Implementation ideas for low tech alternative communication

In our last article we followed the progress of Savannah from communication boards to early low-tech devices.

Thank you all for your comments. I will reply to them in this article.

We are still on the subject of Alternative and Augmentative Communication Products and the questions were all related to:

Why should a child use a communication board and how does this help?

The board with appropriate overlays will allow the child to participate in the classroom. The child is not just an observer he/she is part of the class. Communication devices can provide immediate auditory feedback which enhances learning. Errors are immediately apparent so self-correction skills can be fostered. For example, when you ask the child to show you ‘is’ and he/she activates the word ’the’ the child hears instantly that an error has been made. The child is able to work and participate more independently which enhances self-esteem. It allows the nonverbal student the opportunity to learn to work with other children without adult support. This buddy system is particularly valuable for the nonverbal student because he/she may have difficulty interacting with other children. Friendships are more likely to develop. Social and academic skills, including communication skills, can be encouraged in a natural classroom setting.

The nonverbal student is more likely to learn the different uses of language or communication, such as to comment, tease, direct actions etc. Language can do more than just make requests. When verbal students are encouraged to use these communication boards as teaching aids, the devices become acceptable. As the nonverbal child’s picture communication system becomes an integral part of the classroom, the special child does not feel so different. He/she is a participant in the class.

What does all this do for the verbal student?

When verbal students use an augmentative communication device as part of their regular lesson, they understand and are more accepting of the special student’s differences. As we’ve said earlier, friendships between verbal and non-verbal students are more likely to develop. The whole class flows more smoothly. Enhanced learning can occur from the immediate auditory feedback and visual presentation that a communication device or board can provide.

Communication devices designed to teach academics promote self-correction skills that are of benefit to any student. Helping another student in the classroom can enhance any student’s self esteem. Many times children with behaviour problems soften when another child depends on them for help. The following will be particularly helpful to the teachers:

Rule 1

It is better to use one augmentative communication activity and do it well than to set your whole class up with pictures but use them sporadically.

Supporting school work with Board maker

When starting to use pictures, be aware that you must take a few minutes to teach them to the student who is just beginning to use picture communication. You must teach them to learn how language works. The child will not know what’s going to happen when they touch or point to a picture. The child will not know the value of language or that language can cause a reaction.

When you decide to use pictures to help a child in your class communicate, remember that you must be consistent in responding to those pictures. Sometimes a child will continually point or press a device to get a reaction. To simple take the board away does not teach self control or social appropriateness. Respond to their efforts just as you would any student creating a fuss in the classroom. This is part of teaching communication skills. Remember, that just as any child has to be taught when and where it is appropriate to say certain things, the child using a communication board or device must be taught this also.

Vocabulary is the very essence of the communication system

A mechanical communication device may be wonderful, but this board will only be effective if it is programmed with the right vocabulary. One reason children lose interest in a communication board is because it does not meet their needs. If there are more messages the child wants to say that are not on the board then he may become frustrated and resist using the device. This is why vocabulary is extremely important.

Every child wants to say what the other children are saying so include words like “yeeish” or “serious” or “Howzit” on the boards. For a picture communication system to work you must be able to predict the messages needed and make sure you provide them to the special student. In a classroom environment that is chaotic, unplanned or free fl owing it is difficult to predict what messages will be needed and it would be an unending job meeting the demands of ongoing changes. Children using communication systems do much better in classrooms that are orderly and predictable with set classroom routines.

Attitude is everything

The child’s communication system should go beyond the communication device and also include loose pictures, simple picture boards or books and even sign language and gestures.

The Alphabet Overlay for spelling

This board can be used to practice spelling words throughout the school year.

The Calculator Overlay for math

The Art Overlay for art projects

The Lunch Overlay to help with food needs as well as to provide social interactions. Choice Boards for picking recurring activities that go on all year. The Generic Classroom Overlays have two purposes: The first is to encourage interaction with the teacher and the second is to encourage classroom participation.

Social Overlays are designed specifically for use in any social situation. All worksheets can be customised and structured to help a nonverbal child communicate and participate in the classroom. One could use a board with Velcro stickers or just point or draw, or a speech output device to communicate answers. As per requests this article was in reply to questions received from teachers. However, boards similar to these can be used for adults as well.

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