Welcome and happy autism month. We have known for a long time there are many many people with autism who can benefit from using AAC. The percentage of children and adults who are AAC is getting bigger and bigger each year. Facebook has a group for adults who have autism and use AAC. This is so cool. To me they are leaders in the area of autism and AAC, because they live it. Sure you and I take classes and go to conferences to learn the latest and newest programs and tools. But we never know what a sensory meltdown feels like or what is going on in their head. Lucky for us, we have adults who write blogs and books. I am inviting you to read some of their work on PRC Language Lab. Two books to check out are Underestimated: An Autism Miracle by J.B.and Jamison Handley orThe Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida.
Carly Fleischmann and her father are the authors of Carly’s Voice. This book came out in March 2012.. Carly is a little bit famous. She had a talk show on YouTube too. You’re going to love this book and if you need a laugh please look up her talk show.
https://aaclanguagelab.com/articles?page=2 A blog that was on PRC Language Lab
In this newsletter you will read about a Wisconsin family who shares their ACC journey, helpful online AAC resources compiled by Kelly Fonner, information about a new family resource from the Waisman Center and a new feature where we interview an adult AAC communicator. We hope you enjoy the newsletter.
AAC journey times two
As a mother to two boys on the autism spectrum, April is a very special month for us. A month where we continue to spread awareness and promote acceptance and celebrate everything that the boys are and all of their hard work.
Both of my boys are pre-verbal and have apraxia of speech. What this means for us is that we have been diligent AAC users for the past six years. We started out with PECS and worked our way towards dedicated speech devices. Currently both of my boys use lamp words for life to communicate their wants and needs and we rely on visuals every day to help increase independence and accessibility in our house.
When AAC was first introduced to me, I was very hesitant to get started. I was very concerned that if we gave the boys a speech device to talk for them, it would deter them from learning how to verbally speak. I was worried they would lose motivation to work on sounds and words when they had an iPad that could do it for them. When visuals were first introduced to me I didn’t see the point in them. I felt like the boys knew enough about our house and our daily routines that they didn’t need visual reminders. I was so wrong on both accounts.
Introducing a speech device into our world opened so many doors for the boys. My younger son was able to explore the device on his own terms. He started finding vocab and using it in appropriate settings that absolutely took me by surprise! He would use it to request people he wanted to see and places he wanted to go. He also would use it to make jokes! It was a way to connect to him and get another glimpse into his little personality that I am forever grateful for. He also is still making progress with his verbal attempts at words. Apraxia still makes this a little bit challenging for him, but he can make almost every sound of the alphabet and we are slowly working on combining them for words. The speech device did not stop him from making verbal approximations or take away his desire to verbally speak.
The speech device has been a little trickier for my older son to embrace. However, he is able to use it to meet his basic wants and needs and it is still serving it’s main purpose which is to give my son a voice. It gives him the opportunity to express himself.
The visuals that we use around the house allow my boys to have more independence in their everyday activities. Instead of me having to stand beside them giving them multiple verbal prompts, they have a visual they can reference when they need to. It also helps them know that their voice and their way of communicating and their language is valid in this house and it is respected. I firmly believe that they have the right to see their language in their everyday home environment.
AAC has changed our lives. It has given me a way to communicate with my boys that I am forever grateful for. It has allowed my boys to express themselves in ways they couldn’t do if it weren’t for the devices and the visuals. No matter how intimidating and overwhelming the process can be in the beginning, it is 100% worth it to dive in. Starting small and building your way up is the best way to go. As a parent, it all comes naturally to me now. It just took a little bit of time and commitment. I am so grateful for AAC and we will forever be an AAC family!
Autism Speaks Volunteer Advocacy Ambassador
Helpful Online AAC Resources for Families, Teachers and SLPs
By Kelly Fonner, WI AAC Network Leadership Team Member & AT Consultant, Lake Geneva, WI
During this time of online learning, so many AAC specialists and families who have an AAC Communicator have shared what they are doing online. Here are some of my favorite AAC Communicator online resources:
- PrAACtical AAC https://praacticalaac.org/ If you haven’t discovered this valuable, daily updated, AAC support – please go there now! So much information on how tos, assessment, literacy, core vocabulary, shared with us through featured blogs, weekly videos, a weekly link up page for chatting and question answering. This site covers a full range of AAC Communicator abilities and strengths.
