New School, New Communication: Working with AAC
I have been placed in my first practicum placement! Yee haw! I've waited for this day since I entered graduate school, anticipating what it's like to have a job and take on a full caseload. I've daydreamed about the crafts, the group time, and the co-workers that will help me achieve my goals. I thought about learning hands-on with a professional that would eventually (hopefully) become a mentor and a peer. Then the day came, and I regretted wanting to hurry through my studies.
Once put on the job, I again had to become familiar with a new type of practice, new people, new students and a new learning experience. My placement is in an elementary school that ranges preschool to sixth grade, in which my supervisor sees more of the younger population. Many of the classes include fully self-contained classrooms of different grades, a preschool setting, and a medically-fragile classroom. I will be doing evaluations, IEPs, meetings and eventually (meaning next week), taking on a full caseload.
The incredibly different and wonderful part of the experience my supervisor introduced to me is working with AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) as the bulk of the therapy. iPads from the school are programmed with applications dedicated to communication such as LAMP. The important aspect here lies within the main purpose of the iPad: communication. What may seem like an intellectual gap between cognition and technology becomes a special relationship of language and visuals.
Even the preschoolers use iPads and have proven to me the effectiveness of knowledge of language and expression through the use of technology. A student who can say only one sound can tell us that we are playing with green frogs and big cats. The child can form a three-word utterance by selecting the appropriate words using syntax and semantic knowledge otherwise unknown through limited verbalizations.
Recently ASHA published an article reporting the benefits of providing younger children with AAC titled "AAC with energy - earlier" by Beth E. Davidoff. Davidoff covers the pros and cons of AAC introduced during early intervention through research and standards requiring the necessity to give children the means to talk. As stated earlier, Davidoff covers the concern of screen time with young children, but if screen time is used in a functional, social manner with other people, it becomes less of a time burner for parents and more of a communication modality.
The catch-all of AAC is about the buy-in. Students can be successful using an AAC device, whether the type be communication cards, sign language or high-tech iPad applications, the method only becomes truly useful when it is capitalized as a method of communication by everyone: parents, teachers, teacher aids, sibling - essentially anyone and everyone communicating with the child.
After "AAC with energy - earlier" was published, a blogger part of ASHA made the observation that AAC is not as simple as sitting an iPad in front of a child and expecting them to brilliantly communicate. It takes time and effort for clinicians to model, teach and scaffold the use of AAC before it becomes functional for the child to use. The next step is teaching school staff, family, and friends how to use and edit the device. Finally, making the device available for all communication purposes is fundamental to the child. Of course, for this to happen has to be the ultimate buy-in, and expectations for everyone to be on the same page may be unfathomable.
Maybe I can prove the effectiveness of AAC with just one child during my practicum and make my opportunity of starting something new less intimidating for myself - and perhaps one of my students, too.