Sunday, July 16, 2017

We’re Going on a Scavenger Hunt

       If you’re doing therapy this summer, or working with your own AAC user,  you might want to spice it up a bit to keep kids engaged with you; instead of what's outside the window!
So, how about a vocabulary scavenger hunt?

Use books or magazines with language-rich pictures.  Highlight the vocabulary you are looking for and discuss it.  What is it? What about size, color, and shape? What do you do with it?  And where is it in your AAC system?

I used to use the Ladybug and Cricket magazines (no affiliate links or renumeration here) because of their great stories, repeating characters, and wonderful illustration.  I was pleased to see that they are still around.

Each issue has a theme, and supplies activities and games, as well as the great children’s stories.  Read through the issues you are going to use. Choose the target vocabulary and set the purpose for reading: What are they listening for as you read the story to them?  Have symbols for words, as they might not be familiar with them (which is the point of this activity, as you recall).

As you read, highlight the target words so that you can come back to them.  Use symbol flags (popsicle sticks with symbols stapled to them) for students to raise when the hear the target word.
When you stop to discuss the word, have students tell you about it. If it’s an unfamiliar word, can they use the context or illustrations to tell them about it? Can you discuss the category or function, describe it?  And…. Can they find it in their AAC system(s)?

If therapy is the only place your student(s) encounters these magazine stories, then create a story communication board to use during sessions that supplement the student’s own AAC system.  That was, while you can focus on core words - like “she” and “he” and “it,” you can also talk about specific characters, whose names can be on a storyboard, but don’t need to be in the dedicated AAC system.

While this activity isn’t meant to be the sole teaching activity for teaching specific vocabulary, it can be a great way to have students practice their vocabulary and practice finding it in their AAC systems.

A spin-off of this activity can focus on reading foundation skills - or phonological awareness.  Make flags for specific sounds, and/or number of syllables.  As you read, have students hunt for words that begin with a target sound or have (X)# of syllables or rhyme with a key word in the story.

More fun coming next week.  In the meantime, keep on talking!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Where Language Meets Math

As a speech-language pathologist I’ve been known to say, “I do language. I don’t do math.”  It’s mostly said tongue cheek, but to be honest, I think it’s too easy to forget that even Math is a language-based activity.  
I used to work a lot on word problems with my kids with significant language learning disabilities.

But that’s not really what I’m talking about.  The folks at sent me this fun 1st grade calendar math activity, and I accepted the challenge to show just how language based math can be.

Here is the activity plan:

Cut the Calendar

First-grade math includes lots of work with two-digit numbers. Here is a great activity for early in the year, to practice recognizing and sequencing numbers from 1-30.

What You Need:
An old calendar
Child-safe scissors

What You Do:
1 Ask your child if he knows how many days are in a month. Let him flip through the calendar and explore the answer to this question. Point out that a month can have as few as 28 days, or as many as 31.
2 Cut the calendar apart into individual squares with dates on them. Mix the cards and spread them out in front of your child.
3 Start by having your kid put the numbers in order from least to greatest. If she has trouble with this, flip to another page in the calendar and have her match the number cards to the numbers on the calendar.
4 Help your child arrange the cards in the following ways:
single-digit numbers (1-9) and two-digit numbers (10-30)
 numbers with ones, (such as 1, 11, 21); a number with twos, etc.
  numbers with a one in the tens place (10-19), numbers with a two in the tens place (20-29), and numbers with a three in the tens place (30)
This is a great activity to play again and again, and don’t be surprised if your first-grade teacher uses “calendar math” regularly in class. Keep the calendar pieces in the envelope for further practice anytime.

This activity necessitates listening to and following directions; understanding number sequences; understanding the concepts of least, most, smaller, larger; and knowledge of number and days words.

For many students, just following the steps of an activity can be a challenge. Present the steps of the directions one at a time.  Allow students time to process what you have said.  And, if necessary, use visuals to help remind students what you want them to do; in this case, “cut,” and "sort."

The concepts of quantity words can be difficult for many kids.  I worked with a teacher at one time who would use gummy bears as a motivator as well as a teaching tool.  She would ask students how many they wanted and/or whether they wanted more or less.
I would often see students choose “less” because they just didn’t understand the concept.

