached, I realized that I spent a lot of time doing lots and lots of things.  One of the things on my list was to write occasional blog posts about what I did as a speech language pathologist.  That, however, got put on the back burner when I committed to too many other things in life.  I'm finally starting to figure things out after being in the profession for ten plus years. I thought I'd take a moment a reflect upon some of the things that have I have accomplished over the past year (and stop using the word things).  

Conferences and Professional Development
I liked Prentke Romich's Language Acquisition through Motor Planning (LAMP) conference so much last year that I decided to attend it again this year.  The conference, in my opinion, is at the forefront of the push of using core vocabulary for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).  Done are the days of programming countless pages of fringe vocabulary.  Prentke Romich has a nice website for lesson plans called AAC Language Lab.  You can try a couple of their free lessons and then decide to go further with a paid subscription.  This is definitely worth a look if you're not sure where to start with AAC in both a clinical or school setting.

The other big conference I attended was the Michigan Augmentative and Alternative Communication Conference held near Charlotte, Michigan at the Eaton RESA.  Guess what the big push there was?  You guessed it--Core Vocabulary.  I attended several sessions including one on the newly updated Proloquo2Go 4.0.  One of the biggest changes in Proloquo2Go 4.0 is that the core vocabulary remains somewhat static to the fringe vocabulary pages.  Overall, my biggest takeaway was to keep using AAC more and more in the classroom.  Model it.  Show students how to use it. Repeat.  A million times.

Successful Activities
This year I began pulling students for extra individual therapy.  I have at least six students who have AAC devices.  I decided that I, too, needed to use AAC the entire sessions to communicate (and learn) with the devices.  I'm fairly proficient with Saltillo's NovaChat, PRC's Unity (and Words for Life), GoTalk Now, and Proloquo2Go.  The hardest part is not talking (besides modeling) during our sessions.  I make it a challenge to only use AAC along with the students.  You get a real understanding of how it can be frustrating if you can't say a word that your brain is thinking.  Saltillo asked me to share a video of one of my therapy sessions (with parental permission, of course) to be shown during training in Australia.  So that was pretty cool.

Interesting Experiences
On the last day of school I was asked to write a social story for a student's first visit to the gynecologist.  I'm always up for the social story challenge.  Last year it was "Go Pee and Poop in the Toilet, Not in the Pool" and then this year it was "A Trip to the Gynecologist".  My frequent listening of Loveline with Dr. Drew gave me the knowledge of some of the procedures (and the term "speculum").  I was resourceful and found a good article (6 Things an OB/GYN Needs to Know When Taking Care of a Patient with ASD) that tells doctors how to treat people with autism, but I couldn't really find any that were geared to those who were going to the gynecologist.

Great Moments
Staying caught up on my Medicaid billing is always a great (mundane) moment for me.  It's not difficult, but it takes up my time (which gets procrastinated).  I had some pretty fun activities like having one of my AAC users lead the weekly summer camp day in camp songs (and Christmas songs).  I also did a month long American Idol lesson with my severe cognitive (high school age) class.  Every week we voted on whether we liked or didn't like the performances.  We voted off a person each week too.  The kids were very engaged.  I'll post that lesson before next season starts.  The greatest moments for me were when I was able to get students to use AAC in new ways and to see them excited to communicate and get a reaction to their talking.

Things I need to Keep Working On
With 60+ students, it's hard to spend the time that you want to with each kid.  I primarily do push-in speech therapy with my moderate and severe cognitive impaired classrooms.  I need to keep my creativity going and move past some of my therapy staples.  I would love to visit each class every morning to make sure they were set up for the day with pictures, communication devices, and switches.  I always need to fine tune my data keeping.  We've been moving towards the formative assessment in our school district.  I've been learning more about it and hope to find simple and effective ways to use it with my students.

Well, year number ten is officially over.  I look forward to making some changes over the summer that will make next year better.  Stay tuned for more speech therapy ideas and thoughts!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Press Your Luck Switch Activity

I have many students who use switches to communicate.  They use switches to communicate simple messages during game play, to make requests during activities, to activate environmental controls, to make choices, to tell jokes, to make a horn sound on their wheelchairs, and to play games on the computer.  Using a switch is an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) method that allows people with communication deficits opportunities to participate in everyday activities.  The hard part, believe it or not, is getting creative and incorporating it into a variety of activities throughout the day.

Big Talk from Enabling Devices
There are many switches on the market to choose from.  You can actually use a single button switch to accomplish many tasks.  If you have an advanced user, then you can add more options. But for the sake of the following activity, I will show you how I use a one-button switch for some fun classroom activities.

One of the first skills that AAC users learn when using a switch is cause and effect. When you press a button, something happens. Once users understand this essential skill, then many doors will open. When I was first exposed to one-button switches it reminded me of all of the game shows that are used to watch as a kid. You know--The Buzzer. Hand behind your back. Be the first one to ring in. I remember staying home from school and watching shows like the Price is Right, Family Feud, The Love Connection (okay, Chuck Woolery didn't have a buzzer), $25,000 Pyramid, Password, Scrabble, Let's Make a Deal, and my favorite--Press Your Luck!

