There is good news for students who must have tests read aloud (and the staff responsible for this time consuming task).  There are a growing number of software supports and apps (iOS and Android) on the market that allow for easy adaptation of tests to offer recorded or digitized speech output.  Some programs allow students to respond via keyboarding, but not all.  Here are just two of my favorites...

  Audio Exam App - Designed exclusively for iPads and iPods,  this ingenious app cuts the time spent reading tests aloud to students and encourages test-taking independence.  Teachers upload (or create) tests through the app, record questions and responses just once, and save to the cloud. Tests can be accessed at anytime and dispersed to student's iPads through a code-enabled download. While the student must still record responses on paper version of the test, the app allows them to listen to content independently, adjusting the reading speed as needed.  Audio Exam comes in two separate apps - the Audio Exam Player (free, for student devices) and Audio Exam Creator ($10, for teacher computer). Multiple teachers may share access to the Creator version on a single PC, saving their tests separately. Using the free Audio Exam Player, students may listen to the test content at their own pace and replay each question as many times as needed, even skipping and returning to difficult questions. The Creator offers a 30-day free trial. For more information, watch this Video Tutorial .   TIP: Don't limit its use to assessments! Use it to record vocabulary lessons, text passages with comprehension questions, verbal math problems and more for custom-created skills practice.        Google Docs  - Your students don't have to use Chromebooks to benefit from a Google account and all of its amazing programs. (The Chrome browser allows access through iOS devices.) There are a growing number of outstanding apps and extensions for use within Google Docs to provide text-to-speech, text highlighting, and even voice dictation.  You can create text (or test) content, save to a file in Google Drive, and share with students. They can read independently or listen as its read aloud if needed, then respond by typing or voice dictating their responses. There are hundreds of great uses for Google Docs! Here are a few terrific sites that can introduce you to Google for educational use... 32 Ways to Use Google in the Classroom  This excellent presentation will get you started! The G Suite Learning Center has all the tutorial help you need.

  I've learned a lot about AAC technologies over the last 15 years.  I often say that I don't know everything, but I can probably tell you how and where to learn more.  Because I provide direct technology support and training to educational teams for many students with impaired language and communication skills, I have gathered a wealth of forms, tip sheets, tutorial resources, assessment materials, etc. for use in the school setting.  I share these with teachers and treating speech therapy clinicians across my service area, as well as anybody looking to learn more.  I hope these resources are helpful to those working (or planning to work) in the school setting with children who need or use AAC supports.  There are SO many more than these, but this is where I'd like to start.   Please Note:  Many of these materials were created by others.  While we encourage your use, please do not remove author credits when using or sharing!   When working with classrooms serving students with AAC needs, I like to find out how much the staff knows so I can offer the right support.   The AAC Checklist for Teachers is a great general tool for this. For districts looking for an excellent AT 'team' service delivery model, check out the Colorado Guide to AAC Implementation in Schools.  These Tips and Ideas for Making Visuals are excellent! Linda Burkhart and Gayle Porter offered an excellent session at the 2012 ISAAC Conference titled Assessing During Instruction: Measuring Real Success with Communication.  These ladies are my heroes when it comes to understanding and using AAC, so you'll want to look at this handout. Our center hosted sessions by Linda Burkhart several years ago and our staff still talk about how much they learned.  Her session 'Key Concepts for Using Augmentative Communication with Children Who Have Complex Communication Needs' was amazing! I love tip sheets for helping teachers creatively use low tech message systems in the classroom.  Here are links to a few of my faves: 101-Ideas for using Bigmack in class by CENMAC Another version of 101 Ideas-for-Using Single Message Communication-Devices by Spectronics Making the Most of Multi-Message Voice Output Devices by Enabling Devices        

chrome-at-toolbox-apps4at As more districts more toward the use of Chromebooks for 1:1 device use, there are always questions about how these devices can provide the accessibility supports needed by our students with physical and/or learning disabilities.  Since Chromebooks don't allow for installation of software programs (the usual source of specialized reading/writing support), assistive tools must come from apps and extensions that can modify the user interface.  These tools, many of which are free,  are available from the Chrome Web Store and offer accommodations for visual needs, reading, writing, studying, note-taking, web navigation, etc. Be sure to check out user reviews and give a number of options a trial run before deciding which work best for the intended user. Subscription based programs from reputable special education software companies, such as Read & Write for Google Chrome (by TextHelp) and Snap&Read Universal (by Don Johnston, Inc.) are also available there.  These high quality programs offer a suite of supports that can be configured into a toolbar to meet individual student-user needs through the Chrome OS. Just like any other assistive technology tool, you'll need to explore a number of options and help your student user to identify those that best suit his/her needs.  Just like apps for any OS, some are more well designed than others. If you don't like an app after trying it, just delete it from your toolbox and move on. To get you started, check out The Chrome AT Toolbox . This site has arranged a nice list of apps and extensions by specific user type, as well as the following categories:
    • Accessibility
    • Cognitive
    • Language
    • Mathematics
    • Organization
    • Reading
    • Social
    • Vision
    • Writing