With your calendar days cut apart, make piles of the individual day squares.  Which pile has the most? Which has the least? When do they look equal; or the same?
Greater than and less than are also difficult concepts for many kids.  Here is a good time to work on those concepts.  Does a week have more days than a month?  Are two weeks’ worth of days a reader pile than one week? Are they greater or less than a pile of the whole month?

How many is two days? what does 2 mean?  Work on number words not just by counting the days in sequence, but also by having students identify the number of days in a given “pile.”

You can work on sequencing.  The days of the week always come in the same order.  Can your students sequence the days by name?  Sequencing the order of the days and months can be just as important as sequencing their numbers.

There are many tie-ins from ELA to Math.  Math - like all academic subjects - requires a good understanding of the vocabulary and concepts involved.  Here are a couple of sorting mats I’ve created to go with this activity, to give you a start.

You might want to go check out my Vocabulary and Concepts for Math resource, found here in my TPT store.  It includes interactive books, task cards, printables and activities for concepts of quantity and location, shape and size.
Here are a few samples of what you'll find.

And, “Thank you,” to the folks at for sending along the fun ideas.  They have lots more on their website, so go and check them out.  You can keep kids busy this summer with fun worksheets on rainy days and interesting activities you can take outdoors.*

* I have received no financial or material support from for this post.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

How Many Ways Can AAC Help People Who Can Speak?

While most of the clients who are referred to me have children on the Autism Spectrum,  I also see clients post-stroke, with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), with cerebral palsy - a whole range of clients.

Most of my blog posts are either general AAC tips and resources, I do focus on children and young adults, and usually at the beginning of their AAC journey.  I want to help people. Get. Started. Right. Because that is often where the breakdown begins.

But I also do see adults; some of whom are new to AAC, and others who are looking for a better answer than the one they've got.

I recently saw a young woman with C.P. who was in her mid-20's.  She had been offered AAC when she was in high school, but was never interested in using it.  After all, she was verbal, and didn't want to be seen as anything but.
I see this a lot.

BUT.  Here's the ah-ha moment.  When she got her AA degree and got a job working in a school, she realized that she needed the students to understand her.  And....they didn't.  They couldn't.
Her dysarthria, a direct result of her C.P., was making her speech all but impossible to understand.

And, let's face it.  Kids are not the most patient of all humans.

We often forget about the "Augmentative" part of Alternative-Augmentative Communication.  But many individuals who have speech are not able to use it effectively to communicate in all contexts.  This may be because of a motor speech disorder, or because of a retrieval disorder, or because - secondary to any number of disorders - they need language to be visual.

This goes beyond the "Let's wait and see" attitude often seen when children have a little speech.  Those kids really do need an effective communication mode NOW.  (Check out my Myths of AAC handout here.)

I recently read a post at Tactus Therapy about 10 ways AAC can help those who have dysarthria.
You might like to read it here.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

C is for Core: More AAC From A to Z

I'm sure you've read all my numerous posts about using core words when teaching emerging and transitioning communicators how to communicate with AAC.  

While we don't want to forget the very important fringe words (lower frequency words) that the specific user needs and wants, we do base out language building on use of core vocabulary.

Here is a quick video you can watch that helps to explain what core vocabulary is and why we use it. You can also see it here and get the handout that goes with it.
Core words are not just for AAC users.  The research tells us that, for the average adult, 300-500 core words compromise about 80% of what we say.
For the average toddler, there are only 25 words that they use for more than 95% of what they say.  Think about how much your beginning communicator could say with just 25 core words; particularly as they can use 2 and 3 word combinations.

Have fun watching, and........Keep on Talking!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

P is for Planning: More AAC From A to Z

In past posts I've talked about planning what to say and model during an activity where you're using Aided Language Stimulation to focus on core words and language used within routines or activities.

When you're just learning a system, it can be difficult for  you, the communication partner, to navigate the unfamiliar AAC system in order to provide the aided input.  That's why it is important for you to plan out what you're going to say and learn where the vocabulary is that you will need.

I have provided some planning sheets in the past, and you can find a detailed one for free in my TPT store here.
I am also including a link here to a video all about planning out your aided input for a given activity.  There are examples in the first handout, and information in the video you should find useful.

Are there other topics you would like to see me cover in this blog?  Please feel free to comment below with topic requests, and I'll do my best to cover them.
In the meantime, have a great summer and......... Keep on Talking!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Communication Everywhere?!

