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.
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!
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.
Mo Buti and our session attendees have been sharing some amazing suggestions for teaching communication skills to non-verbal students who also have visual impairments. Here are a few of those ideas and resources!
TACTILE CONNECTIONS KIT: SYMBOLS FOR COMMUNICATION This kit helps teachers create a tactile card system that is individualized for visually impaired and blind learners who have additional disabilities and/or lack a formal means of communication or literacy. The tactile symbols are created when part of an object is mounted on a hand-sized card representing core vocabulary categories (e.g. people, places, actions, objects, etc.). This kit provides some of the essential components that assist in a system’s construction and application.
The PERKINS site offers some great resources for teaching communication to visually impaired students.
Tactile books are used to teach literacy, so why not pair them with separate cards containing the same key words, characters, etc. found in the books to reinforce language learning? Pinterest (everybody’s favorite collecting site) offers a wealth of ideas for CREATING TACTILE BOOKS that can be paired with tactile communication supports. Here is another link to MORE TACTILE BOOKS FOR LANGUAGE AND LITERACY.
I love Inclusive Technology! This outstanding company creates some of the best software, apps, and accessibility products for children with special needs. Although based in Great Britain, all materials are available through their US partner, Inclusive TLC. Now they’ve gone even further toward offering support to teachers and therapists using assistive technologies in the school setting.
In September, 2014, they launched a quarterly online magazine called Special World and they’ve just released the 3rd edition. The articles and information are well written and informative, offering practical application ideas for supporting the use of AT in the educational process. There are very few resources out there that specifically address the use of AT with children, making this an invaluable resource. All editions are archived, so download a copy today!
It’s hard to find time to get away from the classroom for training, so webinars make it easy to keep up with what’s new. HelpKidzLearn is an excellent resource created by Inclusive Technology and they have some wonderful online sessions coming up this week. Sessions are 60 minutes long, interactive, and (best of all) free! Register even if you can’t attend the live session…you’ll be sent a link to the archives so you can catch it later when you have time.
Beginning Tuesday, April 21, topics include:
iPad Access for Physical Disabilities
Creating Personalized Eye Gaze Activities with Chooseit! Maker 3
Need a way to spread out picture supports and get them up at eye-level for those using Eye Gaze for communication? This is a cheap and easy DIY project that comes together in a matter of minutes. Made out of PVC Pipe, a few connector joints and a few stripes of Velcro, this particular frame is great for those who travel to different schools/locations because it is easily taken apart and put back together (as long as you have labeled the pieces the first time you assembled it!) Of course, it can be glued together if you wont need to disassemble it. Also, be sure to ask them to cut the pieces in the sizes that you need at the hardware store, unless you happen to have a PVC cutter laying around in your garage! This will make assembly that much faster when you get it all home. Here are the directions: Eye Gaze Frame made out of PVC Pipe Our version of the PVC Eye Gaze frame is taken from a previous idea by Linda Burkhart.
I’ll say it again…you just can’t beat the accessibility features offered by Apple. I loved the simple touch screen interface offered from the onset and they just keep adding new tools for our students with physical disabilities through every upgrade. Yesterday’s release of iOS7 is like Christmas for our users with special needs…
With more than 200 changes in this upgrade, there is something for everybody who uses an iPad, iPod Touch or an iPhone. It includes a completely redesigned user interface and some exciting new accessibility supports our disabled students will love. Options specifically designed for those with limited abilities include the ability to adjust fonts system-wide, provide customized captioning and set user controls for switch access. This includes the option for gesture-based controls (including actions such as head movements) to operate the devices. Wow! What a difference these features will make for our more severely involved students who have seen iPads in their schools but have never been able to engage with them or use them to their fullest potential. This upgrade also offers expanded functionality for the already awesome accessibility features such as Zoom, VoiceOver, Speak Selection, Assistive Touch and Guided Access.
I am always excited when our trusted special education software manufacturers make a program available in app format. I am REALLY excited this week, as Don Johnston just released an app version of Co:Writer®!!
This is a word prediction tool that reduces the number of keystrokes required to type and that makes it a great tool for students with physical disabilities or just poor typing abilities. Since it provides support for spelling and grammar with writing tasks, it’s an amazing tool for our LD students who know what they want to say but can’t seem to think of the right word or struggle with spelling. As the first letters are typed, Co:Writer predicts the intended word and presents a selection of word choices. The program uses ‘inventive’ spelling to predict words, even if the student misspells the word or omits vowels.
Word suggestions can be read aloud with a swipe; selecting the intended word places it into the document. Built-in text to speech will read letters, words, sentences, and the entire document using the Heather voice. Control settings allow for adjustingt the font, text size and color contrast for improved readability.
Co:Writer has access to a main prediction dictionary (that includes core words) and an endless range of Topic Dictionaries (that includes topic specific words). Available today on iTunes, it will be the best $17.99 you’ve spent in a while!