I attended a Special Education Committee Meeting where the presentation was to be on the topic of Assistive Technology, also known as AT. There is also Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC), some school districts have both while others encompass them together.
It turned out that the presenter was Marshall Fenig, M.A., CCC-SLP, M.Ed., a Speech and Language Specialist from the AAC Department of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and someone who has been to my son Matthew’s IEP a few years ago. Marshall had suggested More than Words when I asked if he could recommend a book to me.
The presentation was entitled, “Communication Happens Everywhere” with the main objective being to ”center communication around what the child wants to communicate and not necessarily what you want them to communicate.” Marshall gave examples on rote teaching where the child is not really going to gain any knowledge from and showed how to make it more purposeful and meaningful to the child.
An example of this would be my nonverbal son Matthew is learning the alphabet, but does he really understand what the letters mean? Using the letters to print out his name shows him something he can relate to. With numbers he can learn the classroom or his age. Matthew does not comprehend the clock or calendar, but I mentioned to his aide how we can focus on his birthday and Christmas with icons indicating what these dates mean.
When Matthew first started at his second Elementary School we had his triennial IEP that year and Marshall attended on behalf of another AAC specialist. He provided great suggestions at the meeting – having the aide wear an apron with the picture cards in the pockets for easy access and when going to other classrooms within the campus. This particular Elementary School had an auditorium where the previous school used a section outside to hold their morning assemblies and the cafeteria for events. Matthew liked to hold videos so it was suggested by Marshall to have a picture of the auditorium and tape it to a video. This way Matthew would have the visual to prepare for where he was going and the preferred fidget to stay calm during the assembly.
At the AT presentation a term was used, communication demand with an example of hiding favorite videos from the child. This would force him or her to use their communication skills to let the adult know what they wanted. Parents were encouraged to set up opportunities in their homes for children to communicate. An open card could be utilized for the lunch box by placing it on top of the box. This way the student can hand the card to the adult to have them open the box for them. Many of the suggestions were similar to techniques used in Floortime.
The hints for communication interaction included:
Follow the child’s lead
Teach the child to say no and allow them to use it
Give the child choices, and wait for a response
Structure the environment creatively
Expect the child to communicate
Make communication fun
Treat non-verbal and verbal children equally
Update, adjust or modify as needed
Observe child to create a reinforcement hierarchy for communication
A seminar I attended when I first learned about autism mentioned a snippet of advice I never forgot. This person said to wait fifteen seconds after speaking to someone on the autism spectrum before continuing the conversation or moving on if no response was given. It takes time for them to process the information they just received and many disturbances can affect their response time.
Other tips offered at the presentation included videotaping parents playing with their children, make sure ideas are being validated, a visual structure of their day, using fading prompts and cues, children on the spectrum are stuck on routines, work on one object at a time, teach functional concepts like all gone, bye, go and here.
Parents can start by getting the child’s attention and playing at their level, face to face. You can call out their name and establish eye contact. It is advised to use familiar words and short sentences, always the same ones for people, places and things. You can learn to use their communication device together and start by practicing with more.
Other options to promote interactive behavior are for the parents to join in the activities the child is exploring and to imitate their actions. Utilizing toys that have an element of surprise to see how the child will react. You can sound out noises for different toys like cars and animals. These sounds can be recorded into the device so that the child can request these and communicate their interest in these games with parents. For teaching students in school it is imperative that meaning be attached to the tasks at hand.
Helping the child with autism self regulate
U.S.E. I.T. for Mayer Johnson
Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.