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Fall Newsletter 2018

Fall Newsletter 2018

Welcome to the fall newsletter and happy AAC awareness month. A good percent of the leadership team was at Closing the Gap this year and it got me thinking about AAC communities. You will have many communities over your AAC journey to help and support you.  Whether you are an AAC communicator, a family member, or a professional we all need support people to share ideas, get questions answered, or just talk to someone after a hard day. Even though the amazing people on the leadership team have only known each other for 2 year to 3 years, it feels like we have always known each other. I am thankful for their friendship and all they do for WI AAC Network.

At the conference I met a father who traveled from Great Britain to Closing the Gap to build up his AAC community and learn skills to help his 5 year old son. I thought to myself wow; he came all the way here just to learn about AAC. That boy is lucky to have him as his father. Everyone at the conference welcomed him that is the magic of the AAC community. I wish everyone a happy AAC awareness month!!

By Mike Hipple


I submitted this editorial to my local newspaper for AAC awareness month. In March, the Augmentative Alternative Communication [AAC] community lost a terrific and known AAC communicator. Dr. Stephan Hawkings died on March 19th, 2018. No question what he meant to the science community and the AAC community, but did you know that he did most of his work through a communication device? Think about that, the greatest science papers and studies of our time done on a communication device! He was a fantastic example of an adult who had ALS and used AAC. We’re seeing more and more people who can benefit from using Augmentative Alternative Communication each year, but we are also seeing the places that support the AAC communicator shutting down. UW Milwaukee Dr. Shelley Lund updated the percentages of people who use AAC in Wisconsin. It is 14%. Where are the communicators going to get the support that they need throughout their lives?  This hurts the families and the AAC communicators, who may be your neighbor, your friend, or your co-worker when trying to get the support they need. Wisconsin Augmentative Alternative Communication Network is a statewide organization that brings all stakeholders together to provide support, advocacy and awareness. We all at WI AAC Network know that our state is in need, but do you know as a friend, a co-worker, or a family member you can help too?  Here are some ideas of how to help them.

1:  Read about AAC information and share with the parents.  If a family with an individual is starting out with a communication device, this is the best thing that you can do to help. My family members were sharing newspaper stories that they came across about AAC to help us out. I remember how excited I was when my grandparents came across a new story that was written by a lady who has cerebral palsy and who is using a communication device. I had a communication device, but I wasn’t skilled at it. She and a guy who also has cerebral palsy and uses a communication device gave me hope. [Thanks guys]

2:  Show interest in the communication device!! When I speak to families, I always tell them to please remember to bring their communication device to family get together, so they can tell everyone what they have been up to. You can ask questions to them like you would ask any relative. How is school going, what cartoon are you into, or how are your friends doing? Remember to wait 30 seconds before you ask again because it might take them longer to answer you.

3:  Be a good friend. All that they might need is someone to talk to. You don’t need to know anything about communication devices, just listen. Parents have a lot going on sometime so all they need is an understanding friend. The same thing is true for people who use a communication device. So when you are out around your neighborhood and see someone who is using a communication device talk to them and use the skills that you learned from reading this editorial letter.

We wish everyone a happy Augmentative Alternative Communication awareness month, especially anyone who is using AAC! If you have a family member or use a communication device, we started a club that meets monthly in Appleton/Green Bay area for information about the club and Wisconsin AAC Network check us out on facebook.

By Mike Hipple

Impressions from Closing the Gap

Wow, what an excellent Closing the Gap it was! They had two great keynote speakers to kick off on Wednesday and they brought excitement throughout the conference. They talked about “be the change” and “the power of one”. Mo Buti and Richard Ellenson are perfect examples. Mo is an autism specialist in Illinois and Richard is the head of Cerebral Palsy a national organization and he came up with a communication device for his son. The communication device was really popular in the early 2000’s, it was called the Tango. The workshops were awesome and what a good variety of topics. They had everything from assistive technology, special education, ideas about how to support the AAC Communicators and their family members, and how to help the school team. I hope you can join the fun at Closing the Gap in 2019.