Shake Up Learning Website topics I love Google and all the great things they've brought us to use in the classroom, but it can be overwhelming to find and learn to use what may be appropriate for your needs, especially if you're just getting started.  I always tell my training audiences, "I can't know everything on every topic, but I do know where to direct you to find what you need."  If you need more information for learning to use Google Apps and Google for Education supports, then I would send you  to a great site called ShakeUpLearning.  This incredibly helpful blog is written by Kasey Bell, a Google Certified Innovator and Google Certified Trainer who has taught digital learning workshops at ISTE, FETC, TCEA, and Google Summit events.  Her site offers free digital learning resources, eBook tutorials, guides and cheat sheets for learning to use all things Google,  along with ideas for integrating their use into the classroom.  Check it out today!

It's always exciting to see kids with limited speech and language abilities respond to the use of visually supported communication tools and strategies. Images are easy to recognize and recall, making the transference of information universal...no matter what the 'language' might be!  It's easy to understand something visual, even if we can't read the script or verbalize its name or meaning. STOP in french McDonalds in Arabic I routinely help teachers and speech therapy staff create adaptive communication supports and modify classrooms to create a language immersion environment for young learners. Unfortunately, just talking about augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can scare the life from those unfamiliar with the process!  While the terminology may sound intimidating, it really isn't that complex for this particular group.  In the next few posts, I'd like to offer some information, ideas, and resources to help those in the school setting alleviate their fears and elevate their enthusiasm for using AAC in the classroom with young students! Let's start by looking at AAC terminology here: Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC):  anything that can be used to supplement (augmentative) or substitute (act as an alternative for) verbal speech can be considered an AAC option.  These may include some form of voice output (speech generating) device, modified visual supports within the curriculum, and/or strategies for interaction that involve the use of visual supports. An AAC 'system' would be the combination of tools and supports that are deemed most effective for each user. Multi-modal Communication Strategies: We "communicate" in many ways.  Examples include the use of verbal speech, sign language,  body language, hand or facial gestures, device supports, and/or visual supports.  Since our young students with disabilities are still learning to comprehend language, they need complete immersion using ALL methods to enhance understanding and foster communication exchanges. No-Tech Strategies: The use of printed communication materials, eye gaze systems, pointers, object boards, and communication books are considered No-tech supports Low to Mid-Tech Tools: Tools that offer voice output and require a battery are generally referred to as Mid-tech options.  Examples might include a Big Mack single message device or a GoTalk 20+, a multi-message device, or similar High-Tech Tools: Communication supports that require digital programming are referred to as high-tech tools.  Examples might include an AAC app used on a digital tablet or a commercially purchased speech generating device (SGD) systems Classrooms should first consider the least invasive, most age-appropriate interventions. and progress the user through toward more high-tech options as his/her skills increase.  I have provided a list of my favorite  Low-Mid Tech AAC tools here to give an idea of the kinds of voice output supports that classrooms should have on hand when creating a language-rich environment.  (These are for general reference and are not intended to promote one brand over another.) Over the next few posts, I will provide printable resources, ideas, and additional resources for integrating AAC tools and strategies into the early elementary and preschool classrooms!  

I love great resources and I really love them when they're FREE! If you've never visited the Special Education Needs (SEN) Teacher website, you need to do it now. SEN Teacher offers a wealth of FREE printables, a page full of links to specialized support sites, as well as free software downloads for addressing the academic, sensory, communication, and assistive technology needs of children with special needs. Most printable resources can be adapted to suit a variety of individual needs. All SEN Teacher resources are free to use at school and in the home. Here are a few examples ...Math printable for coinsQuick AAC Photo Cards ⋆SEN Teacher imagePrintables ⋆SEN Teacher image

AT Kits Brochure   If you've never used a mounting system offered by Loc-Line, you're in for a treat!! Although designed for use in a range of industrial settings, it didn't take long until some crafty OT's recognized the potential for using modular hose to create durable mounting systems.  Don't we all just LOVE crafty OT's? (I may be biased just a little...)  I even love that the company gave credit to this group on their brochure featuring their latest mounts.  You can download that here:  Modular Hose AT brochure 2016.