Whenever I mention Press Your Luck, many people don't remember the show. That baffles me because it was one of the greatest game shows ever! They had these little cartoon characters called Whammies that came on screen and erased your money if you landed on their squares. The one that I remember most was the Michael Jackson Whammy that would moonwalk your money away.  Even though you lost all of your money, it was still very entertaining.

It got me thinking.  This could be a fun activity for older students (upper elementary and higher) who were working on cause and effect with switches.  Part of the fun of using switches is playing games with a group.  Playing game shows is a great way to get the whole class (staff included) involved.  When learning to use switches, users need lots of repetition.  Games like Press Your Luck provide dozens of opportunities.  Actually, Press Your Luck also requires someone with some pop culture knowledge.  The way you earn turns, in order to press the button, is to answer trivia questions.  This is where the staff comes in.  We make the game interactive with everyone. Everyone is involved! We have switches that say, "Come on Big Bucks!" or "No Whammy!  No Whammy!  STOP!" just like the game show.  So not only do the switches buzz in, they say what game show contestants would say when playing.  

In order to do this activity, you need at least a one-button switch.  If you are technologically disadvantaged, you can have a person man the mouse and click it when the switch user activates the button.  Or, you can use a Bluetooth switch and sync it directly with the game.  You might have to get creative if you don't have the resources.  But that's okay!  Sometimes I use a remote control clicker (like for Powerpoint presentations) and click when the switch user activates the button.  You get the picture.

As I write this post, I realize it's getting longer and longer.  Stay tuned and I'll post how I use switches for Wheel of Fortune too.  As for getting Press Your Luck, you can get it for about $10 from Gamehouse.  There are other versions out there.  As for playing it with the class, we project it onto a SMART Board or Tap It when we play, but you can use it on a computer (monitor) as well.

Get creative!  Buy some props like bags of money, sunglasses, or leis.  Have an announcer tell the players which "trips they've won" using a Step-by-Step switch.  You just won a trip to Tahiti!  You just won a trip to sunny Detroit, Michigan!  Set up applause buttons.  Have them encourage each other.  There is a lot to do with a single switch for one activity!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Choiceworks Visual Schedule App

Every once in a while I come across a game changer--something that changes the way I do things in speech therapy. During my last eight years at my school, we've put a strong emphasis on utilizing visual strategies with our autism students and even more so with all students given the push of positive behavior supports (PBS) in our school. 

We've used Boardmaker so much that we might be considered a franchise. We've multiplied our first/then cards tenfold. We've taken stock in Time Timers. I've helped create virtual visual schedules on SMARTBoards and Tap Its. Now that I think about it, visual supports is a big business! And then I came across a very inexpensive app that packs a powerful punch in the visual strategies market--Choiceworks

I wish I could give credit to whomever introduced me to it. So, if it was you, thanks! It is now my most recommended app to others.  Okay, so now you probably want to know what this app is all about, right?

Choiceworks is a visual schedule, visual timer, and a social story book all encompassing app. Have you ever made a visual schedule where you move a picture card to all done (or put it into an envelope)? You know--go on Boardmaker, create a schedule, print, laminate, cut, and then Velcro it all together. Right. We've been there a million times. That's exactly what this app is minus all of my hyperbole. Essentially, it's a virtual, handheld version of the low tech schedules.

The app features an ability to create an unlimited amount of personalized schedules to fit the needs of almost anyone.  In my school, I've created mini schedules for getting off the bus, going to lunch, morning schedule, speech, and walking in the hallway.  You'll notice that you can set a visual timer in between each task too (see picture on the left).  Once the task is over, the person moves it over to the all done side and then the next task begins.  Once the tasks are completed, the person then gets a choice which could either be something motivating or just a choice of the next activity.  Really, it's whatever you make it.  This type of visual strategy has made it easier for both the students and the teachers because the schedule is always the guide.  Check your schedule.  The schedules are always interchangeable and customizable.  You can use pictures from the Choiceworks library or you can import your own.

Another feature of Choiceworks is its Waiting board.  Very simply put, it's a visual timer with choices that follow.  For example, it might say "I am waiting for 5 minutes.  While I am waiting I can color or use the computer."  This allows students to decompress or take a break with an activity that might calm them or help them transition between activities.  Again, this feature is completely customizable.

Choiceworks also features Feelings boards.  I really like this type of visual strategy because it provides people with expected behaviors.  Rather than telling students what not to do, this visual strategy provides students with what they can do.  For example, one board might say "When I am angry, I can get help or take a break.  Then I can watch a DVD or play a game."  This strategy provides a very concrete option for students.  When I use this strategy, I verbally model the phrase and then wait for the student to make the choice.  The key is to verbally prompt very minimally.  Too many words makes the visual strategy less effective.  Wait and then wait some more.  The less wordy, the better!

Overall, BeeVisual has made a great app that can benefit just about any student of any ability.  You could very easily use at home with your own kids or even for yourself to keep you on-task.  First I need to write an IEP.  Then I can have a coffee or go for a walk!

Check out Choiceworks and Choiceworks Calendar at or at the iTunes store.  At the time of this writing, the app was listed at $6.99.