“Spring has sprung. The grass has ris.’  I wonder where the birdies is.”  You don’t hear that too often anymore, but “back in my day” (the Dark Ages, that is) you used to hear it all the time.   
Here in Southern California it’s almost always time to go outside, but I do remember those cold Massachusetts days hoping that Spring was coming soon.

Warm weather means walks through the neighborhood, picnics and beach trips, kite flying and playground fun, trips to the park and evenings on the porch.  

Do you know what else all of those things mean?  Great opportunities to expand your child’s communication skills.  Especially if you have a child who is using AAC (augmentative-alternative communication) and needs practice in finding and using the varied vocabulary that those experiences need.

Many kids with disabilities don’t get the same experiences as other children; thus they don’t acquire the background knowledge needed when these topics or experiences come up in conversations or books.  And they don’t learn the unique vocabulary of each of these experiences.

Our kids with significant communication needs really need for us to give them genuine communication opportunities in real-life situations.  So don’t go to the beach or the park, or even for a walk around the block, without their AAC system.

I recently took a walk around the block with a young man and his AAC system.  When we got to the end of the block, I pointed to the Stop sign and told him “We have to stop,” using both spoken words and core words in his AAC system.  I was also able to model use of describing words; such as bright, pretty, and broken.

Smarty Symbols; all rights reserved

One of my all-time favorite activities when my kids were little was going on a picnic.  Preparing the food was more fun than chore when the objective was a picnic.  Grab the toys, pack the blankets, and head outside.

We always had one or two favorite picnic spots.  When my son was really young we lived near a great little park with a pond and ducks, and one particularly mean goose.  Having a picnic invariably meant having lots of feathered friends around us, just waiting for the crumbs.

For your AAC user, this experience would have engendered the words careful, bite, loud, soft, run, eat, and even fight

If you have  an emerging communicator use these fun activities to have meaningful interactions with the child. Remember to model using relevant vocabulary, core words, and lots of comments.  What can you say when modeling?

Feeding the ducks (or, in one young man’s case, feeding the sea lion): hold it, throw it, they’re hungry, don’t fight, throw more, give it to him, need more?

Flying a kite: hold tight, pick it up, run, look, it’s flying, it’s high, uh oh, it fell down, try again

Blowing bubbles: blow, blow again, big bubbles, little bubbles, catch it, pop it, uh oh, all gone, do more

Taking a walk: go, stop, watch, watch out, look there, look at that, cross now, those are pretty,  see the dog/cat/bird?, walk slowly, go fast, don’t go, that’s a tall tree 
Walking the dog: let’s go, hold tight, walk slower, walk faster, not there, go here, look there, see that?, pretty flowers, that’s nice, I like this, don’t stop, let’s turn, big tree, look, home, all done, go in

Here is a topic-specific communication board to take with you on picnics.  (Just right click to download).
Remember that activity-based communication boards do not take the place of a robust AAC system, and should never be all that a child has to use.  But they can be useful in the midst of a specific activity - as long as you have ways for your user to talk about other things, or let you know that’s what he wants to do.

Have a great Spring and Summer!  Stay sunny, and Keep on Talking!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Top 5 Tips for Teaching AAC

I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed on Carrie Clark's Speech Show.   If you've ever been curious about what I look like, how I sound, and what I have to say on the subject, check it out here.

That should keep you busy until next week.
Enjoy, and..... keep on talking!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

School's Out For the Summer! What Does This Mean for Your AAC User?

Often times, AAC users get to practice using their language systems only while in school.  Sometimes, the AAC system is owned by the school and students aren't allowed to take them home - either for long Summer breaks or even for over the weekend!
So how are they supposed to continue to learn to communicate without the means?  Good question.  And one I often fight with districts about.

What can parents do?  The simplest answer is: keep on talking to your child, all the time.  Use whatever pictures you have on hand to create some communication pages.  Unfortunately, this isn't the best answer.  What are some alternatives?

1. Ask the school to take screen shots of the AAC system if it is an iPad app, and send you the pictures or - even better - a print out of the pages.  If you can only get the images, then print them out and take them to your local office supply store to be laminated.  Punch holes, add rings, and - Voila!  A communication book that looks like the  high tech device he usually uses.

2. Some device manufacturers offer pages of their systems to print out.  These are limited, and may not have all the pages you want, and won't be customized, but it can be better than nothing.  To customize, print out pictures of whatever people, places, or things you need and adhere with clear packing tape to the pages.

