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AT in the EC classroom:AAC and computers

Posted Feb 03 2009 1:21am
Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC):  
To establish relationships with classmates, it is important for your child to be able to communicate with them to share his or her thoughts, ideas, feelings, tell jokes, and make choices. Is your child able to communicate independently? Can adults and children understand what your child is trying to communicate? If not, an assessment for AAC from a licensed speech and language pathologist (SLP) may be necessary to ascertain what devices would be appropriate for your child. “Yes” and “No” should not be his or her primary way of communicating for a long period of time, although it may be a starting point.  
AAC can help children express themselves; however, keep in mind that your child’s level of communication will be based on their age and ability. The SLP should consider appropriate ways for your child to communicate the following: protest/reject (e.g. “I don’t want to!”), request object/action (e.g. “I want a break”), request attention (e.g. “Look at what I made”), request information/permission (e.g. “What’s that?”), offer/share (e.g. “Want this?”), social (e.g. “You’re silly!”), confirm/deny (e.g. “I don’t want that”), label (e.g. “Purple”), comment (e.g. “This tastes good”), question (e.g. “Where’s mommy?”), and direct attention (e.g. pointing at someone or something). AAC can also help your child communicate in an appropriate manner. For example, pointing to a picture on a communication board to say, “Wanna play?” versus hitting his or her classmates to get their attention. 
It is also vital for your child to be able to respond to requests made by friends to engage in conversations and play. If a classmate asks your child to play and they have no way to communicate that they do or do not want to, the other children will quickly come under the impression that your child either does not know how to play or does not want to be friends. AAC ultimately could be the vehicle for your child to be able to achieve meaningful relationships.  
A list of vocabulary, both gender and age appropriate, should be generated for programming your child’s AAC device. The teacher and SLP must gather this information through classroom observation. Some of the questions that the SLP may ask include: What kind of words are the children in your child’s classroom using? Is slang necessary? What is the average sentence length (2-3 words) children your child’s age are using? What language does your child/ family use (e.g. Spanish)? What kind of symbols will your child use to communicate? If your child has limited vision, do the symbols need to be high contrast or tactile (i.e. touch/sensory-based)? Will your child use real objects, miniatures, picture cards, communication boards, or voice output devices? Will the voice output device use digitized speech (recorded human voice) or synthesized speech (computer-generated speech)? There are a wide variety of AAC devices and your child’s preference and ability will help to guide the device selection.  If there is voice output on your child’s device, it is important to keep the voice both age and gender appropriate. For example, a 3-year-old girl does not sound like her 31-year-old, male teacher. 
If possible, your child’s teacher or SLP should find a child of the same age in a different classroom to record their voice, so it will be your child’s own in their classroom.  
Computer Access Facilitating Socialization:  
Using computer software programs are another way to promote peer socialization. By the teacher simply placing two chairs in front of each computer, the children can take turns on the computer, which can be monitored by a timer, a teacher or even self-monitored. If your child uses an adapted switch or mouse to navigate a software program, allowing other children to also use the switch takes much of the mystery out of these AT devices and helps to eliminate unnecessary fear. Children can often be heard during computer time talking about the activities, the songs, selections made, characters, answers to questions posed by the program, laughing, etc. If the program has music, dancing or wiggling is sure to be a result. Shared interests in program selections (e.g. Millie’s Math House by Edmark) with positive interactions (having fun!) can result in the children wanting to play together again.   
Assistive technology (AT) can be used in the educational setting to support the development of friendships in the self-help (e.g. mealtime), creative (e.g. art, music, dramatic play, etc.) and cognitive domains (e.g. cooking, science, literacy, etc.). This article is written to parents of young children with disabilities, but may also be beneficial to a variety of service providers working with young children. 
In your child’s classroom, there may be a variety of materials that can facilitate your child’s ability to engage in independent play with classmates. Many people think of assistive technology as strictly electronic devices, when in fact there are a variety of “low-tech” and “no-tech” equipment readily available.
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