Loc-line materials can be purchased individually for creating or customizing mounts, or you can buy them pre-fabricated in various AT Kits designed to hold tablets and switches. Their newest offering, called Tablet-X is awesome (the brochure even says so!)  Visit their WEBSITE to take a look. They're lightweight, virtually unbreakable, very flexible, easily cleanable, and just plain fun to work with! Switch Mount

 

  summer camp pic Wow! Summer break is almost here and will bring much needed vacations (for staff and students alike!). I know that many of us will be sending our children off to camp somewhere so they can enjoy a few days of fun and adventure outdoors with their friends.  Let's not forget about our students with physical and learning disabilities who deserve the same opportunities but require special care to meet their diverse needs.  There are a growing number of summer camps designed to accommodate their needs and I am amazed at how well the kids and families respond to participation. Family retreats are available for those who have a child with a disability through the Joni And Friends Ministry, founded by Joni Erikson Tada. This list of camps in the east Tennessee region is a great starting point when looking for just the right fit for your students with Autism.  Search the internet for similar opportunities in your region! Zac Brown (of my absolute favorite, Zac Brown Band!) is a former camp counselor who felt the need to launch a camp for students with special needs, as well as families of our military. Construction is ongoing for Camp Southern Ground in beautiful north Georgia, but weekend camps have begun.  (They need our support too!) I also love the Center for Courageous Kids in western Kentucky.  They accept children from around the world and camp weeks are designed to serve children with specific illnesses or disabilities.  Many Kiwanis Clubs offer scholarships to needy students in their region. Call yours today and ask! So...before we head off for our own break, let's offer these links and resources to the families of the children who just want the chance to play like their peers.

Autism logo I am an ATP working in the special education setting, but I've also been an OT for almost 30 years. Since the goal of OT is to improve functional independence and the goal of AT use is to provide tools that help accommodate for disability, the two are a perfect match.  Although my role is to foster academic engagement and success in the classroom, we all recognize the importance of the child's family as members of the education team.  Carryover in the home is a key piece to supporting that success! In this post, I'd like to share some of the resources that I routinely offer to parents to introduce them to the use of visual supports, AAC  tools and strategies, and sensory strategies commonly used within the classroom. Many of our students with Autism are visual learners and many more demonstrate impaired language skills.  The use of visual supports has shown to be an effective tool for establishing routines, supporting communication, easing transitions between activities, and engaging students for socialization, leisure, and learning. Information provided in this handout Visual Supports and Autism will introduce parents to the use of visual supports. LessonPix  is an easy-to-use online resource that allows users to create various customized learning materials and offers great ideas for integrating use. This is a subscription-based program ($36/year per user) but found in a growing number of classrooms because of its ease of use for creating picture supports for hundreds of communication and learning activities. One of my favorite resources is AndNextComesL , a blog created by the mother of a child with Autism. The author offers a wealth of ideas and activities for home use, including many free printable materials. I have downloaded the Weekly Autism Planner and all of the Daily Visual Schedule Cards and provide these to parents to support carryover in the home.  There's even a section of Sensory Resources with great ideas for addressing the special sensory needs of children with Autism.  Since it can be difficult to explain the complex sensory needs of children with Autism, the video, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, can help parents better understand this topic. Another blog written by a mom of twin sons with Autism offers a personal perspective and information about a range of interventions.  Her post titled Autism and AAC: Five Things I Wish I Had Known, provides insight and ideas related to using Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) strategies. I always encourage our moms to look at the resources found on Pinterest! I have a great set of files there with resources for 'all things AT' and I am always finding new ideas to add to my toolbox.

ATIA 2016 My colleague, Karen Moffatt, CCC-SLP,  and I presented an educational session on this topic at the 2016 Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) National Conference earlier this month. As expected, there was a large amount of interest in the subject as educators and administrators across the globe try to figure out how to tap the full potential of this device in the classroom.  We feel like everybody should be skilled users, but they're still relatively new and upgrading all the time.  As Karen put it so clearly during our session, " iPads have only been with us for about six years, but it feels like forever." The information for this session was gathered as we supported a large technology initiative to introduce iPads to middle school students with special learning needs in advance of her district's full 1:1 launch.  Although the project had (and still has) some challenges, it has allowed these students to take much needed extra time to become fully comfortable with the technology navigation and use, identify accessibility supports and apps that meet their unique needs, and begin integrating these supports into their routine well ahead of their peers. The ATIA Conference encouraged us all to 'Network, Learn & Share', which is what we're doing here by posting our materials for general access.  The PowerPoint and handouts for this session are available under the tab titled 'ATIA 2016 Sessions' on the home page menu. Please feel free to use these materials to support your own efforts to integrate tablet technologies in your districts, but remember to leave all credits intact.