This core word communication board is from Assistiveware's website.  They are the makers of Proloquo2Go.

3. Many states have technology loan centers, where you can borrow devices to use.  There is often a limit on the length of time you can keep a device, but you might get lucky and have it for more than 30 days.  I know that here, in California, we have a number of programs; including the California A.T. Exchange program (CATE) with 13 centers across the state.  Check your state's possibilities.

4. Check out the internet.  There are some free image sites available where you can create communication pages for little or no money.  These sites come and go, so I am not going to list links here that might be obsolete by the time you read this.  

5. Before school ends and you have to let go of the device, take pictures of each screen with your phone/ camera.  Check that you don't have a glare from lights or flash to interfere with the picture.  Again, print out and make into a communication book.

In a pinch, I also have a free Core Word Communication Board available here.

I'd love to hear about any other options you've found!  In the meantime, have a great summer, and keep on talking!

Thanks to Assistiveware and Smarty Symbols; all rights reserved.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

What's That in My Bag? My 5 Top Toys for Assessments

Because I travel from school to school, home to district to office and back, I have the mother-lode of wheeled bags.  Included are several bags of toys and activities roughly divided by age and/or interest.

When I do AAC evaluations I worry less about the technology and more about communication. That is, after all, the point.  And gone are the days when I would ask the student to "Point to the dog," in a field of 2.  "Now point to the dog," in a field of 6, etc.  
We did a lot of testing, but not nearly enough talking and listening.

Now, when SLPs, teachers, and parents watch me do an AAC evaluation they are sometimes confounded.  "You're just going to play?  That's it?"
Yes.... and No.

Yes, I am playing with your student.  I play with bubbles, with Lego blocks, with play houses, with fun apps, with my portable DVD player that I would not be without.  I also have nail polish and eye shadow.  I have DVDs from Sesame Street to High School Musical to the Super Bowl.

Because what happens during play and fun interactions is "real" communication.  I have written in past posts about how often I can go from "Barney" to "want Barney" and "more Barney" and "watch Barney," and eventually to "want watch more."

So, today I thought I'd take you through some of the other toys in my bag and how I model core word use with them.

1. I can't get away from bubbles.  I love bubbles, as do most of the kids I work with.  My bubbles pages are full of core words; such as blow, pop, catch, more, big, little, high, low, like, sticky.

2. Lego blocks can be difficult for some small and metrically challenged hands.  But, if I can get a student to give me directions to build with the legos we have a fun activity.  Put it on.  Put it next to.  Put red.  More blue.  Yellow on. Make high.

3. Cars and trucks are great fun for kids.  I have big. chunky plastic cards for smaller kids and smaller Matchbox type cards for bigger hands.  We can Go fast, Go slow, Crash, Beep, Move, Stop, Turn.

4. Puzzles are fun and come in a vast array of degrees of complexity.  From chunky wooden puzzle pieces with handles to 50 piece jigsaws I can engage kids with puzzle pictures of their favorite things.  We can Put it down, Turn it around, Need more, Not that, Get different one, It fits, Not fit, Pick it up, Give it to me, All done!

5. Play sets are great.  I've finally stopped carrying my Fisher-Price Sesame Street House around, but I do keep some pay furniture and home accessories in my bag.  As an alternative, I also keep several apps on a separate iPad; such as Toca Tea Party, Play Home, and similar apps where students can direct me to move things around and can interact with them.
With play sets - real or digital - students can experience and try out a wealth of language. More than I can even list here.

I also keep some games on my"fun" iPad for kids who are into gaming, as well as storybook apps that are interactive for some spontaneous shared reading interactions, and some apps that actually tell me something about a student's language skills (i.e. categorizing, matching, labeling, and more).

So, sit down and have a good time with your students when you're evaluating their communication skills and needs.  It is possible - and preferable - to determine the array size, vocabulary organization, symbol preferences, and all the other features we look for in an assessment session in a meaningful interaction rather than a "show me what you know" session.

Have fun, and..... Keep on Talking!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Do You Have a Purpose?

Communication needs a purpose - an intent.  The individual must have something that he wishes to communicate - impart - to someone else.  It is important to make situations motivating and meaningful in order to create an environment in which an individual who is just learning to communicate has something he wants to say and the means to say it.

A case in point: I was called in to consult a district regarding a boy of 10 with autism several years ago.  