 By Mike Hipple

Noah’s Journey

My son Noah was born with Down syndrome.  He got his first iPad with Proloquo2Go when he was 5.  Soon after, we got an Autism diagnosis.  It has been a slow process to get him to use Proloquo2Go to communicate his needs and preferences but in recent months, he is catching on fairly quickly.  He is even expressing humor using the device, recently saying ‘not’ for something he really didn’t want to do.  Last week, he said I want to go to the bathroom, and added the word FAST at the end.  We have all wanted to get to the bathroom quickly at some point in our lives.  It is our dream that Noah will continue to utilize his device to communicate and will tell us complex things like how he feels, or where he wants to live, or what types of vacations he would like to take.  We know that there is SO MUCH going on inside but our challenge is to teach him to communicate so we know what he is thinking or what he needs.  In addition, we are finding ways to used iPad at church.  I cannot wait for Noah to use his device to teach others about the love of Jesus.  We are grateful to the AAC community!By

Jennifer Brownell

A Literacy journey takes shape at Camp ALEC

My 14 year daughter attended Camp ALEC in Grand Rapids Michigan this past August.  Camp ALEC is a camp for AAC users with physical disabilities and teaches them literacy techniques.  They write a detailed report that you may share with your school, written by her SLP and Special Education Teacher that worked with her that whole week.  The camp is under the direction of Dr. Karen Erickson and Dr. David Koppenhaver.  These doctors teach the SLPs and Special Education teachers the special techniques needed to teach literacy to teens with severe multiple physical disabilities.  You can find more information at www.campALEC.com

It was a fun week of zip lines, rock walls, warm water swimming, campfires, crafts, stage performances, and lots of fun practical jokes.  The facility is well suited to wheelchair use with paved pathways, accessible buildings, accessible warm water pool, cafeteria, classrooms, and even a gymnasium with a stage.  Among all this fun camp stuff was 3 hours a day of literacy assessments and trialed interventions.

My daughter had a difficult time learning the letter sounds and spent up through 5th grade doing mostly that.  Which meant she did not learn the usual literacy instruction her peers were learning.  Now that she has those letter sounds down, she is ready for the next steps, but because she is unable to use her hands to write or her voice to talk, the school was at a loss for how to help her.  This is what prompted us to bring her to Camp ALEC.

We received a detailed report about how to teach my daughter literacy at her level with examples and where to find further information.  The SLP also gave suggestions on the AAC software to further expand communication.  Some of the key resources are: Children with Disabilities: Reading and Writing the Four Blocks Way by Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver, www.TarHeelReader.org, and www.dlmpd.com (Dynamic Learning Maps)

It was a worthwhile endeavor for our family for sure.  The only thing I would change is to let the parents attend too.

Christine Schilling

Mentor Connections

This area of the newsletter is for AAC Communicators, their family members to connect with mentors.  If your child would benefit from interacting with a more advanced communicator or if you would like to mentor a younger communicator email us. We will try to make the connection.  If you are interested in being a mentor you can e mail me at mikehipple4@gmail.com and please tell us about yourself and why you want to be a mentor. We also would like to know what kind of communication device you are using and what level you communicate, intermediate or advanced.  We will try our best to match AAC communicators that live in the same area.  If you are a professional that knows someone who would be a great mentor please e mail me. We are still looking for a mentor for a younger girl who lives in the Lake Geneva area.

Email me if you know someone.

By Mike Hipple

What is new? WATRN

Wisconsin Assistive Technology Regional Network – watch for flyers for upcoming meetings.

Mission: To provide a platform where professionals around the state of Wisconsin who are passionate about Assistive Technology (AT) and Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) are able to meet in regional groups.  The WATRN seeks to provide educators of Wisconsin support, share knowledge, discuss/learn best practices and raise awareness around current issues facing school based AT/AAC professionals.

Vision: Foster a grassroots effort to fill a gap left behind by the defunding of WATI.  Bring Wisconsin back to a place where AT/AAC professionals are created, developed and supported in order to provide a high quality of AT/AAC services to all students with disabilities throughout Wisconsin.

We will keep you posted on facebook for November and December AAC Chat Club.

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