- AAC Voices & Kate Ahern http://teachinglearnerswithmultipleneeds.blogspot.com/ and her team started a virtual academy when the pandemic hit a year ago. AAC Communicators and their families are at the heart of what they do. You can see what is happening in their online school by checking out their web page https://www.aacvoices.org/freebies.html or their facebook group, AAC thru Model Motivate Move out of the Way https://www.facebook.com/groups/AACthruMMM
- AAC Family Fun On YouTube, you can find so many families and agencies sharing videos, but you may not have more fun than what goes on in this household! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbI2VYFigE0NfgXfA49_VmQ/featured All kinds of fun ways to model your child’s AAC System from Dad singing and modeling, dressing up as Darth Vador to Mom’s crafts and book reading.
- Mrs Amy Campbell’s classroom on Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPqRrSfay8pDs4GWb499U3g/videos When the pandemic hit, Ms Campbell went into her classroom and started recording almost every type of activity that she did with her students so that they could do them at home and their parents could see how to model with their child’s AAC System. She does cooking, a birthday party ,and academics.
- Beenleigh Special School. This Australian school for students with special needs has posted over 50 videos of staff doing shared reading while modeling their students’ AAC systems. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi41anPF5B-QdlddloxFy6Q/videos Some of our most favorite books, I have students that listen right from the page while they practice and their parents practice too!
- One of my newest finds is Beit Issie Shapiro School. You can find them on Facebook and Youtube https://www.youtube.com/user/beitissieshapiro0/videos They have so many creative examples of online lessons and activities to do virtually. I’m watching a video of Sivan from Sesame Street interviewing some of the students. So much fun! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXHkYykdcAM
There are always more! Please share your favorite sites with us online or write an article for the next newsletter!
ECHO AAC Families: A New Opportunity for Family Connections! By Cat Kanter
The Waisman Center AAC Program is launching a new opportunity for families to learn from and connect virtually with each other called the Extension of Community Healthcare Outcomes -Augmentative and Alternative Communication Families (ECHO AAC Families). ECHO AAC Families is a free virtual learning opportunity for family members of individuals who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to come together to learn tips for using and supporting AAC through both expert presentations and real-life case-based discussions. ECHO AAC Families is limited exclusively to individuals who use AAC and their family members to encourage honest discussion about the successes and challenges of using AAC!
Sessions will be held every other Wednesday from 7:00-8:30 p.m. and will include 45 minutes of presentations on a topic of interest to families and 45 minutes of discussion and problem solving. Sessions begin on April 14th and include the following topics for Spring 2021:
•4/14: Learning from the Perspectives of AAC Users
•4/28: Teaching Strategies to Support AAC
•5/12: Implementing AAC in the Home
•5/26: Implementing AAC in the Community
If you are unable to attend live, we will be recording all sessions as well and make them available afterwards for viewing.
If you are interested in joining the ECHO AAC Families sessions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up!
What are you listening to or watching to grow your AAC knowledge
Unlike in the 90’s and the early 2000’s when my family and I were beginning on our journey. Families today can follow families on social media and watch YouTube channels by other families. Here are some of our favorite families to follow on social media. CVI YouTube https://www.youtube.com/c/AlissaDeSousa/videos
We thought it would be fun featuring some adult AAC communicators so you know what is possible for your child or student. Chris Klien agreed to be interviewed. We first met Chris in 2011 at the Pittsburgh Employment Conference. He was one of the four communicators featured in PRC’s documentary called If Only God Could Hear Me. Mike and I were so inspired by Chris. He graduated from Hope college ad Western Seminary School. He is a public speaker, past president of USSAAC, created an AAC mentor program and leads an online bible study called device verses.
What role did your family have in your AAC journey? I know my family played a big role with my language development and using AAC. I pretty much learned the device on my own, but I have two oldest brothers and two older sisters. As with every brother and sisters, we like to pick on each other. They would call each other names on my communication device, and of course I wanted to join in on the fun. So my family was important. The other important thing back then was language development. We don’t think about AAC in that way today and that needs to change!
What device do you use and how do you access it? I am using an Accent 1000. I am using direct selection with my big toe.
What do you attribute your AAC success to? I guess I would contribute my AAC success to several things. First, I was blessed to be put on the Handivoice 110. It wasn’t a device you would think to start a six year old child on seeing you had to read to use it. However, it had everyday language on it. I was able to develop my expressive language, and that is important. My family wasn’t going to let me sit off to the side for anything, so they taught me to be determined and go after everything I wanted! I don’t believe parents know or understand what is possible with AAC and we need to change that. It’s why I believe symbol speakers need a bigger voice so that the professionals, manufactures, and universities don’t dictate the conversation like they are doing right now.
What is your advice to a family just starting on their AAC journey? My advice for a family with a symbol speaker is to have high expectations for that person. Expect them to develop their language and when they have an opportunity to develop language anything is possible. It isn’t going to be easy and we still have things we need to work on, but the first step is to have high expectations! Also, let them have fun with communicating. We don’t do that enough, and we have made it into homework for the person.