He had been using a PECS board with symbols for favorite foods and activities.  

Pictures were also used during specific activities in the class.  These velcro’d pictures were only available during the specific activity, and were limited to symbols required for that activity.  They were also limited to nouns, with a few activity-associated verbs.  

They told me he had been successful for a while with pictures, and was great at using them to request food (he was always hungry), but wasn’t using them for other activities and so they did not think he was “ready” for a more complex system.
When I observed in his classroom, I saw him first during an art activity where he was required to cut and paste, then color.  This was a boy who had poor fine motor skills and did not like or ever want to do cutting and coloring.  
But the symbols for the activity required to him say that he wanted scissors, he wanted glue, he wanted the red crayon, etc.  He most clearly did Not Want any of these things – and “Not” was not available among the symbols.
Given an activity he enjoyed and appropriate symbols to use, he was clearly able to use them.  His vocabulary was limited, as he had always been restricted to a noun-based vocabulary, but he clearly knew what the pictures were for and how to use them.
Lessons learned: 

1. Verbal communicators are able to tell you when they don’t want something or don’t want to say what you want them to.  Nonverbal communicators have the same right to say “I don’t want to” as everyone else. 

2. Only giving the individual the words to say specific, limited messages does not give them the ability to communicate.  

3. As Gayle Porter says, “…a child who uses speech will independently select the words she wishes from the vast array she hears/uses every day.  A child who uses AAC will independently select the words she wishes to use from the vocabulary other people have chosen to model and, for aided symbols, made available for her to use.” (Porter & Kirkland)   

And a child who uses a limited AAC system will sometimes NOT choose to select words that do not say what he wants them to.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Two Best Reasons to Shop Tomorrow

Teachers Pay Teachers is holding their annual "Teacher Appreciation" sale tomorrow and Wednesday; May 9 & 10, 2017.  Everything in my store is 20% off, and TPT gives you another 10% with the code: THANKYOU17.

So, if you're looking for speech-language therapy materials; especially resources for working with AAC users, please stop by my store and save a bundle.
But what makes it even better?  TPT has given away gift cards, and LooksLikeLanguage and I are giving away 2 to some lucky winners!

So, go to my store, check out the resources, and leave a comment below to tell me what you'd love to buy from my store with a $10 gift card to TPT.
Then, hop over to LooksLikeLanguage's post here and leave a comment for her resources, too.

We'll announce 2 lucky winners on Tuesday night, so you can catch the sale on Wednesday and use your certificate while saving big on resources for your caseload or classroom.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

If you read this blog consistently - or even occasionally - you will know that I write a lot about using core words with AAC users, and that I also write a lot about literacy instruction and story-based language intervention. 

When I worked in a school system with students with severe language disorders, I used story books almost exclusively in my interventions.  I developed an entire “curriculum” of language skills around books and short stories; developing story grammar, syntax, and other “form” skills, but also teaching about point of view, characterization, and other broader skills.
With AAC users, however, I most often use stories to develop their language skills while still instructing in how to access their AAC systems to find the words they need.
I know St. Patrick’s day is long behind us, but I want to use a storybook I’ve worked with for using core words.  The book is, “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Clover,” by Lucille Colandro.
This book is not good for teaching story grammar, in so far as it does not actually contain an episode, or a critical thinking triangle, as Moreau terms the relationship between the event, the character’s feelings about the event, and his developing a plan.  
Rather, this type of story provides a series of actions and, usually, an ending that has a consequence or ending action.  A repetitive line in these stories can be used for an AAC user to participate in the reading, even if his participation is limited to doing so with a pre-recorded message.
However, as we focus on using core words in every day activities, reading is a great place to talk about key words.  In this story, we can focus on “not” in multiple opportunities (“She did not roll over,” etc.).  AAC users need to find both the “not” symbol and the action symbol in their systems in order to respond to the story.

And these stories are wonderful for teaching sequencing.  They are, basically, a series of related events by a single character, done in order.  Looked at another way, the stories are a series of First - Then statements, which many students can grasp.  
And, in talking about the events, AAC users must be able to find the action words in their systems.  In this case, words like; roll, swallow, sigh, glide, carry, and dance.  Also,  describing words need to be found; such as absurd (or a synonym),  lazy, bright, shiny, and cold.
Choose your books for interest, for reading level, and - for your AAC users - for their ability to highlight core words.

Have fun, and…..keep on talking!